Miranda Lambert, "Dead Flowers"

miranda-kinda-sad_3No doubt about it: Miranda Lambert knows what's up. After giving us two of last year's riskiest and most rewarding singles (“Gunpowder & Lead” and “More Like Her”), she previews her forthcoming album with another sharp lament that, once again, finds her charging into thematic territory most of her peers wouldn't even glance at for radio release.

Alas, the same cannot quite be said for Lambert's musical territory this time around. As a character sketch of a quietly suffering woman, “Dead Flowers” has some of the most original lyrics you're likely to hear on mainstream radio this year, b

ut the track itself sounds about as bland as can be, with an arena-rock treatment eerily similar to Rascal Flatts' “Take Me There” (seriously, listen to them in succession) that does more to dull the song's edge than to sharpen it.

Of course, that same hitch also makes it sound more immediately radio-friendly than just about anything else Lambert has yet released, so there may be overdue commercial rewards to her for taking this route. I have a feeling that many people will really like this, and it may even convert some folks who haven't gotten into Lambert yet. They might end up surprised by how much more interesting some of her previous efforts are, but hey: as gateway drugs go, you could do worse.

Grade: B

Listen: Dead Flowers

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23 Comments

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23 Responses to Miranda Lambert, "Dead Flowers"

  1. Lynn DouglasNo Gravatar

    I’ll be interested to see how this song does on the radio. It’s not one of my favorite Miranda songs. She managed to take an interesting song and somehow made it kinda generic (vocally and musically).

    Gateway drug … okay. Preview of the future … worrisome.

  2. Martin in NYNo Gravatar

    I agree with Dan on both points about the unconventional lyrics and the potential commercial success.

    However, I think this song is really high art. It’s really great and somewhat groundbreaking (though I can’t quite articulate how just yet). I just know that it’s dark and haunting and almost scary and lonely. Really cool, unique atmospheric song.

    Jim Malec on The 9513 summed it up in a more positive review. Miranda has definitely bridged the gap between Americana and mainstream country.

    I look forward to hearing this song blaring from the radio this summer.

  3. Leeann WardNo Gravatar

    I’m with Dan and Lynn here. The lyrics are interesting, but I think the arena rock production is disappointing and her vocals lose its typical character here. As I’ve said at The9513, maybe it’ll grow on me, but I’m not into it for now.

  4. So far it isn’t growing on me. Miranda is one of those artists I really want to like but she hasn’t done anything yet that I can point to as something great. So far reality has not lived up to the hype.

  5. Dan MillikenNo Gravatar

    I do really love the vibe the lyrics put out. I like how it kind of sounds like her character is slowly descending into a sort of emotional insanity, kind of like Lori McKenna/Faith Hill’s “Stealing Kisses.” I mean, I imagine a woman would have to be feeling pretty disconnected from humankind to start seeing a bit of herself in dead flowers, Christmas lights and car tires, and to fixate on these things like she seems to with all of the repetition of imagery. It’s a very cool lyric.

  6. dudleyNo Gravatar

    I agree and disagree with you, Dan. You’ve hit upon a number of issues that came to my mind, too, while listening to this song. For instance, my first reaction when I heard that driving, “Take Me There”-ish intro at the ACMs was to think, “Oh no, not you too, Miranda.” The sound made me sad.

    But that was before I heard the studio version and read the lyrics to “Dead Flowers.” The lyrics are quite moving and quite evocative. I love how we don’t know whether “he” is a good but incredibly dumb and clueless man or an abusive, controlling tyrant (my instinct is to think the former; the song becomes all the more tragic if he is, I think). I wasn’t sure about the Christmas lights imagery at first (I felt a disconnect between that and the more naturalistic imagery of dead flowers), but now that I’ve listened to the song a few times, I quite like the line about the burnt out Christmas lights hanging like dead flowers.

    That said, the song just seems all wrong from a musical standpoint. I agree with Dan that the anthemic arena rock sounds like a grab at a place on commercial radio. But what’s weird is that this song is the least melodic song Miranda has ever released. That, coupled with the challenging lyrics, would make it a tough sell, I would think. The verse melody is so flat as to be unappealing (even if it fits the lifelessness conveyed by the lyrics). I also think that the arena rock stylings are completely antithetical to the emotion of the lyrics. The driving guitar and percussion (during the verses and especially during the instrumental bridge) seem to call for arena-wide fist pumping, and that makes no sense when one considers the lyrics of the song.

    I also don’t think Miranda is particularly well-suited for this style of song/singing. Her belting was strained in the ACM debut of this song (although I think that was nerves as much as anything else), but it doesn’t sound very good in studio, either. As Blake pointed out elsewhere, the lack of twang in her delivery takes out an element that distinguishes her sound. It doesn’t help that the verse lyrics sometimes seem stretched too thin over the melody, forcing Miranda into unnatural phrasing (the first line of each verse is an especial problem in this regard).

    Sonic elements notwithstanding, I think “Dead Flowers” is easily Miranda’s riskiest release to date. But then, I’ve never considered “Gunpowder & Lead” and “More Like Her” to be particularly risky. Both had strong melodic hooks that made them easily digestible for country radio. G&L played to the feistiness by which Miranda has been identified thanks to “Kerosene,” (and G&L is hardly the first female country song to depict violent retribution for physical and emotional abuse). MLH was Miranda playing against type in a pretty but conventional ballad. What makes “Dead Flowers” risky is the abject hopelessness of the lyrics, coupled with a harsh verse melody. The chorus has a bit of a hook, I suppose, but it still doesn’t go down that easily.

    Despite what I think are major, major flaws in the song, I’ll be rooting for “Dead Flowers” to somehow do well for Miranda on radio. If nothing else, it should be a pretty good buzz single for her in alternative (and even some mainstream) press/blogs.

  7. Tony CNo Gravatar

    I actually love it. The production actually is fine with me…the “arena rock” of the chorus conveys the hurricane of emotion the narrator is feeling. And the lyrics are killer.

    Can’t wait for the album.

  8. AaronNo Gravatar

    When I saw her perform this song on the ACM’s I immediately fell in love with it! Since then I’ve been watching her performance on youtube at least 2 or 3 times a day, I really can’t get enough of it. I think it’s one of my favorite Miranda Lambert performances.

    However, when I listened to the studio version, I didn’t have the same reaction. Her vocal is extremely boring and the delivery isn’t quite the same as it was when she performed the song live. I’d much prefer an audio version of her performance rather than the studio version. But it’s still one of my favorites and I can’t wait for the new album.

  9. Leeann WardNo Gravatar

    “the lack of twang in her delivery takes out an element that distinguishes her sound. It doesn’t help that the verse lyrics sometimes seem stretched too thin over the melody, forcing Miranda into unnatural phrasing (the first line of each verse is an especial problem in this regard).”

    This describes exactly what bothers me about the vocals for this song. Her signature twang/expressive voice is nonexistent here. I’m still impressed by the lyrics though.

    While I’m a huge fan of Miranda’s, I think my chances for getting into this song are as good as Razor’s, since I’m uninspired by the production and melody that Dubley discussed as well. I’m all about rooting for my favorite artists, of whichLambert is certainly one, but I can’t root for a song I don’t like, especially when it’s by one of my favorites. It’s just something I’ve never been able to do. I’m always more disappointed when my favorite artists put out something I don’t like than I am by artists that I could care less about do it. I guess that’s why I’d be a terrible super fan.

  10. Blake BoldtNo Gravatar

    The connection between the lifeless flowers and the drooping Christmas lights is super clever. That she chooses to “feel like” three inanimate objects (“flowers,” “Christmas lights,” and “tires”) is a nice reflection on how she feels objectified by her beau. Outdoor holiday decorations are such a source of male pride (think Clark Griswald) that leaving them outside past their prime suggest he’s lazy, and likely emotionally anguished/pained/dead in some way. Just dragging himself through life, if you will.

    What always impresses me about Miranda is how she drops all these little details into the lyric that hint at a lot more than what’s on the surface. This is a nice interior monologue, yes, but the death of this relationship probably lies partly on her shoulders. Even under the best circumstances, flowers have a short shelf life. Plus, January isn’t too long after Christmas. If the timeline in the song is right, it’s either been an incredibly fast downturn in his behavior or she’s experiencing some mental demons of her own. Miranda’s songs are full of characters who are otherwise intelligent and quick-witted, but have a tendency to act impulsively, passionately (or even fatally). I just sense that she’s a tad too willing to give up on the relationship (Is she missing the drama that’s lacking in their domestic life?), at least judging by the evidence here.

    This is a pretty punch-drunk performance in all the right ways. The little bursts of bitterness in her singing—“January” (which reminded me of some Alanis phrasing), “and now they’re dead,” “rollin'”) a real firm grasp on the subject matter, though. But just as she’s boil over in the chorus, she retreats back into some sort of numb haven. As for the “arena rock” slant, that Rascal Flatts POS was overdramatic at best. The production fits “Dead Flowers” much better. Interesting stuff all around.

  11. Blake BoldtNo Gravatar

    I posted before I saw dudley’s comment. I’m inclined to feel that the melodic structure matches the song’s emotion so well that I don’t mind that it doesn’t have the zip or the zing of some of her other material. I miss a little of that Texas twang, but upon hitting “repeat” a few times, I think the vocal’s pretty convincing—she vacillates between despair and self-destructive.

  12. LynnNo Gravatar

    This is far and away my favorite verse in the song:

    I feel like this long string of lights
    They lit up our whole house on Christmas Day
    But now it’s January and now the bulbs are all burned out
    But still they hang
    Like dead flowers

    Great imagery. However, I do believe the line might have been more evocative if the month was July or even February instead. I still have my Christmas lights up in January. But the later in the year it goes on, the more pathetic and out of place they feel, which fits better in my mind as an analogy for dead flowers.

    Miranda always uses great imagery in her lyrics, which is one of the reasons why I like her music. I think that’s why “Guilty in Here” (“That boy’s like a sore in your mouth that you just have to bite”) and “Famous in a Small Town” (“Everybody dies famous in a small town”) are two of my favs. Her insights are clever and with only a few words, you know where she’s coming from.

    However…I’m with the others as far as the production of the song. “Dead Flowers” loses power for me as it goes along. By the time it’s over, the emotion and connection I felt in the beginning is gone. Oh well…

  13. Leeann WardNo Gravatar

    Ha. I leave my Christmas lights up in January too. I also think Miranda is a terriffic lyricist.

  14. Blake BoldtNo Gravatar

    (I kinda want to clarify that I don’t think she’s to blame all that much in this song. I sense that the relationship’s been rotten for a long time now, but she’s just now choosing to acknowledge it. He’s probably a little dim-witted at times and inattentive, as dudley suggested, and she probably had slightly-outsized expectations of him in the first place, and in that gray area is where the emotion of the song lies. Again, I think the fact that she uses January proves that she’s just now searching for reasons (excuses?) to leave even though the love’s been dead for months and months. Something’s snapped.)

  15. Kevin J. CoyneNo Gravatar

    Am I the only one who thought of “Redneck Woman” when I heard that line about Christmas lights?

    I’m with the general consensus here. I think the song never really gets off the ground. I like Miranda, and I’m still anxious to hear her new album, but I hope this isn’t one of the stronger tracks.

  16. As I said in my review of it, I think “Dead Flowers” is a pretty terrific song: The imagery is effective and is in-service to the narrative, the song’s arrangement is well-matched to the lyrical content, and her vocal performance (though I’m with LeeAnn on missing some of Miranda’s trademark twang) demonstrates how much stronger her voice has become after two years on the road. I’m especially interested in hearing what else, if anything, she does with some of this song’s images and themes on the upcoming album.

    But those are all qualities that would make for a great album track; I just don’t know that I’m 100% sold on “Dead Flowers” as a stand-alone single.

  17. Am I the only one who thought of “Redneck Woman” when I heard that line about Christmas lights?

    No.

  18. Leeann WardNo Gravatar

    “Am I the only one who thought of “Redneck Woman” when I heard that line about Christmas lights?”

    Now, I will.

  19. Kevin J. CoyneNo Gravatar

    Jonathan,

    Good point. Perhaps there’s a context that this fits better into. She is more of an albums artist anyway.

    I don’t think her first two albums were best introduced by their lead singles either. Interestingly, it was the album openers instead that drove up sales, even though they were released later.

  20. dudleyNo Gravatar

    “I’m all about rooting for my favorite artists, of which Lambert is certainly one, but I can’t root for a song I don’t like, especially when it’s by one of my favorites.”

    That makes sense, Leeann. But just by way of explaining, I’ll be rooting for this song because I would much prefer to see a genuinely interesting, artful song that I don’t like do well because it would suggest an opening at country radio for some such thing. I think of it like some do brussels sprouts. I think that “Dead Flowers” has nutritional value for country radio, even if it is not to my taste.

    I don’t think Miranda Lambert will be consulting me for any help with similes anytime soon. ;) Nor should she.

    “I’m inclined to feel that the melodic structure matches the song’s emotion so well that I don’t mind that it doesn’t have the zip or the zing of some of her other material.”

    Also a good point, Blake — I’ve rationalized the vocal melody and the general loudness of the chorus to myself, but that merely takes me to a place where I admire the song without liking or connecting to it (beyond the lyrics, I mean). I just don’t think it makes sense to yell “Dead flowers!” and the instrumentation seems too orderly to depict a storm.

    Jonathan, although I disagree with you on the effectiveness of the arrangement and of Miranda’s vocal on this song, I thought of Coldplay’s “Yellow,” too. That association is a big part of why I’m feeling the disconnect on this song. I, too, am interested in seeing how/whether this song’s motifs get picked up on the rest of Miranda’s upcoming album.

  21. I like “Yellow.”

    Dudley, for clarification’s sake, I didn’t mean to adversely refer to your rooting for the song in my explanation for why I don’t. I just wanted to put my thought process out there. Actually, a part of me still roots for the song, despite me not wanting to, for the reason you do. Because I like Miranda so much, it’s hard for me to apply the typical reaction as I described above to her. Plus, I couldn’t give up on Miranda so soon, anyway. I mean, I held onto my faith in Keith Urban for quite awhile and I think I’ve been a bigger Lambert fan in general.

  22. vpNo Gravatar

    I don’t think this is the song that is going to be the big milestone push for her but, people will listen. It’s good not as good as “More Like Her” which I wish would have done a lot better then it did.

    I am excited for this album I think there is going to be something on there that will break the mold and get her a song of the year, or female of the year at some awards show.

  23. i know this is late. but this song is currently my favorite country song.

    i have to disagree with what many people said. i really don’t think this song is meant for commercial success. i think miranda proved herself as a very good writer who wouldn’t kill a song’s meaning to make it more radio friendly.

    i love everything about this song. i love how it barely has a melody. i love the lyrics. this “dullness” is what makes the song amazing.

    i think she’s currently the best female solo in the country scene. i love miranda!