“Cry Pretty” is predicted to be Underwood’s fourth album top top the Billboard 200 chart. (Photo courtesy of Nashville Capitol)
Carrie Underwood has not had an easy past few years. On the surface level, it may appear that she has it all: a kid, a stable relationship with her husband Mike Fisher and country superstardom. However, over the past few years, she has suffered major personal setbacks in the form of three miscarriages and a nasty facial injury that kept her out of the public spotlight for months and nearly resulted in a permanent appearance change. The struggles she has endured over these past years clearly shine through on her heartbreaking yet inspiring new album, “Cry Pretty.”
Before the release of the album, Underwood released the titular track, “Cry Pretty,” to major success on the country charts. This song is, in many ways, a recounting of her struggles over the past few years and a mission statement of the album to come. It is clearly inspired by the self-confidence issues she faced following her facial injury, and she recounts her personal struggles in a way that many listeners will find extremely relatable. It is back-ended by about a minute of her just doing vocal runs, which may feel over-the-top to some listeners, however feels very earned in the context of the song.
The album opens with “Cry Pretty,” “Ghosts on the Stereo,” “Low” and “Backsliding”, which are all mid-tempo and range thematically from sad to desperate, making it a somewhat unconventional way to open an album. However, these four songs truly exemplify the best parts of Underwood’s music: her powerful voice and the wonderful storytelling throughout the songs. This may lead the listener to believe that the rest of the album will continue at a similar pace, however, “Southbound” is probably one of the most upbeat and happy songs of her career. It sounds very similar to the male upbeat country songs dominating country radio, think Florida Georgia Line, Luke Bryan and Sam Hunt. It is by no means innovative or unique, but it is truly, relentlessly happy. This momentum continues into “That Song That We Used To Make Love To,” with a slightly sadder subject material, however still a gleeful tune.
The best moments of the album are in the latter half of the album, when Underwood begins to dip into pseudo-political territory on both the vaguely anti-gun “The Bullet” as well as the vaguely pro-LGBT “Love Wins.” “The Bullet” is a power ballad that recounts a story of a mother navigating the premature death of her son due to gun violence. Despite the minimal nature of its commentary, it is an extremely impactful and well-written song, and one of the most heartbreaking that she has performed. “Love Wins” is a bit clearer in its statement. It’s the most pop-sounding song on the album other than the bonus track “The Champion,” which is a sound that has worked extremely well for her. While the actual lyrics themselves are, again, vague in the message itself, it is very easy to connect these lyrics to a pro-LGBT message. Even if these two songs are not the most well-done political songs in terms of lyricism that spreads the message, they’re simply good songs that are worth a listen regardless of any message embedded.
The latter half of the album is also populated with another mid-tempo song in “Drinking Alone,” the heart wrenching piano ballad “Spinning Bottles,” the upbeat “End Up With You” and an inspirational duo of songs to finish the album: “Kingdom” and “The Champion.” Most of these are good songs, however with slightly minimized impact due simply to how good “The Bullet” and “Love Wins” are and the placement of these songs around them. In a way, they seem to just sort of blend in. “Kingdom” actually serves as a stellar album closer, however, then she decided to add her Super Bowl song, “The Champion” afterwards as a bonus track. It certainly fits the album in a thematic sense in a way that many bonus tracks usually do not, however it is a bit out of place stylistically. Most of the album are mid-tempo country jams, slow ballads and an upbeat country song or two, but “The Champion” is an extremely upbeat song that one would more likely find on a gym playlist than anywhere else. By the time Ludacris’ rap verse hits before the final chorus, it is hard to not wonder what the song’s purpose here is. Despite this somewhat clunky ending, the album as a whole remains one of Underwood’s best, with numerous songs as contenders for the best song she has made to date.
Final Grade: A