There’s no exclamation point in Pistol Annies’ name, but there might as well be. Take one critical darling, Miranda Lambert, have her helm a girl group–something whose absence in U.S. pop prompts endless bellyaching–and kick some attitude into their songs, and the world’s guaranteed to greet them with gunpowder and serenades. Lead single “Hell on Heels” was lauded seconds upon arriving; to be fair, it was shot through with menace and excellent. “Bad Example” is their latest studio song, after a smattering of live previews; how well does it withstand the hype?
Listen at EW.
Musically, “Bad Example” is minimal, a simple banjo/guitar frame meant to showcase its vocalists and their verses. The former acquit themselves well; while the Pistol Annies get billed as “Miranda Lambert’s girl group” mainly because she’s in it, she’s neither the only lead vocalist nor the standout. They’re not showy because they don’t need to be; that’s for the prim-and-propers.
Speaking of prim-and-propers, the Pistol Annies want you to know that they totally aren’t related. Same idea as “Hell on Heels,” but here they turn it into that folk-country staple: a class war, each verse escalating the taunts. “I ain’t never tried to impress nobody with my ‘honk if you’re horny’ sticker on the back,” says the first; the second follows up with “Their rich daddies bought them a degree, but I’m a third-generation bartender.” So far, so sassy, but not quite barbed–and that’s the problem. After the instrumental bridge and right where the final vicious verse should go, there’s another chorus, then the song’s over. It’s as if the Pistol Annies cocked their namesake firearm, found the trigger then shrugged, put it down and tiptoed away. Country’s full of songs like these, vessels for songwriters’ storytelling and wit, but the telling never gets going, making the Annies’ examples seem mildly questionable at worst.
Granted, “Bad Example” is a contest promo and not yet a Big Single. Not everything has to crackle and roar. But we know Pistol Annies are capable of hell on heels; this is more like a light spark in flats.