If songs like this represent the flame Miranda Lambert’s been keeping, she’s free to put it out at anytime.
Seriously, what the heck happened to Lambert? While other artists like Cole Swindell and Thomas Rhett have taken steps to course-correct their careers in recent years, Lambert seems bound and determined to run hers straight into the ground. Where once she released clever, thoughtful, attitude-laden tracks that produced critical and commercial acclaim, in the last few years she’s oscillated between boring, uninteresting snoozefests (“Smokin’ And Drinkin’,” “Tin Man”) and vacuous, over-the-top tire fires (“Little Red Wagon,” “We Should Be Friends”). Her latest single “Keeper Of The Flame” falls squarely into the former category, as it’s a plodding snoozefest that pays little homage to the forebearers she claims to represent.
The production here, like the rest of Lambert’s Weight Of These Wings singles, is sparse and restrained, driven mostly by an acoustic guitar and a basic drum set, neither of which sound terribly motivated. An organ and some electric guitars jump in to add some volume and atmosphere on the choruses, but they don’t address the biggest issue: An utter lack of energy that makes the track bore rather than inspire its listeners. The chord structure is also a huge problem here, as the relative lack of chord changes in the verses makes the song feel repetitive and monotonous, and the prevalence of minor chords makes the song feel more serious and bitter than it should.
My biggest issue with the sound, however, is how it fails to follow the singer’s lead and pays no respect to the artists who started the flame Lambert claims to keep. Where’s Hank Sr.’s steel guitar? Where are the string from the Countrypolitan era? Where are the rough edges of the Outlaw movement, the nifty leads of the Bakersfield sound, or the rollicking guitars of the neotraditional era? Sure, the basic approach to this mix stands in stark contrast to the busy bombast of the Bro-Country/Metropolitan era, but Lambert’s claim of keeping a flame alive rings hollow when that flame isn’t actually reflected in her song.
If I could sum up Lambert’s vocal performance in a word, it would be tired, suggesting that her role as flamekeeper is really starting to wear her down. It’s tolerable on a technical level, but the song’s key forces her to go a bit below her comfort zone on the verses, further accentuating the weariness in her delivery. Much like on “Tin Man,” Lambert lacks the power and passion to really sell the song and make it believable, and she’s unable to push back against the aggressive blandness of the percussion. (The only thing that kinda-sorta makes this work is Lambert’s past history as a traditionalist champion. If this were any other singer, even Carrie Underwood, I wouldn’t buy this argument at all.) It makes me wonder if in her quest to keep the flame of tradition alive, she let her own personal fire go out along the way.
The lyrics, where the narrator claims to be walking the path of their musical ancestors and keeping their traditions alive, feels run-of-the-mill and generic, and lacks the combative defiance that Lambert hung her hat on back on the day. Instead, the writing focuses on the toll the narrator’s struggle has taken, with lines like with lines like “I’m bent, but I’m not broken” and being “burned out to ashes.” Outside of the clever “pilot lights” line, however, the fire imagery is nothing you haven’t heard a million times before, and while there’s a strong meta thread running through the tune (Lambert is considered a traditional torch-bearer in the face of a Bro onslaught, and lines like “Waiting for a wind to…start a fire again” indicate that she’s waiting out the storm until the old sounds reemerge), it doesn’t make the song feel any more inspired or interesting. It’s a disappointing stance, given that other artists are taking more proactive approaches and incorporating their influences more overtly into their work (Midland, Jon Pardi, etc.)
I’m not ready to add Miranda Lambert to my list of artists who need to be tossed out of country music, but I do think she needs to take a sabbatical and rediscover her creativity and passion. “Keeper Of The Flame” is an uninspired, disappointing performance that only pays shallow lip service to the job of keeping tradition alive, and its bland production, blasé writing and weary vocal performance add up to a wholly forgettable track. Lambert is capable of much better, and I’d prefer to hear from her when she’s rested and recharged.
Rating: 4/10. It’s not worth your time.