Review Summary: More involved than ever, Carrie Underwood continues to top herself with her best work to date.
I think we saw the writing on the wall when Carrie Underwood won American Idol; this talented young lady was about to take country music and the industry at large by storm
. With a voice unlike any in recorded history and tons of charm and quirk to wrap up the perfect complete package, she can make any song a hit. As her career progressed, so did her music. Girl power anthems a la "Before He Cheats" and the insufferable
"Undo It" started to take a backseat to more concrete material with a strong emotional through-line. It's been a few years since Underwood sent a handful of chart toppers through the airwaves, but she's back and I am happy to report she hasn't missed a beat. Cry Pretty
might be the country superstar's best project yet.
Country and pop once seemed like an impossible pair to marry, but as the genre has changed, it's being done more often and being done right
more often. Recent years have yielded excellent results in this regard with Maren Morris' Hero
and Kacey Musgraves' Golden Hour
as prime examples. Thankfully, Carrie Underwood doesn't let herself become a relic of the past with this record. Her music ages like the finest wine and it's evidenced on the album's opening title cut. "Cry Pretty" was Underwood's worst performing single to date, but it's still one of her most important works in a while. Underwood sings of us masking our true emotions and putting our best face on for the world, each note more emotional than the last. It's a real, authentic tune that will have any listener say, "I've been there."
"Ghosts on the Stereo" is an untempo nod and a wink to some of country music's architects while "Backsliding" is a well performed country pop slow burn that sees Underwood milk every second to strongly sing about two ex-lovers who can't walk away. The poppier basslines compliment her quite well and it fits the composition. "Southbound" is shaping up to be a spring break favorite next March; the poignant synth washes will have you yearning for warmer weather immediately. "The Song We Used To Make Love To" is an explorative cut, taking Underwood's music places it's never gone before, but it works due to the strong production, which is another thing Underwood can put next to her name on this record.
Of course, Carrie sings her little heart out on Cry Pretty
, all fifty minutes and twenty six seconds of it. But she's never been as involved in the musical process as she is here. Almost every cut on here was co-written by Underwood, and she cuts her teeth as a producer for the first time ever. For a first timer, she's not bad. Her steady creative hand enhances several tracks on here, including the eerie sleeper "Drinking Alone." This track could have easily been a stale re-hash of previous hit "Cowboy Casanova", but thankfully Carrie doesn't take the bait. "We should be drinking alone together," Underwood taunts the nameless suitor who has entered the bar to accomplish likeminded ends.
"Spinning Bottles" is a key-driven ballad with some of Underwood's most cohesive vocal work ever. Rather than give us a showcase of her prowress, she uses the track as a nice test for her various abilities. Her range, her gentle crescendos, her ability to vocalize, it all can't be overstated and serves as a good reminder of just how talented Underwood is vocally. "Love Wins" is a well produced mid-tempo anthem that will lift up any listener as Underwood challenges the audience to come together in a particularly contentious political climate at this point in time. This could have flopped badly
, but Underwood again sells it with her strong, impeccable singing abilities in a way few, if any, singers across all genres are even remotely capable of doing.
"End Up With You" features some eerie guitar slicks that perfectly suit Underwood's voice. This mid tempo jam doesn't explode with much pop or spank to it but it doesn't have to. It succeeds by just staying grounded and working within the composition. "Kingdom" officially closes out the album with a similar sentiment some of its predecessors took. Painting a picture of a quaint, perfect family, you get a glimpse into who Underwood is as a person and the kind of life she wants, white picket fences and all. The strictly pop song "The Champion" Carrie cut with Ludacris is included as a bonus track, but let's pretend that's not a stain on an otherwise spotless album.
is Carrie Underwood's best album yet. At every turn, she stuns the listener with her vocal talents, but her work behind the scenes can't go unnoticed, because it's arguably just as important. She gets to take the producer's chair for the first time on this record and she does a terrific job applying the perfect touches to ensure this album runs like a well oiled machine. She also serves as a prominent songwriter and anyone burned out by the "Before He Cheats" copycats she's previously recorded can no longer deny she's also one of the best playwrights in Nashville. Underwood brings the red meat as usual, but she also expands her horizons and finds herself very involved musically on this record. Cry Pretty
is for sure one of 2018's best albums.