One of 2011’s most surprising albums was the Pistol Annies’ debut, Hell on Heels.
The 30-minute effort, from singer-songwriters Miranda Lambert, Ashley Monroe and Angaleena Presley, effectively came out of nowhere to charm critics’ socks off, thanks to its breezy blend of classic country style, smart songwriting and a freewheeling sense of fun.
Rather than wielding girl power like a cudgel, the Pistol Annies wrapped their distinctly 21st-century attitudes in velvet. The result was intoxicating — one of the best records in any genre that year.
So the failure of the much-anticipated follow-up, Annie Up, to capitalize and expand upon the pleasures of the first Pistol Annies LP is a crushing disappointment.
It’s difficult to tell exactly where the three women went wrong in crafting these dozen songs — as before, Lambert, Monroe and Presley share songwriting credit — but there’s a weight and an excess of gloss here that wasn’t evident on Heels. This record is leaden where it should soar; it sparkles where it should be spare.
Given that Monroe is coming off her sterling solo debut, Like a Rose, and Lambert and Presley are no slouches behind the pen, it’s a little shocking that Annie Up is such a slog.
There are a few frustrating moments where it’s possible to glimpse what Annie Up might have been: Hush Hush, the album’s appealing lead single, is a brisk riff on all manner of bad behavior, while Don’t Talk About It Tina evokes Nashville’s early ’80s, when pop and country music began to mingle with conviction.
More often, however, it feels as if the three women are working overtime to connect Heels to Up. (Did you like Heels’ sultry, romantic Boys From the South? Then you’ll love Up’s Workin’ Man!) This heavy-handed tactic reinforces a sense the Pistol Annies had one really solid, effortless album in them, but perhaps not a follow-up (or at least one coming so quickly).
It’s so delightful when recording artists capture lightning in a bottle, but replicating effervescence can border on the impossible.
The Pistol Annies remain a vivacious and necessary counterweight to Nashville’s fixation on uninspired fluff, but Annie Up will leave fans feeling down instead of dazzled.