Mary Lambert achieved quasi-stardom in 2013 when Macklemore released “Same Love”. Lambert wrote and performed the hook on this famed marriage equality anthem – a hook which landed her two Grammy nominations: one for Best Song of the Year and the other for Best Album upon which she was a featured artist. What people probably don’t know is before all this she was working three jobs and struggling to achieve her dreams as an artist. In the most clichéd way possible, “Same Love” was her big break as she was signed to Capitol Records and released her debut EP Welcome to The Age of My Body while also performing on a Grammy telecast alongside Macklemore and Madonna. Amid all of this glitz and glamour – there has been no time for Lambert to speak about her experiences, or at least not in an emotionally profound way.
Her debut album Heart on My Sleeve changes that. Lambert does precisely what the album says; she wears her heart on your sleeve upon approaching this album. Each lyric reflects varying aspects of her life and the experiences she has had in the past years. Her songs are fiercely candid. She often touches on her childhood – she was raised in an incredibly strict Pentecostal household. There are moments where she bears all her scars and delves into discussing her history with substance abuse and being diagnosed as being bipolar. One of the most candid songs on Heart on My Sleeve is “Ribcage” which features Angel Haze and K.Flay. “Ribcage” handles how intense the telling of her story has been. It exposes aspects of her life, but also how she is not comfortable with people feeling entitled to owning her story rather than using her story as a way to work through their own problems. It is an incredibly dark song that bears some resemblance to the dark and eccentric hip-hop that has been coming out of the Twenty One Pilots camp.
The brilliant thing about Heart on My Sleeve is that it is an intelligent and emotionally profound pop album in an age where pop music is often written off as being incapable of passing social commentary and being anything other than just a catchy tune and poorly constructed lyrics. Lambert joins the ranks of P!nk, Lorde, Taylor Swift (from her new album is sounding like), and Beyonce – meaning she is a pop musician that doesn’t just write nonsensical songs that mean very little, but continue to propagate a distorted kind of body image. A stunning example of this on Heart On My Sleeve is the lead single “Secrets”. She quite literally airs her own dirty laundry in a song that is both empowering and catchy. Slick pop melodies swirl around upbeat hand-claps as Lambert hits you with the bridge of: “They tell us from the time we’re young / To hide the things we don’t like about ourselves / Inside ourselves / I’m not the only one / Who spent so long attempting to be someone else / Well I’m over it / I don’t care if the world knows what my secrets are”.
Scattered across Heart on My Sleeve are some of the most heart-warming love songs you may ever encounter on a pop album. There is nothing incredibly unique about them – they’re mainly set to haunting piano melodies and have Lambert’s incredibly beautiful yet husky vocals on them. Perhaps, it is the same affect that Sam Smith’s music had on people. They are perfectly aware that Lambert is one of the most outspoken figures within the gay rights movement in popular culture, and it is with this knowledge that her music soars to new heights as she is bold enough to outspokenly sing about the woman she loves. She covers Rick Springfield’s classic “Jessie’s Girl”. This song becomes a dark piano ballad that takes the brilliant twist of being sung by a woman for another woman. “So Far Away” deals with the difficulties of a long-distance relationship. Lambert never ceases to amaze, and move you on this album with her powerful vocals that can go from deliver semi-spoken word verses to deliver heart-wrenching vocals that soar above piano melodies and tug at your heart-strings.
I could go on and on about Heart on My Sleeve but then this review would just become a small thesis concerning the various themes that Lambert touches on, and the social commentaries that she makes in the album. I will say that out of all the albums I have heard this year, from all genres, Heart on My Sleeve has instantly claimed the number one position on my AOTY list. It is a stunning album that makes me incredibly happy, but it also left me a blubbering wreck surrounded by chocolate wrappers at some points.