|Recording information: Ben's Studio, Nashville, TN; Cyclops Sound, Los Angeles, CA; Dave's Room, Hollywood, CA; Ronnie's Place, Nashville, TN; Sound Stage Studios, Nashville, TN; St. Charles Studio, Nashville, TN; The House, Nashville, TN.
|Platinum is a double-edged title. The first edge refers to Miranda Lambert's hair -- as she sings on the title track, "what doesn't kill you only makes you blonder" -- the second refers to her fame, a topic she returns to often throughout her fifth record. A star since her 2005 debut Kerosene -- it was released on the heels of her also-ran placing on 2003's Nashville Star, so she's never known a time outside of the spotlight -- her fame reached the stratosphere in the 2010s, after she married fellow country star Blake Shelton in 2011, not long after he became one of the judges on NBC's The Voice. This romance pushed Lambert into mainstream tabloids, a situation she addresses on "Priscilla," where she laments that "it's a difficult thing being queen of the king," an odd turn of phrase considering Miranda is by no means subservient to Blake. By most measures, she reigns supreme in 2010s' contemporary country in a way her husband does not: she's a songwriter, which he is not, she spends her spare time in the Pistol Annies and he spends his downtime on TV and she, far more than her husband, takes musical risks. Platinum is notable because Lambert tries to be everything to everyone here and damn near succeeds. There are times when she drifts too far toward crass crossover, but she doesn't run risks when she adopts a vocoder, which she does to great aplomb on "Smokin' and Drinkin'," a duet with Little Big Town that has all of their smoothness and none of their slickness. Lambert only sounds desperate when she's racing to keep up with Carrie Underwood on "Somethin' Bad" -- a song co-written by American Idol stalwart Chris DeStefano -- and perhaps on "Automatic," a paean to the past she feels too self-conscious about and doesn't have a melody to sell its nostalgia, either. Apart from these two cuts, Platinum doesn't take a wrong step, which is all the more remarkable because Lambert tries to have it both ways: she pulls out all the stops making gilded contemporary pop, but spends a significant section of the album playing songs the way they used to, covering Tom T. Hall's "All That's Left" with the Time Jumpers, offering a bluegrass ode to "Old Shit," and then concluding with a vaudeville shuffle "Gravity's a Bitch," a riotous admission that there's no denying the ravages of old age. Most of Lambert's co-writing comes on the concluding third of the record, where she collaborates with Ashley Monroe on "Holding on to You" and "Another Sunday in the South," while working with Brandy Clark on "Two Rings Shy," songs that reaffirm her taste for sharply crafted modern country, but Platinum is cannily constructed, opening with the most modern tunes ("Girls," a record that crawls when it seems like it would run, "Platinum," and the breakneck "Little Red Wagon") before settling into more pure country. Perhaps Platinum would've benefitted from a tighter construction, but its mess and lopsided sequencing wind up appealing: at its heart, this is a classic double-album where the misses enhance the home runs and, eventually, are endearing on their own terms. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine