Single Review: LeAnn Rimes, “What Have I Done”

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December 12, 2012

Long lost in the torrent of tabloids, lost in the fickle four-lady shuffle of country radio, is the truth that LeAnn Rimes – whatever her circumstances – is an exceptional country artist. An artist who hit her commercial peak early, but whose creative peak is still sloping up with each passing year, as her natural talent imbibes the wisdom and weather of age. The chipper tween who Patsy-parroted through “Blue” was charming, but nowhere near as compelling as the guarded optimist of “What I Cannot Change.” And even she, in turn, sounds a little simplistic compared to the woman we now encounter in “What Have I Done.”

That title should tip off the song’s subject matter to anyone familiar with Rimes’s personal history. But that’s where the easy answers in this release end. Far from a one-note PR push, “What Have I Done” explores every gray shade of Rimes leaving “the only man that’s ever loved me,” painting a strikingly three-dimensional picture of the event and its aftermath.

It could be unwieldy. But the song manages to unfold all this reality gently, each line like a carefully measured breath in a meditation. There’s hardly a wasted word in “What Have I Done,” hardly a note of ornament. Even when Rimes curls the word “loved” at the end of the chorus, it doesn’t feel like a stunt. It feels like what the folk tradition demanded – what the song’s craft demanded. It’s as if in confronting her worst demons yet, Rimes has tapped into the life-spring of classic country: clean, composed catharsis.

Does it all still seem…a bit calculated? Of course; how could any release under such circumstances not? It also seems achingly sincere – and maybe the two don’t have to be mutually exclusive. If there’s anything “What Have I Done” has to teach, it’s that the truth is complicated. We don’t get to go through life having pleased everyone, or even having convinced everyone of our good intent, or even having convinced ourselves, at times. We just get to try, tugged at each moment by the thoughts and circumstances of the day, and watch what happens. The final judgment on Rimes’s attempts remains to be seen. But as for the judgment on her art – there’s no question.

Grade: A

Written by LeAnn Rimes, Darrell Brown & David Baerwald

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  1. SamBNo Gravatar says:

    Thank you for this. It had somehow gone over my head that this was coming out, and I’m really glad to hear it.

    Amazing song. In fact, both the songs in that clip you link to are really good – so personal, both in the lyrics and in the interpretation. I look forward to the accompanying album… just hope Curb won’t keep us waiting for a year again this time.

  2. Wow Dan. This is an exceptional piece of writing.

    I’ve been a fan of LeAnn’s music since “Blue” hit in 1996 and it really makes me happy to see she’s on such a creative uptick, releasing strong artistic material. Her music just keeps getting better and better with each passing album.

    I was kind of mad she chose to record a covers album in the wake of her tabloid mess. I felt she was weak for not addressing and dealing with her personal issues head on. I’m overjoyed to see she’s doing that now. That’s what true country music is all about. I cannot wait for Spitfire.

  3. Ben FosterNo Gravatar says:

    An artist who hit her commercial peak early, but whose creative peak is still sloping up with each passing year

    I absolutely agree. While I’ve seen quite a few of my favorite artists losing creative steam in recent years, it’s so refreshing to see LeAnn Rimes getting better and better.

    And what a beautiful song! A Rimes career highlight for sure. And a fantastic, deeply insightful review on Mr. Milliken’s part.

  4. JakeNo Gravatar says:

    She confirmed via Twitter that her album comes out 4/30/13

  5. Ben FosterNo Gravatar says:

    ^Yay!

  6. GregNo Gravatar says:

    I always loved leAnn but will agree her most recent outputs have been great. I always thought when she was a big commercial success that she overrated. Now that she’s not commercially accepted that she is underrated. Hope she can turn it around!

  7. ThomasNo Gravatar says:

    I LOVE this song and am so happy you reviewed it Dan. I, like others who have commented, have been a LeAnn fan for a long time. I think she is such a talented artist, and “This Woman” is one of my favourite albums that I own. “What I Cannot Change” was an artistic masterpiece, in my opinion, and this song is no different. While it may be seem calculated in terms of timing with its release, I think it is a sincere song. LeAnn’s vocal is gorgeous, almost aching with pain throughout. The accompaniment is simple and allows LeAnn to shine. Also love Dan Tyminski & Allison Kraus on harmonies. It is definitely one of favourite songs of the year and has consistently been on repeat since I bought it two weeks ago.

  8. Leeann WardNo Gravatar says:

    A very fine review indeed!!

    I agree that her music has been more and more impressive in the past few years. Even her covers album turned out to be quality. This song is teriffic.

  9. Abdul MajeedNo Gravatar says:

    Wow. What an awesome song from her. Heartfelt. I never thought it would resonate with me at all.

  10. CMWNo Gravatar says:

    Okay, so I guess this Milliken guy is an okay writer.

  11. SteveNo Gravatar says:

    This is the finest record LeAnn has ever recorded (nevermind written). I can’t tell you the last time I heard a song that was actually painfully true.
    Its honest, heartbreaking, lonesome, truthful, simple, and perfect. What every great country song should be.
    It gives me hope for country music, but I’m sure radio won’t play it. Hope can only last so long.

  12. Hard TimesNo Gravatar says:

    It is very sad that LeAnn’s personal life apparently has made her toxic to so many people. She is an amazing artist who now must really struggle to be heard.

    Dan’s line about “the wisdom and weather of age” made me think of Sara Evans. While I always found her talented, she was quite sanctimonious and judgmental — right up until she split from her husband amid back-and-forth cheating allegations. While I’m no advocate for adultery, I now enjoy her music more, knowing it is imbued with some of life’s pain.

  13. Tara SeetharamNo Gravatar says:

    I want to be Dan when I grow up.

    This is gorgeous.

  14. Ben FosterNo Gravatar says:

    Ditto, Tara. I’ve got a major inferiority complex going on right now!

  15. JohnNo Gravatar says:

    I made the (sort of) mistake of watching LeAnn’s interview on E! where she let it all mostly hang out. Truly like seeing a car wreck on the side of the road. Having said that, I appreciate the fact that she’s owning whatever transgression she feels she has committed. The song is beautiful, but the release of it along with her confessional interview does seem a bit opportunistic.

    BTW, I need to echo everyone’s praise of the writing. Well done, Dan.

  16. JessNo Gravatar says:

    I don’t see why it’s sad that LeAnn’s personal life has turned people off from her. When we pay for an artist’s music/product, we are supporting them. If someone behaves in a way we don’t like, it makes sense to not support them. It always annoyed me that LeAnn tried to play the victim even though she and Eddie both committed adultery.

    I admit this is a stunning song, and I can respect that from her as an artist. But at the same time, I can see it being hard for people to give money to someone capitalizing (even if it isn’t intentional) on adultery.

  17. Hard TimesNo Gravatar says:

    Jess,

    I agree that it’s up to all of us as music consumers to decide whom we want to support, and that an artist’s personal behavior can and sometimes should affect whether they get fan support. It just seems in Rimes’s case that the vitriol has become so pronounced and the desire to punish her so extreme that her music no longer can get a fair hearing. For some people, it’s not enough to personally dislike her music, they seem to want to destroy her as an artist. I don’t condone what she did, but she’s far from the first country singer to commit adultery. The animosity directed at her compared to her husband also seems disproportionate.

  18. bigzNo Gravatar says:

    well, her latest performance on national TV just sealed the deal. plus the fact that she blamed a 13-year old for her performance. seems like , with this song its one step forward … and on x Factor .. 5 steps back. oh well.

  19. JosephNo Gravatar says:

    Great review! It seems that Curb switched out this song for “Borrowed” as the album’s lead-off single

  20. ConnieNo Gravatar says:

    I agreed with what everyone has said above. The song’s great but it’s true, her recent performance on the X factor just ruined her only chance of her reviving her career. After all the backlash she’s gotten over her affair with Cibrian, putting out great music is detrimental to her. However, she just couldn’t keep her mouth shut and had to defend herself over that stupid performance which clearly she sounded and looked horrible on TV. And before that she went on almost every single country artists special on TV and most recent her own E! interview, acting like a desperate seeking attention woman telling everyone that she’s sorry about the affair. She just needs to get over it, not feel sorry about it anymore cos no one does or even cares about it anymore! also, she needs to stop being so self conscious about what others have to say about her all the time.

  21. david baerwaldNo Gravatar says:

    I assure you, there was no calculation involved at all.

  22. CherylNo Gravatar says:

    It was an incredible song. I am buying off of iTunes today. I already purchased Borrowed.

    I have never liked or felt an affinity to country music, but since The Voice I am now having a growing appreciation for it.

    What Have I Done is an amazing, moving, and lyrically significant song, in my opinion. I see Leann as a great singer. She is so clean in her pitch. I would love to see an out there duet with Adrea Bocelli. Leann is clean, crisp and has a beautiful range.

    Fantastic talent!

  23. KeithNo Gravatar says:

    Just a follow-up, but does anyone have any idea when Spitfire is supposed to released in the US? I read that a digital-download release was supposed to happen today in the UK, with a hard-copy release on the 20th (again in the UK). I haven’t read or heard anything about the US release, though.

  24. Ben FosterNo Gravatar says:

    Spitfire will be released in the U.S. on April 30, two weeks from today.

  25. KeithNo Gravatar says:

    Thanks Ben!

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