I discovered Country Universe in the spring of 2010 and quickly became a regular reader. At the time, Dan’s review of Miranda Lambert’s much-lauded release “The House That Built Me” was a recent post.
Besides making me wish that my own ‘shameless rants’ could come out sounding half as smart and classy as Dan’s, the article raises a series of points that remain valid nearly half a decade later. “The House That Built Me” is a great record, but should it really have stood out so dramatically as such? Dan discussed the single in a way that turned the mirror back on us. Have we developed a tendency to praise or over-praise music, not on its own merits, but in comparison to the weaker material surrounding it?
Perhaps it was my recent participation in Country Universe’s Best of 1994 feature which moved me to revisit this article and topic. I think about the great difficulty I had in narrowing down my personal list of favorite singles from that incredible year, and then I look at the singles I’ve reviewed favorably in the recent past. How many of those singles would have had a prayer of making that list if they had been released in 1994? At a time when great music is becoming harder and harder to find, Dan’s review remains a potent reminder of the need to maintain a wider perspective in evaluating the music of today. – Ben Foster
Single Review/Shameless Rant: Miranda Lambert, “The House That Built Me”
by Dan Milliken
April 1, 2010
Let’s be real: to most core readers of this blog, it’s probably old news that Miranda Lambert is releasing this unusually good song to radio. And it’s probably old opinion for me to proclaim that she’s playing a more sophisticated game than just about any mainstream artist out there. You know: “she’s real, everyone else is a phony!” Is there some amount of truth in that? Sure. But you don’t need another country music Caulfield to tell you. You just have to listen to the song. The difference between this record and most of the others at radio can be felt within seconds.
So blah blah, it’s very good. Maybe great. The best on the album, which is itself quite good. She’s all that. Know what I find myself thinking? It shouldn’t be like this.
Meaning, it shouldn’t come as a pleasant shock when a major label sends out the best track on the album. Or when the track has that distinction because of its grace and intelligence, not because it happens to be more disposably catchy than the others surrounding it. We shouldn’t feel so tempted to put Miranda Lambert on a pedestal just because she’s one of the only acts who bothers (or, perhaps, gets away with) picking music with a few brain cells. We should feel better about noticing that “The House That Built Me” has a few hackneyed turns of phrase, that the second verse seems underdeveloped compared to the first.
I’d like to tell you about the beautiful craft, depth and delivery that make this single worthy of its almost-certain coronation as the best of the year. But all I can think is that that coronation shouldn’t be so almost-certain. Miranda Lambert is a great young artist; she deserves to compete with other great artists, ones who will elicit her admiration and secret envy and drive her to seek yet better songs, better ideas. It infuriates me that this single sticks out so plainly on the Billboard charts. It infuriates me that it’s such a fluke, that mediocrity is so dominant now that I have to focus all my country-music-fan energy on hoping this one really strong release will hit the Top Ten.
Because we used to have a genre full of this stuff, you guys. We used to have a bunch of of artists at once trying to find or write songs like this in between the standard fluff of the day. Hank, George, Emmylou, Dwight, Mary Chapin, whoever – even a lot of less consistent, less celebrated artists. They didn’t all sound the same, but there was a common thread: they tried to be great.
I don’t know all the political intricacies of country music’s current problem. I’m some guy on the internet blogging from an on-campus apartment. But I know that a lot of problems get fixed when individuals stop trying to please everyone and simply try to be great at what they do. Miranda Lambert has been trying to be great from Day One. And what a pleasure it is when her end result is worthy of the same grade as her effort:
Now, what do the rest of you have to say for yourselves?
Written by Tom Douglas and Allen Shamblin