Miranda Lambert, ‘Platinum’
While Miranda Lambert’s restless peers stray from the purity of the country genre to achieve mainstream acclaim, the “Nashville Star” alum has been widely popularized by sticking to her guns. She’s known for slipping one in her back pocket should she need to pop an abusive lover (“Gunpowder & Lead,” from 2007’s “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend”), but what’s more, Lambert’s not leaving the house that built her. At least any time soon, as demonstrated by yet another feather in her cowgirl hat with the irresistibly witty, hit-heavy “Platinum.” Writing with Music City mainstays like Shane McAnally and Brandy Clark, both openly gay, Dolly Parton’s buoyant campiness comes to mind as Lambert drops some wickedly good wisecracks (the title track delivers this winner: “What doesn’t kill makes you blonder”). “Two Rings Shy” is also reminiscent of Parton, who you’d imagine living for a line like, “I ain’t wastin’ good mascara, just to watch it running down.” “Gravity’s a Bitch” bemoans aging with biting humor, “Babies Makin’ Babies” lives up to its name, and “Little Red Wagon” rocks a “backyard swagger.” It’s always been Lambert’s gun-toting badassery that makes her unexpectedly sentimental heart – from which she sings during the sweet love ballad “Holding on to You” – all the more powerful. Grade: A-
Coldplay, ‘Ghost Stories’
What do you do when the stars you used to sing about burn out? When the yellow turns to black? When the fixer needs some fixing? If you’re Coldplay, you tell “Ghost Stories.” And you tell those tales like you have for the last two decades: with the dysphoria of a lost puppy. Inspired by frontman Chris Martin’s “conscious uncoupling” from Gwyneth Paltrow, and following the light-hearted arena venture that made “Mylo Xyloto” a forced flounder, the band takes a less commercial approach with this nine-song eulogy. It’s quieter, more ethereal, there’s no Rihanna, but in backtracking to their pre-pop genesis, they forgot the reason the world fell in love with them in the first place: emotional resonance. With few exceptions, their sonic interpretations of desolation and heartache – though pretty and wistful, like soaring angels – disappear into the same cosmos they inhabit. The piano-led “O” is a dreamy coda as faceless as an actual dream, and “Midnight” works the Bon Iver-cum-vocoder effect – it’s surprisingly not bad. Almost lovely enough to forget how many times you’ve heard something like it, the Avicii-produced, synth-charged “A Sky Full of Stars” is an extension of “Mylo.” That it’s the only song you’re likely to remember says a lot about the forgettable “Ghost Stories,” a Coldplay album so pale you’ll have no choice but to consciously uncouple from it. Grade: C
Robyn and Royksopp, ‘Do It Again’
She’s doing it again – making you get all dance-y. With punched-up synths and a chorus that just about combusts, “Do It Again” owns the floor much like you will every time you hear Robyn sing it. But that single isn’t exactly indicative of the rest of her complex EP collaboration with Royksopp, which begins and ends on less frenzied, more introspective notes. Its 10-minute fade-out calls back to the melancholy sprawl of “Monument,” during which Robyn gets reflective: “When the moment comes, I can say I did it all with love.” She can because it’s true.
Sharon Van Etten, ‘Are We There’
Affecting without any of that sentimental preciousness – one line reads: “I washed your dishes, but I shitted in your bathroom” – there’s a transparency to Sharon Van Etten’s latest that daringly exposes the visceral emotions of the end of a relationship. A stunningly sad truth-telling about two hearts that have grown apart, “I Love You But I’m Lost” cuts deep. “I Know,” too, is simple poignancy told potently. This fourth album from Van Etten is a work of soul-baring genius.