Single Review: Pistol Annies, "Takin’ Pills"

A standout cut from the Pistol Annies’ terrific Hell on Heels album, “Takin’ Pills” served as a thesis statement for the project, introducing each individual member of the group by her reputation and her preferred vice and giving the group’s exploits a broad narrative arc.

For the uninitiated, Pistol Annies are no supergroup: They’re “not trying to get rich/[They’re] just trying to get by/Playing for tips on Saturday night.” And “Takin’ Pills” proves that they’ve got the kind of tunes that should have their open guitar-cases overflowing with cash.

The lyrical hook (“One’s drinkin’/One’s smokin’/One’s takin’ pills”) and the melody both have real follow-through behind their punches. The track’s arrangement is pure roadhouse, equal parts honky-tonk and sweaty bar-rock, a perfect match to the Annies’ rowdy attitudes.

To that end, “Takin’ Pills” works as a catchy standalone single that plays fast and loose with matters of artistic identity. And in doing so, the timing of the single’s release invites an important if somewhat obvious comparison, as “Takin’ Pills” draws the limitations of “Lone Star Annie” Miranda Lambert’s current single into sharp relief.

The prevailing tone of “Takin’ Pills” is one of toying with image in ways that are both purposeful and, above all else, playful: The Annies are playing dress-up and are having a ball doing so, and that sense of fun shines through in the recording. It’s a refreshing about-face from the dead-serious posturing that Lambert (and her co-writer, “Holler Annie” Angaleena Presley) adopt on “Fastest Girl in Town.” Lambert, Presley, and “Hippie Annie” Ashley Monroe look at their bad-girl vamping on “Takin’ Pills” as a means to a greater end, while the disheartening, unintentional self-parody of “Fastest Girl in Town” is a dead-end.

A killer hook. A swaggering performance. A rough-and-tumble arrangement. A smart, self-aware narrative that knows exactly how to develop an artistic persona. “Takin’ Pills” boasts all the signature elements of Lambert’s best singles. It’s a shame that they’ve gone AWOL from her solo material, but at least Pistol Annies and their broke-down van are still forging ahead.

Written by Miranda Lambert, Ashley Monroe & Angaleena Presley

Grade: A-

Watch: Takin’ Pills

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11 Comments

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11 Responses to Single Review: Pistol Annies, "Takin’ Pills"

  1. For me, this is perfection, a winner in every way. I love the lyrics of ths song, the vocal performances, but most especially the production. It’s the coolest sounding record I’ve heard in years. It’s songs lie this that stand as a reminder why Miranda Lambert is light years ahead of both Taylor and Carrie.

    The video is great, too.

    My favorite singles of 2012 list gets more and more interesting by the day.

  2. White CleatsNo Gravatar

    I’m really conflicted about Pistol Annies — I just can’t decide which side I come down on. On the one hand they’re novel and fun with great country instrumentation and clever lyrics. On the other they’re way too try-hard and gimmicky. I mean, this whole “Hippie Annie/Holler Annie/Lone Star Annie” reeks of a bad country version of the Spice Girls complete with faux 1800’s “git yer picture takin’ dressed up like the old west!” fashions. It all feels so disingenuous.

    Okay, maybe I am sure which side I come down on. Maybe my conflict comes because I want to like them but they keep giving me reasons to not — like terrible live vocals. What was that award show they sang this song on recently? It was a disaster. A near tone deaf mess that would make Simon Cowell cry. Various live versions of Hell on Heels didn’t fare much better.

    Miranda is an excellent singer and I almost always love listening to her but Ashley Monroe, for all her studio talents, is a very shaky live performer. And this Angaleena person? A total embarrassment. She has no business singing for a living.

    Okay, I guess I don’t like Pistol Annies. I talked myself into it. But, I still love the lyrics!

  3. A fantastic review of a fantastic song, Jonathan. Definitely one of the best songs of a very fine album. It’s a shame, though, that there’s been such a drastic quality difference between the Pistol Annies’ material and Lambert’s solo material. This song makes “Fastest Girl In Town” seem all the more embarrassing.

  4. bobNo Gravatar

    Thanks for the warning white cleats. I always try to hear an act sing live on some tv show before buying tickets to see them perform live. I can’t take off-key singers and neither can my wife. We were lucky to be sitting in the last row once when an opening act at Westbury was so bad that we were able to escape to the lobby without disturbing anyone. I understand why reviewers are not likely to tell their readers how bad an act is live. I did that once and got a few vicious comments so I haven’t done that since. I have a few PA songs downloaded but I’ll avoid their shows.

  5. DevinNo Gravatar

    I may not know much (anything) about music, but I think they sound pretty dang good here:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m8kRnYXP4sU

    You can be the judge of that though.

    Anyways, I love the Pistol Annies. That album has gotten more plays than probably any other from me in the last year.

  6. Great song.

    I’m not wild about Presley’s voice but I think Lambert and Monroe sound very good live.

  7. Susan K.No Gravatar

    Great review – just dead on. I love this song and hate most everything on Miranda’s new album. “Pistol Annies” is Miranda at her best.

  8. Jonathan KeefeNo Gravatar

    Presley’s voice is the weak link in the trio– though she absolutely sells “Lemon Drop,” still my favorite cut on the album– but I would hesitate to judge anyone’s live performance skills based upon the sound mixing at an awards show.

    The specs for the country music industry shows, in particular, are notoriously poor and can make pretty well anyone other than Alison Krauss and Trisha Yearwood sound like a hack. That’s not to say that a good percentage of today’s country stars are anything other than hacks who wouldn’t sound awful anywhere, just that I don’t think the stage of the CMT awards is the most fair venue for judging whether or not that’s true of any given act.

  9. White CleatsNo Gravatar

    Bob:
    I’d hate for you to take my word for it. I’m always being given the eye roll by my friends and family for picking a singer’s every note apart but I can’t help it — I’m a professional (opera) singer and I hear everything. So when I post on CU I tend to comment on the singing, it’s who I am.

    In any case, I agree with you and your wife; I can’t stand listening to consistently out of tune performances. But please don’t skip buying a ticket on my account.

    Devin,
    I agree with you, they do sound pretty good there (though Monroe and Pressley are still under the note more than I would like to hear from professionals) and that’s the best performance I’ve heard of Hell on Heels. However, Takin’ Pills is a harder song to sing so it underscores their weaknesses more. Additionally, I’ve watched quite a lot of YouTube versions of both songs and they are consistently out of tune.

    Jonathan,
    True story! Sound dynamics are a serious problem at award shows with singers almost always fighting with the band to be heard. But I think I’m pretty good at detecting the difference between out of tune, off key singing and a poor mix.

    I like your example of Yearwood and Krauss but to be fair to the current women, the former sang in front of far less instrumentation and thus didn’t have to resort to ungainly tricks to be heard, which tricks often result in ugly notes.

  10. TomNo Gravatar

    …these “annies” are a terrific project. not flawless, but highly original and with a vibrant attitude. yet best of all, they are shamelessly country. if it takes “takin’ pills” to get there, bless ‘em.

    of course, it is also a fine instrument for miranda lambert to widen her audience well into the target group of the more traditional (older) country listeners, while her own albums keep offering a broader range of styles. smart marketing – great music.