Miranda Lambert — “Mama’s Broken Heart”
To every action there is always an equal and opposite reaction, no? What might work as Newton’s third law of motion does not, regrettably, apply to the law of emotion. On her new single, “Mama’s Broken Heart,” Miranda Lambert peels back the disguise of prim and proper women to reveal the angst bubbling underneath, and also strikes a blow against callous cads who fake out, flake out and think they’ll run free from the repercussions. Men: think again.
This tense, taut circus show clocks in at one second short of three minutes, a terrifically neat and tidy package for such combustible contents. The story begins with a young woman’s self-destruction in full and delirious flight. After an awful breakup prompts an all-night bender, her whole hometown feels the unfortunate effects. “Word got around to the barflies and the Baptists,” she shares, enraged but not embarrassed that they’ve notified the authorities of her destructive behavior. As much as she longs to be like “a Kennedy when Camelot went down in flames,” it’s simply not in her volatile nature.
This seething riposte—-delivered by Lambert in a pronounced sneer—-stands in stark juxtaposition with the bouncy cowpunk melody that undergirds the verses. Short stabs of distorted electric guitar heighten the darkly comic tension. The instrumental recording, in fact, would play just as well while Elmer Fudd tiptoes through the forest in hot pursuit of Bugs Bunny.
This aftermath, though, is no laughing matter. Agitated by her daughter’s display of anger, mama swoops in and says in no uncertain terms that she should straighten up and settle down. She says, “Go and fix your makeup/”Girl, it’s just a breakup,” laying on a lovingly stern guilt trip in a way that only a mother can. A little paint on the toes and a bit of powder on the nose should do the trick to mask this sour mood.
Being mature and moving on like an old pro might work best in real life, but this slab of pulp fiction is pure revenge fantasy. The aggrieved party here seems anxious to poke holes in the live-and-let-live strategy, at least based on the way Lambert gives little bursts of power to phrases like “spotless reputation” and “softer generation,” as if she’s openly mocking her mother’s well-meaning advice.
Past Lambert hits have employed kerosene or gunpowder and lead to make their point. What might make “Mama’s Broken Heart” more powerful is how we’re left to wonder what her revenge will ultimately be. The carefully measured verses explode into a righteously fierce refrain, and a tempered drumroll after the second verse sounds like a tease to her cloak-and-dagger act.
As a clever hidden message left for all to decode, the songwriters sneak in a casual bit on gender politics, too. People accept anger in men; women who lose their tempers are seen as irrational, irresponsible creatures. Lambert, all sturm und twang, tweaks that outdated way of thinking right from the start: in the first few seconds, she offers a forlorn sigh hemmed with a lacerating edge. It’s the sound of a woman deliberating her next and most devastating move. The only safe prediction after playing “Mama’s Broken Heart,” a hillbilly tantrum with no sign of stopping, is that it just might be mainstream country’s best single of 2013.
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