Album Review: Carrie Underwood - Blown Away
By: Monica Whitney Pressley
The first thing I thought when getting ready to click on the iTunes stream of Carrie Underwood’s new release was simple. I hope this album doesn’t suck like the last one (Play On) did.
Don’t get me wrong. Everything said about Carrie Underwood is true. She has a phenomenal voice and is truly a talented singer. Carnival Ride was my favorite album of 2007 and there was a lot to love about her debut, Some Hearts. Still, all the affection I have for this American Idol winner does little to change the fact Play On was a beautifully performed disappointment. So it was with both optimism and trepidation that I clicked on the button and began listening to her newest release hoping to be blown away.
Thankfully, optimism was rewarded this time out.
“Good Girl” is a rousing opener giving off an eighties rock vibe at times. This song sounds like what would happen if Shania Twain covered John Mellencamp. The vocals are dynamic. pulling the listener in while balancing blasting power with quiet attitude. Sassy handclaps give a backdrop to crunchy guitar chords and both occasionally drop out so the listener can focus on Underwood’s powerful vocals. The song is more fun to listen to than the opening single “Cowboy Casanova” from Play On. So while it follows the formula of opening with a sassy anthem dedicated to lousy men, it at least has a little more attitude and sounds less contrived. Another reason this track works is it lets Carrie take the reins instead of dragging her along for the ride.
“Blown Away” is a churning, emotional opus creating a different sound for the country diva. The song possesses a darker, more haunted sound giving Underwood the right sonic platform to deliver her own take on child abuse. While Carrie Underwood has always straddled the line between pop and country, this song barely sounds country. Traditionalists will gripe to be sure but this song is a brilliant moment giving Underwood something she desperately needed. Change. She was getting way too predictable and this glorious moment gives listeners a break from the typical kinds of songs she would normally do. “Two Black Cadillacs” is a story about revenge against a cheater. The mistress and the wife team up and off the philanderer. The tale is spun against a wall of sound. The percussion is especially good on this song. Both the intricate rhythms and thundering strings match the drama in Underwood’s voice. Both of these songs are worth the price of admission alone.
Then we have one of those epic love songs made for Carrie Underwood’s powerful voice. “See You Again” has the heart and passion sorely missing from most of Play On. Rushing strings add a touch of romance, simple piano adds the tenderness and Underwood‘s vocals are amazing. The only thing that threw me off for a minute is the fact the chorus of male voices sound a Laura Branigan song called “Self Control” Despite this strange connection, which most will not have, this song is a winner. Another nice love song is “”Do You Think About Me?”. This one is a softer, less dramatic song where a girl wonders if an old flame thinks of her. The chorus definitely works its way into your mind and its not long before you’re singing along. “Forever Changed” is a different kind of love song. This ballad is a touching song about losing memories and how difficult it is to watch someone you love slip away. Tender piano and simple, beautiful vocals give this song the perfect mood.
“Nobody Ever Told You” is a carefree, empowering song about being yourself with bubbling banjo and some interesting touches as the song progresses. The song is part country, part pop and part “Kiss The Girl” from The Little Mermaid. It’s a cute song with a good message and a strong hook. She also steals a little of Kenny Chesney’s beach sand on “One Way Ticket” where she encourages everyone to relax with a drink and have a good time. There’s some cheerful, seven dwarf inspired whistling and a slight calypso vibe. Both these songs are far more cheerful than the ones kicking off the album.
Only a few songs seem more pedestrian. “Thank God For Hometowns”, despite its sentiments, is filler. I get the love for where you grew up but most of the time it makes for a very dull listen. Not that I expect them to go the R&B/hip hop route and shout out area codes over banjos, but the love letter to where you grew up is boring more often than not. The melody is forgettable and the song passes without any fanfare on an album designed to get your attention. “Good in Goodbye” is pleasant but has been done so many times in so many ways that it’s hard to get excited about the track. The chorus isn’t that memorable and in the end, this song’s simply filler as well.
The album picks up again with the boisterous “Cupid‘s Got a Shotgun” which features fiddles, organ and guitars as she discusses how Cupid has dispensed with the bow and arrow and moved on firearms. The song has some of the better lyrics of the album and musically it’s a very well done. This is probably one of the songs on the album most likely to get your toes tapping. Underwood also gives us another winning ballad with “Wine After Whisky”. “Who Are You?” is as far as I can tell a Contemporary Christian song although it could also be about a relationship. These songs, despite the fact the last track has some hokey lyrics, round out the album nicely.
While Underwood’s album isn’t the strongest release of all the major players in female country, it’s a fantastic mainstream album with something for pop fans as well as country ones. While she lacks the daring of Lambert, the sharp eye for lyrical details Swift possesses or the unbridled emotion of Kellie Pickler, Underwood offers a flawless voice and mass accessibility. She seems far more connected to the songs this time proving no matter how great you sing, if you heart’s not in it everything just notes and words. I’d like to see her challenge herself more and pull in some writers who can give her more distinctive songs. Still, at the end of the day Blown Away is a great pop/country album.