Single Review: Miranda Lambert, “Little Red Wagon”

Miranda Lambert Little Red Wagon

“Little Red Wagon”
Miranda Lambert

Written by Audra Mae and Joe Ginsburg

The bizarre handling of the singles from Miranda Lambert’s Platinum continues unabated with the arrival of “Little Red Wagon.” After leading off with far-and-away the two worst tracks on the album—the aesthetically and politically regressive “Automatic” and the empty bombast of “Somethin’ Bad”—then tagging “Smokin’ and Drinkin’,” an understated collaboration with Little Big Town, as the set’s next single before abruptly pulling the plug without explanation, Lambert’s team have declared “Little Red Wagon” as Lambert’s official third single. It’s been a long, strange ride thus far— one that smacks of the kind of nonsense typically reserved for veteran artists signed to Curb Records or to Sara Evans, rather than to an artist who is actively being pushed as one of the format’s superstars.

As an album track, “Little Red Wagon” serves Lambert and Platinum well. It establishes some of the album’s key thematic throughlines with its wiseass point-of-view and unapologetic take on a woman’s sexual agency, and it displays the feistiness and sass that have become two of Lambert’s trademarks. The production, with the gradually building cacophony of its verses giving way to the explosive guitars and thundering percussion in the campground-taunt chorus, is perhaps the most progressive among the album’s many rock-oriented tracks. Lambert has always boasted a broad definition of how country music can sound, and “Little Red Wagon” finds her and producer Frank Liddell pushing hard against the genre’s boundaries.

While those elements are all fairly routine for Lambert at this point in her career, they also make “Little Red Wagon” a gutsy choice for a single.

The way she exaggerates her affect to deliver some of songwriter Audra Mae’s most barbed lines works in context for the song and make for a committed performance, but something so intensely character-driven is bound to be polarizing. The song’s aggressive third-wave feminism and its “backyard swagger” are, again, logical thematic progressions for Lambert and fit within the overall artistic visions for both Platinum and Lambert’s career as a whole, but they’re clearly at-odds with the systematic sexism and overt misogyny that have dominated country radio for the past several years. Like much of contemporary country, the production draws heavily from rock music, but the song’s unconventional structure and shifts in dynamics couldn’t be farther removed from the bland AOR stylings of, say, Justin Moore or Parmalee.

With “Little Red Wagon,” Lambert is essentially giving notice to most everyone else in current rotation that, artistically, she doesn’t have room for them. Whether or not that wins her many new fans or makes her any friends at radio remains to be seen, but Lambert is at her best when she refuses to play by Nashville’s established rules, and her “Little Red Wagon” careens wildly down its own path.

Grade: A

26 Comments

  1. aesthetically and politically regressive

    Really? Please, do tell. Are we going the way of Pitchfork now? I really would love an explanation for this description. As it stands, it sounds clever, without substance.

    But, yes, their choices for singles has been bizarre. I’ve never seen anything like it, especially for such a great album.

  2. That sounds awful. When a song sounds that bad to me I can’t even think about the lyrics.
    I’ve never been a Miranda fan. Wonder how she would have fared if she had come along in the 90’s, in competition with all those great 90’s ladies.

  3. I agree with Kevin Davis on the “politically regressive” sentence. That sounds charged with issues not relating to that song. As for the current single from the current Queen, I can do without. She is trending back to “Fastest Girl in Town” territory with the “see how rebellious I am” theme. I am fatigued enough from the bro country usage of the theme, I don’t need the 90% clever Miranda treading the same ground.

    Honestly, this song sounds like bro country for girls. I have enough songs about a lady terming herself untouchable and how high and mighty she is for not choosing to be with a guy. (Disclosure, I am not saying that women have to be with a man and vice versa) I would like to hear a country song from a guy about not wanting an easy lady. Perhaps, I am not politically progressive enough to appreciate her current single.

  4. The aesthetics of “Automatic” are regressive in that they are drawn from a dated arena-rock style without incorporating that style into anything more contemporary in country, pop, or rock.

    The politics of its second verse are regressive (“The boys would call the girls/The girls would turn them down/Staying married was the only way to work your problems out”) in ways that are certainly not charged with issues irrelevant to the lyrics as written and which I’m certainly not the only person to have commented on. It’s a song that trades in nostalgia and, in that particular verse, the things looked back on fondly are problematic and, yes, regressive: Girls can call whoever they’d like to call, and there are plenty of productive, adaptive ways for unhappy people to work out their problems.

  5. Guys, guys…let’s just agree that neither this single nor Automatic are very good, and that Miranda is overrated because she’s one of two decent female artists capable of getting radio traction.

    She’s not in Musgraves’ or Clark’s or Lindi Ortega’s league (for all the hate Maggie Rose gets, I’ve never heard Miranda sing anything I love as much as “Looking Back Now” or “Better”), but people fixate on her (and Carrie, who is similarly mediocre) as the second coming of Natalie Maines because they’re desperate for some sort of female country music savior.

  6. I “like” this song in the same way that I “like” songs like “Boys Round Here” and “Donkey”: They’re so unequivocally stupid that I can’t help but find them amusing.

  7. I do think that “Little Red Wagon” has more to say than a song like “Boys ‘Round Here”, but I get your general point, SRM.:) I was caught off guard by this song when I first heard, but it grew on me in a big way.

    As far as Lambert’s talent, I’d say I would like her just as much in the nineties as I do now, particularly the Crazy Ex Girlfriend, Revolution and Platinum albums.

  8. RE Jonathan Keefe

    Thanks, Jonathan, for the response. I will have to further consider the aesthetic angle. I am not sure why transposing a feature from one era requires “matching” with other contemporary forms. I am not a big fan of the song, so I am not overly invested in defending its merit in this regard.

    As for the political regressive aspect, I am assuming that Miranda is more complicated than to endorse a simplistic narrative about male-female relations, given her catalog of songs. I know plenty of women who simultaneously can speak fondly about more traditional modes of gender relations and marriage (including, yes, that there was some benefit to the stigma of divorce) while also lauding the freedom to adopt and adapt otherwise. There is precious little that is more complicated than these issues. Moreover, “regressive” is a loaded term and, indeed, a judgmental term — not appropriate, in my opinion.

  9. I think it’s appropriate as far as there are lines in the song that are at least equally as judgmental. And this is coming from somebody who generally enjoys the song with a couple of misgivings.

  10. I agree with Jonathan and Lee Ann re: “Automatic” about how the 2nd verse of “Automatic” reads. I think it’s a matter of sloppy songwriting rather than actual regressive thinking, but still. Divorce gave women a way out of abusive relationships, for example, and Nicolle Galyon, Natalie Hemby, & Miranda are smart enough to know this. If the writers wanted to make a commentary on people not taking marriage seriously enough today, they should have figured out a different way of putting it.

    There’s also a disconnect hearing Miranda wax nostalgic about the days when “staying married was the only way to work your problems out” when she wouldn’t be married to her husband today if that were still the case.

    I like “Little Red Wagon” and found myself nodding along with Jonathan’s take on it. Miranda’s version is not as effective as Audra Mae’s more playful original, but I like the way it works for Miranda’s persona. It’s an attitude song that makes sense coming from somebody who’s no longer an outsider (Eric Church has ruined this word for me) and is now a big star. I love that it doesn’t have the typical song structure for radio, too.

    The fact that Miranda played this song on several TV appearances earlier this year seemed to point to it being under consideration. I think this is a case of Miranda/RCA Nashville going for the buzzy song that’ll sell even if it doesn’t get max airplay because they’re not sure what is the biggest remaining hit on her album in a changing radio climate.

    As far as the unexplained switch from “Smokin’ & Drinkin’,” I’d guess it’s because Little Big Town’s label Capitol Nashville rescinded permission for their participation. Little Big Town was initially going to release “Quit Breakin’ Up With Me” as the 2nd single from Pain Killer, but after a little campaigning (with an assist from Bobby Bones), they went with “Girl Crush” instead. It would’ve been 1 thing having the uptempo “Quit Breakin’ Up With Me” on the radio at the same time as the collaboration with Miranda. But having “Smokin’ & Drinkin'” out there at the same time as “Girl Crush”) would mean 2 LBT ballads competing at radio at the same time (and “Smokin’ & Drinkin'” sounds more like it should be a LBT song than a Miranda song, even with Miranda singing lead).

    So I think Capitol Nashville nixed permissions for “Smokin’ & Drinkin'” to protect “Girl Crush,” and left RCA Nashville in the position of having to choose another single for Miranda. That probably at least partially explains the delay between Platinum singles, since “Somethin’ Bad” peaked in mid-October and “Little Red Wagon” was finally sent to radio last week. The people I feel for most in this situation are Natalie Hemby and Shane McAnally, who went from snagging two singles (they are 2 of the 3 co writers on “Quit…” & “Smokin’…”) to none, at least for now.

  11. Just echoing the sentiments expressed above. “Automatic” is quite regressive, a label that could’ve been avoided had the nostalgia stopped at Rand McNally maps and cassette tapes.

    But once you enter the territory of staying married and working things out, you disappear the elements of women’s financial dependence on men because they weren’t in the workforce, and more significantly, the general social acceptance of domestic abuse. Sloppy songwriting, as said above, and I’m happy to see her back at radio with the point of view of “Little Red Wagon.”

  12. Texas plates, candy apple red . . . Whoops wrong song, that one I actually enjoy, this one I do not. Can Miranda just go back in time to her last album, release Dear Diamond and call it a day for about 3-4 months? If she can’t do that can we make sure that “Hard Staying Sober” or “All That’s Left” with the Time Jumpers is released from this album? Please Miranda, pretty please!

  13. I guess more than anything, I don’t dislike the lyrical value of this song, I dislike the busy, rock-oriented production. I get that this kind of hard-driving production is a staple of her career. I just get annoyed with “busy” production in country music anymore. I like her much better as an artist when we’re getting songs produced like “House That Built Me”, “Dear Diamond”, “Same Old You”, “Easy From Now On”, etc. I suppose if there were not a brigade of others out there producing loud, rock-oriented country I’d find Miranda more unique and enjoy her style more. As it is now, the rock vibe in country music is grating on me over time.

  14. I understand the mixed reaction for this as a single. I think it’s a fab composition, and the track stands out on the album, but somehow, isolating it from that setting does make it feel like sort of a “Fastest Girl in Town” retread.

    Plus, I hate to say it, but I can’t help liking this recording a little less ever since Miranda’s own recommendation led me to check out the Audra Mae original, which is a hoot. I do give Miranda endless kudos for covering the song and releasing it as a single, but this version’s a little more serious and “noisy” than it needs to be.

    Still hoping “Smokin’ and Drinkin'” will get another shot at some point. So pretty.

  15. Yes, the Audra Mae original is really good. It lead me to buy her whole album. So, I can’t credit Miranda enough for the female songwriters and artists that she champions; she seems very generous in that way.

  16. I guess I am just too tired of Mirandas insistence that she is such a bada..! I think she leans heavily into stereotypes no different than the men of Bro-country. But because she is a woman she is not called out on it. Somehow its ok for a woman to paint images of backyard dirty, barefoot in the kitchen, pissed of and don’t care who knows it… but when men use these same visuals, they are considered stereotype. Miranda is somehow nostalgic when she does it. Long story short, the whole “I’m mad and I’m gonna thrash around about it” is just comepletly played out, but more importantly, she has absolutely nothing left to be angry about except where to put all those unnecessary felmale vocalist awards…..plez……

  17. It isn’t a secret that I’m a huge Miranda Lambert fan and have been since she was on Nashville Star in 2003. To some extent, I’ll always love her music.

    “Little Red Wagon?” No, I just can’t. On any level. I kind of enjoyed the song when Platinum came out, but she ruined it when she performed it on the CMA Music Fest Country’s Night To Rock special. The whole thing suffered from over exaggeration both in terms of her delivery and her googly eyes.

    “Little Red Wagon” is just plain trashy. It does fit her projected persona, which is a plus for her brand, but that doesn’t mean it makes for a great song. I actually had to go and listen to Audra’s original to try and understand the song as a whole.

    While we’re on the topic of Audra Mae, she had a hand in co-writing Kelly Clarkson’s brand new pop single and she’s currently writing with The Band Perry for their third album.

  18. I know that this is a very late posting to an older review. BUT I cannot believe that Miranda’s team released this as her new single. Miranda has a history of releasing tracks that are not typical for radio (“Mama’s Broken Heart”) and getting airplay with them. At the same time, she also has a reputation of not releasing sure-fire hits from her albums. This time around, this is really baffling. This sounds like a great album cut, but not a single. I think that “Smoking and Drinking” would have climbed the charts had they not pulled it. Is Miranda is going to end up having one of the most critically-acclaimed and best-selling country albums only produce two big hits? (“Automatic,” “Something Bad). That would be fine if there weren’t so many other Platinum songs that could be huge hits for her. And the time lapse is amazing. It’s been ages since “Something Bad.”. As a huge Miranda fan, I simply don’t get it.

  19. It makes total sense for “Little Red Wagon” to be a single at this time of year. They’re trying to make a Grammy moment happen. The new chart rules include streaming and digital sales. The hope is that, like “Follow Your Arrow” last year, “Little Red Wagon” will have a huge chart week after people stream the performance and download and stream the song in the days following the performance.

    It worked with “Somethin’ Bad”, which in terms of radio play, wasn’t one of either lady’s bigger hits, but still went #1 after performing it on TV. “Smokin’ and Drinkin'” only making it to #38, despite a CMA performance coupled with big wins for both Miranda and LBT the same night, pretty much sunk it as a viable single choice, label politics notwithstanding.

  20. The song is barely top 20 and lost spins and audience last week. Wow. Considering the way “Somethin’ Bad” stalled, it’s clear not even Miranda and Carrie can break the all boys’ club at country radio anymore.

  21. “Somethin’ Bad” was a poor attempt at bro country. It deserved to stall.
    This song is not much better. I don’t think country music is losing out.

  22. It doesn’t look like this is even going to make the top 15 at country radio. Miranda has yet to have a #1 at country radio this era.

  23. Jess it’s her single choices and timing Automatic got bad timing as Play It Again and This Is How We Roll were dominating which left Miranda as the odd one out. Something Bad and this both were just way too polarizing and well Miranda and her team better have a backup somg ready otherwise Miranda might wanna move on to a new album.

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