Single Review: Miranda Lambert, “Only Prettier”

One of my favorite tracks from Lambert’s Crazy Ex-Girlfriend was her spin on Gillian Welch’s “Dry Town.” I’m happy to report that her new single, “Only Prettier”, has a twangy guitar hook that’s nearly identical to the one that underscored that album track.

But wow, is the arrangement surrounding it more ambitious.  Lambert’s quickly built a reputation as being a progressive artist, so it’s easier for her to get a free pass on a record that sounds like a misguided attempt to remix a country song for mainstream rock radio. The thrashing guitars drown out the steel guitar and come close to overshadowing a great vocal performance from Lambert.

It also undermines the message of the song, which is lyrically brilliant.  She deconstructs the southern charm façade with cutting abandon, showing how a southern girl doesn’t need to be aggressive or loud to be bitingly vicious; she can do it with a smile and a “Bless your heart.”
That message would’ve been more effective had the arrangement remained as light and twangy as the opening few seconds.

But even the awkward production choice isn’t enough to hold “Only Prettier” back from being a successful record. It’s one of her finest moments as a songwriter, and among her strongest vocal performances. The latter is a crucial part of the record’s success, as there are so many layers of irony and sarcasm in the lyric.

So this one definitely goes into heavy rotation for me, but I eagerly await an acoustic version that strips away those thrashing guitars!

Written by Natalie Hemby and Miranda Lambert

Grade: B+

Listen: Only Prettier

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50 Comments

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50 Responses to Single Review: Miranda Lambert, “Only Prettier”

  1. Zac C.No Gravatar

    Although you’ve certainly got an ear for good country music, I think you ever-so-slightly missed the mark on this review.

    Upon hearing this song for the first time, I instantly made the same comparison to “Dry Town” you did. The songs’ opening riffs are virtually identical, they both appear second on their respective albums, and they share the same lighthearted tone. For this very reason, the amped up production on “Only Prettier” is necessary. Lambert made a concerted effort to alter her musical style for this album in a subtle but noticeable way, and to make this song as “light and twangy” as you’d like would make it seem like a retread of “Dry Town.”

    I wouldn’t say you were too hard on the song (you did give it a B+ after all), but stripped down isn’t always the strongest choice.

  2. Kevin John CoyneNo Gravatar

    Are an arrangement identical to “Dry Town” or an arrangement with thrashing guitars the only two choices?

  3. Comparisons to “Dry Town” notwithstanding, I thought this was an inspired selection to follow “The House That Built Me.” It’s up-tempo, showcases another dynamic of both artist and album, and I just *know* this is going to resonate with the girls at the bar.

  4. At this point, I can’t decide whether or not I like the lyrics, but the production is definitely a bit flawed. One of the many positive traits of “The House That Built Me” was its simplicity, but there’s just too much going on on this record.

  5. Leeann WardNo Gravatar

    I think Kevin is right on with his assessment. I like the song, especially the songwriting, but I wouldn’t mind if the production had been dialed back a bit. It does definitely overwhelm the great lyrical content within.

  6. TomNo Gravatar

    …being a huge fan of “ticks” how could i not enjoy this one. what a catchy tune this is.

  7. klarkNo Gravatar

    no offense meant but Undo It got a higher grade than this tongue in a cheek song? wow.

  8. Kevin John CoyneNo Gravatar

    Yep. And “Only Prettier” got a higher grade than “Cowboy Casanova.” Same problem with execution, but “Prettier” is a better song.

  9. Hoggy from OzNo Gravatar

    I do like this song. Great review (as always) :)

  10. I couldn’t agree more. I kinda wish they’d release an alternate version of the entire Revolution album, a la Shania Twain, without all the thrashing everything.

  11. Dan MillikenNo Gravatar

    I also totally agree with the review, though it’s still among my favorite singles this year. The only track on Revolution where I feel like the mega-RAWK production totally works is “That’s the Way that the World Goes Round”.

  12. Dan’s right; it totally works on that song, even though I’m sure John Prine never quite dreamed it that way.\

  13. GloriaNo Gravatar

    Too much going on in this song is right! That’s the same thing I thought about Paisley’s WTTF. I thought that song would never stop!!

  14. PatrickNo Gravatar

    It’s definetly a good song :)

  15. KNo Gravatar

    Personally, I think “Only Prittier” is the perfect single choice to follow a fantastic song like “The House That Built Me.” Prior to its release, I think Miranda was in grave danger of being pigenholed as the “badass tough chick,” which could’ve been damaging to her chances of long-term success.

    Although this song fits Miranda’s style of being witty, sarcastic, and bold, this is a completely different style from her other upbeat singles. The lyrics are witty without being too in your face- the style feels more natural than forced. The production is a bit much, but I also think Miranda deserves credit for daring to release something that is so different from most of her peers; it showcases a smart way to use country influences and blend them in wth a mainstream sound, instead of trying to mix influences together and simply sounding too pop. I hope this another big hit for Miranda. I’ve quickly become a huge fan of her work, and have realized what an amazing artist she is.

  16. Kevin John CoyneNo Gravatar

    I’d be surprised if this wasn’t a big radio hit. She’s been more consistent at radio than she’s given credit for, perhaps because her lead singles have never been the big hit from each album. Her sales have been strong in spite of this, and now radio is finally on board.

    I have trouble imagining a scenario where she doesn’t win Single, Album, Video, and Female Vocalist at the CMA Awards this fall.

  17. Dan MillikenNo Gravatar

    I could see Lady A taking Single. I’d say “House” is the clear front-runner for Song, though.

    I hope this makes its climb quickly so the label will feel compelled to release another single from the album. That single being “Me And Your Cigarettes”. And nothing else.

  18. Leeann WardNo Gravatar

    I’d love “Me and Your Cigarrettes” to be released, but I’m very afraid that “Love Song” will be released, especially with the Lady A co-write…and it’s the most obvious, radio friendly song on the album. Ugh.

  19. Dan MillikenNo Gravatar

    I knowwww. Argh.

  20. Leeann WardNo Gravatar

    Hmmm…I wonder if Taylor Swift could’ve pulled this off?:)

  21. I love this song! I think it showcases Miranda perfectly as an artist and is a fantastic follow-up to the brilliant “House That Built Me.” With radio finally giving her some lovin, it’d be hard to think this song wouldn’t be a hit at radio.

    About the CMA’s this fall, I think it’ll be Miranda taking Female Vocalist (no one is even close to her this year), Video of the year, and Song of the Year for “House.” But I think Lady A could have Single (“Need You Now” had HUGE crossover appeal) and Album (Need You Now is the best selling album and will probably end the year as the best selling album) wrapped up. I’m hoping Miranda can somehow breakthrough to the Entertainer category…hopefully with Kenny Chesney doing absolutely nothing this year, she could sneak in.

  22. GloriaNo Gravatar

    What’s “Kenny doing nothing” got to do with Entertainer category? He hasn’t won since Taylor and fan voting hit the scene. It’ll always be between Carrie & Taylor and their fans as long as Entertainer is fan voted. I wish they would stop fan voting. Don’t get me wrong, I was tired of seeing Kenny win every year, but! I would love to see Miranda win though. I love her song House that Built Me, but don’t know yet about Only Prettier…it may have to grow on me.

  23. I’m not sure I could see Taylor pulling this one off. It seems like she doesn’t usually sing songs that have to do with Southern culture (though she did use the word “redneck” in “Picture to Burn”). Her recent output has been largely dominated by crossover-friendly songs about boys.

    By the way, Taylor Swift has never won a fan-voted Entertainer of the Year trophy. She has only won the coveted award once at the CMAs, and the award was purely industry-voted.

    The ACMs do allow fan voting for Entertainer of the Year, and I have lately been doubting that it’s a good idea. Many of Carrie’s fans will probably vote for her every year even when the quality of her music deteriorates, and we all know that her fan base is a force to be reckoned with. At any rate, she stands a good chance at a successful multi-year run for as long as the award is fan-voted.

  24. Leeann WardNo Gravatar

    Yeah, I was being a little sarcastic about Swift being able to pull it off. I don’t think her writing is quite clever enough yet.

  25. What’s “Kenny doing nothing” got to do with Entertainer category?

    What I meant was since he’s done nothing this past year that he shouldn’t be included in the list of nominees. He didn’t tour at all and his album won’t be out til September and he’s had like one top five single in the year. I think there are more deserving artists that have toured and who’ve had more success at radio and in sales than Kenny. But, I doubt the CMA is ready for that big of a change so they’ll probably throw him in there just for kicks anyway.

  26. Dan MillikenNo Gravatar

    As much as I like Miranda, she doesn’t feel like a big enough presence for the Entertainer category yet. I’d like to see Carrie Underwood and Zac Brown Band break into it, though. Chesney and Strait can go.

  27. KNo Gravatar

    “I’d love “Me and Your Cigarrettes” to be released, but I’m very afraid that “Love Song” will be released, especially with the Lady A co-write…and it’s the most obvious, radio friendly song on the album. Ugh.”

    I think most of the songs on this album are radio-friendly. But it probably doesn’t help that Blake Shelton, Miranda and Lady A were co-writers. Honestly though, even Miranda selling mediocrity is better than most other arists versions of the same product.

    Besides, considering she’s released three great songs from “Revolution,” I think she can be quickly forgiven if “Love Song” is released. Personally, I’m pulling for “Heart Like Mine.”

  28. Leeann WardNo Gravatar

    The only problem is that “Love Song” isn’t just bad by Miranda standards. It’s just a bad song in general. So, while I’ll “forgive” her too, I’ll groan a lot while doing it. It would fit in with what’s being played these days though for sure.

    She’s already released four songs from this album and I’ve only liked two of them so far, this one and “The House that Built Me.” How likely is it that she’ll release a fifth single?

    I agree with Dan that Miranda doesn’t quite seem like she’s quite ready to enter the Entertainer race yet.

  29. Dan MillikenNo Gravatar

    I don’t think “Love Song” is terrible, but it’s just so forgettable. “Makin’ Plans” is better, but still doesn’t leave much of an impression on me. “Me and Your Cigarettes” has only grown on me over time.

    “How likely is it that she’ll release a fifth single?”

    She’s never released a fifth single from an album, but this is also the first time her singles have climbed the charts with any speed. Crazy Ex was released mid-2007 and they were still working “More Like Her” well into 2009. At the rate her singles are climbing now, I think a fifth release is a good possibility.

  30. Leeann WardNo Gravatar

    You’re probably right, especially since the album didn’t get released until after the second single was released.

  31. PSU MikeNo Gravatar

    I definately agree with the “Me and Your Cigarettes” love..outside of “House”, that’s probably my favorite thing on the album. I don’t hate “Love Song”, but there are definately better songs on the album that I’d rather hear on the radio.

    As for the “entertainer” race, I do think Miranda is an interesting dark horse for a nomination…she’s recording great music, and getting a ton of praise. I also think that some of her music attracts fans that wouldn’t normally listen to the typically country radio fare, as evidenced by some of the alternative music blogs/websites that have praised her work. I think she’s as good of a representative for the genre that you’re gonna find, and she’s had a nice year commercially…but, I doubt her touring figures match up with some of the bigger artists in the category. While I think she has a small shot for a nomination, I don’t think she gets in.

    I also agree with Dan about Underwood and the Zac Brown Band getting nods…but, I think Strait will still be there. For some reason, I think Taylor Swift loses out along with Chesney. She hasn’t released any new music in a while, and I have a feeling she’s about to face a backlash from the CMA. I also think it’s really wide open as to who wins this year, regardless of who is nominated.

  32. KNo Gravatar

    “Yeah, I was being a little sarcastic about Swift being able to pull it off. I don’t think her writing is quite clever enough yet.”

    Taylor is nowhere near Miranda’s level as a writer, as I hesitate to believe she will ever be. She rarely writes outside the subject of relationships, and most of the the songs are either angry, immature revenge anthems or so sugary- sweet they just come off as unrealistic.

    A lot of people seem to think Taylor will become more versitile as she becomes a little older, but I think the fact that she still writes about the same subject topped with princesses and fairytales is clue enough.

    Back to Miranda though, I think she’s got a good shot at the Entertainer nod. Her album is selling like hotcakes, she’s had two huge singles, quality videos, and her music is of the highest quality. Usually an artist can land a nod when their careers are at a peak, as Miranda currently is.

    Furthurmore, the critics and awards show voters have always been generous to her, even before she had much success. With her recent rise in country music with fans, album sales, singles, and radio play, this alone could give her a lock in the category.

    I think it’s wise to keep in mind that many artists have managed to win the entertainer award even if it’s their first nomination. I could see this as a big advantage for Miranda.

    As for other nominations, I’d like to see Carrie, Flatts, and Lady Antebellum get nominations. Personally, I never understood the love for ZBB breaking into this race. If they’re success is considered worthy enough to win the most coveted award in country music, they might as well have nominated a brand-new artist. Being nominated while only having four singles and one album to your name is an absolute slap in the face to established artists who’ve worked many years to get the same recognition.

  33. Tara SeetharamNo Gravatar

    I don’t think I’m ready to back Miranda for EOTY just yet, and I’m certainly not ready to back Lady A.

  34. I don’t see ZBB winning the award just yet either, though they’re one of the few performances that I look forward to on awards shows anymore. Even though Miranda has gained good momentum now, I still don’t imagine her getting entertainer yet. Usually, artists tend to be a much bigger splash. She has just started headlining her own tour for the first time.

  35. Tara SeetharamNo Gravatar

    I have a feeling Carrie will take the award, and I think it’ll be the first EOTY win she fully deserves.

  36. PSU MikeNo Gravatar

    Tara, I agree. I think Carrie has had stronger years, both critically and commercially, but the headline tour is going to help her, and she is well liked by the CMA. Unless a lot of voters decide to give Paisley a sympathy vote for being nominated so many times and not winning, I think she probably takes it.

    It’s funny, though… it doesn’t seem like any of the big touring acts/perennial entertainer nominees are at the top of their game right now. I think some of the other artists mentioned (Lady A, Miranda, ZBB)are closer to having signature years…they’re just not having as much of an impact touring. It will be interesting to see if the CMA maintains status quo when the nominations come out.

  37. I think there’s a chance for a darkhorse to land an Entertainer nomination. Since Sugarland somehow managed to snag one off the heals of their hit “Stay” a couple years ago then I don’t see why the CMA won’t do that again. I’m not saying they deserved their nomination but they had only had, I believe, one tour under their belt and it wasn’t making a big splash like the other people they were nominated with.

    I think we’ll see Brad, Keith and either George or Kenny back in the running this year. I think Taylor will get replaced by Carrie Underwood and that last spot, I’m hoping, will be reserved for a first time nominee. I think it could be either Miranda, who is having one heck of a year, or Lady Antebellum, who have become the new face of country.

    As far as a winner goes, I think if Taylor and Kenny are left out of the race, it could finally be Brad’s time for a much deserved win. But I’d love to see Carrie win.

  38. LeahNo Gravatar

    I LOVED this song on Miranda’s album. Only prettier is a sassy fun song that sounds great and I totally disagree w/ you about the production. I love the originality of the song and that nothing on country radio sounds like it. Once again Miranda Lambert blazes the way away from the generic mess that is current country radio.

  39. KNo Gravatar

    “It’s funny, though… it doesn’t seem like any of the big touring acts/perennial entertainer nominees are at the top of their game right now. I think some of the other artists mentioned (Lady A, Miranda, ZBB)are closer to having signature years…they’re just not having as much of an impact touring.”

    I was thinking the same thing. Usually, it’s a given that all the artists nominated have a strong stance in every corner of entertainment, especially ticket sales. Lady A and Miranda have been the biggest country acts of the past year- but I cannot imagine any voters rewarding an artist the biggest prize of the night without having huge touring cred. Heck, I think the ONLY reason Chesney won all those years because of his strong touring numbers.

    This years contenders don’t seem too promising. George and Chesney could get symathy nominations- I could see Miranda, Flatts, Lady A, or even Taylor getting into the cateogory as well. Carrie has has had strong numbers for her tour thus far, great reviews, album is doing well, and she has a lot going on. I’d be shocked if she didn’t get a nomination; as much as I love her, I cannot imagine a win here. My gut says Brad or Lady A take it.

  40. Dan MillikenNo Gravatar

    The touring thing IS important, but I’ve always interpreted Entertainer as an all-around profile award. Sometimes acts do great on the road but are otherwise invisible to the public eye; such acts don’t seem to win (recently, at least), presumably because they’re only excelling in one aspect of the ‘representing country music’ thing. The year Chesney won his first Entertainer of the Year, he wasn’t just touring well; he had truly been the genre’s biggest star for the last year. Same deal for Keith Urban, who won the next year despite Kenny being the bigger road draw. And same deal for Taylor last year. I think Lady A, Carrie and Zac Brown Band all have decent shots of breaking in based on that, and Miranda could be a (very) dark horse.

    …Not that any of this has to do with “Only Prettier”. :)

  41. While I enjoy “Only Prettier”, it isn’t my ideal follow up single to “The House That Built Me”. That would be “Makin’ Plans”, althought I oculd see why they would want to abvoid for releasing another ballad right away, I still think there are better uptempo tracks on the album. The first that comes to mind is “Airstream Song”. It would have been a very bold choice as a single since it doesn’t really sound like anything else being released at the moment, nor was “The House That Built Me”. Regardless, “Only Prettier” is still a good song. As long as “Love Song” isn’t released I’ll be fine. Now that she has her own commercial momentum going does she really need Blake Shelton and Lady A’s name on a song for it to be a hit?

  42. I can’t help but think of this quote from Patty Griffin that received a lot of attention awhile ago. I know that it understandably hurt Miranda’s feelings that one of her music heroes felt this way about her version of one of her songs, but I’m thinking that Miranda could stand to heed the advice:

    ”It doesn’t have to be loud,” she says of Lambert’s raucous ”Getting Ready.” ”To me, it’s tongue-in-cheek. When you’re younger, forces inside of you are telling you to stand on a table and scream and tell people to look at you.”

  43. Kevin John CoyneNo Gravatar

    That’s an interesting Griffin quote, especially in light of how she tended to belt quite a bit more on her first two records. She’s got a good point.

  44. Dan MillikenNo Gravatar

    I know what Griffin meant, but I always found that quote kind of odd. It’s not like her version of “Getting Ready” is way more subdued or anything.

  45. Griffin certainly has a point about volume, but I think that concerns about the “Loudness War” are more applicable to Lambert’s Revolution than to Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. “Only Prettier” was an obvious choice for a single– moreso than “Dead Flowers” or “White Liar”– but it should sound a world better than it actually does.

    The “tongue-in-cheek” part of the Griffin quote has never sat well with me, for its implication that there is only one valid interpretation for a song. Authorial intent is the bane of true critical thought, and Griffin’s statement comes across as smug and reductive in that regard. The confrontational tone Lambert brought to her rendition of “Getting Ready” was both supported by the song’s lyrics and, just as importantly, fit perfectly alongside the other songs on Girlfriend. Disliking Lambert’s rendition is all well and good, but Griffin’s reasoning doesn’t wash. I think Lambert was right to have felt hurt and let down by Griffin’s reaction in that instance, especially since, as Dan said, it’s not like Griffin’s version of the same song on Children Running Through was subtle or restrained.

    Spot-on review here, Kevin, as usual.

  46. I maintain that Griffin has a point, even if she didn’t follow it herself. I’m a big Lambert fan and I even like it when she gets loud, but I still think Griffin has a point about some artists thinking that loud equals strength, which it does not.

    As far as the loudness war goes, I’ve pasted it before, but here’s Chris Neal’s article on it for those who think something’s up with the production being louder than the vocals:

    http://www.the9513.com/everything-louder-than-everything-else/

  47. Kevin John CoyneNo Gravatar

    It’s no surprise that I agree with Griffin too, given this review. But a charitable reading of her comment could be made. Perhaps she’s just making an astute comment on how we mature over time. The effectiveness of being loud and abrasive to get what you want steadily declines as you go through your twenties. Unless you go into talk radio or politics, of course!

    I had a lot more trouble with her cover of “Easy From Now On” than her cover of “Getting Ready”, but I think that her interpretation of “Dry Town” is the only one of the three covers that are on par with her original material on the album (in terms of her performance, not the quality of the material itself.)

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  50. RamcoNo Gravatar

    The greaser dancing w/ Miranda is the coolest dude on the planet! The hair style is a new twist on the greaser look of the fifties. The song rocks, tits & all that! Bring back the fifties! This hip hop culture sux…