For more than a decade now, Carrie Underwood has been a dependable country-music presence: the years bleed into the next and, with some patience, chances are it won’t be long before the massive-voiced country-pop-rock dynamo delivers yet another big-ticket, high-gloss album. You know the type, those chart-topping sensations stockpiled with sharply written kiss-offs, honky-tonk boot stompers and exquisite ballads. But it all started to make you wonder: Was Underwood so reliable, so utterly consistent, that she in turn risked losing the human connection that first made her a star way back on American Idol?
You needn’t have worried. Following a facial injury that led to months of seclusion as she healed, the singer returned earlier this year and wisely billed her new album, Cry Pretty, as her most personal effort yet. With her latest effort, Underwood reveals a sincerity and mature, time-tested point of view that even some of her career’s most successful singles can’t match.
Given its hot-button subject matter, expect the “The Bullet” — where Underwood takes stock of a tragic shooting, and over lilting acoustic guitar sings, “You can blame it on hate or you can blame it on guns/But mamas ain’t supposed to bury their sons” — to make all the headlines. But the slow-building, arena-ready anthem “Love Wins,” Kumbaya vibes notwithstanding, is where the singer is at her her most poignant: “Politics and prejudice, how the hell did it ever come to this?,” Underwood sings over slow-building piano. “When everybody’s gotta pick a side/it don’t matter if you’re wrong or right.”
Even more thrilling, the 12-track LP (the majority of whose songs are Underwood co-writes) also features the singer taking bold stylistic risks. She’s previously been more strategic in this respect, and rarely veered off sonic course. (Then again, when your debut album sells upwards of seven million copies and you maintain multi-year platinum success … probably a good move). Thankfully though, Underwood guides her ship to new and exciting avenues here. “The Song That We Used To Make Love To” is a peppy pop missile aimed straight for the charts; the tender “Low” lobs a curveball with its fiery blues-guitar breakdown at the bridge; and, as a toast to her more traditional country roots, “Ghosts on the Stereo” is a rafter-rattler arena-rock ode to the classic-country loving ladies who are never alone so long as they’ve got “Hank, Haggard and Jones” pumping through the speakers.
Cry Pretty is Underwood’s most stirring album in years. Her voice alone will always move units, but it’s her heart that will keep things interesting.
Cry Pretty is available now.