Album Review: Carrie Underwood Straddles Perfection On 'Cry Pretty' - Celebrity Bug


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Album Review: Carrie Underwood Straddles Perfection On 'Cry Pretty'

It took thirteen years, but Carrie Underwood is finally on the verge of the artistic breakthrough that we have been waiting for since her career began with her ‘American Idol’ victory in 2005.

On her sixth studio album, ‘Cry Pretty’, her first release in three years, the 35-year-old superstar took some bold chances starting with her decision to leave her longtime label Arista Nashville after 5 platinum or multi-platinum studio albums (plus a platinum hits compilation), 7 Grammy Awards and 26 chart-toppers in search of a bigger global push.

It is hard to imagine the woman who has basically ruled the genre for more than a decade potentially expanding her reach, but that seems to be the goal and with the freedom provided by her new label, Universal Music Group Nashville, she taps into herself in a way that she never has before by writing 9 of the album’s 13 tracks and co-producing the project with David Garcia ("Meant to Be" by Bebe Rexha and Florida Georgia Line).

“I’m sorry, but I am just a girl. Not usually the kind to show my heart to the world”, she sings on the resilient title track that sees her acknowledging that she has held her cards close to her vest - a pretty accurate description of a catalog that has mostly been told in third person.

This time around there is more “I” and “we” than “he” or “she”, and because of that there is an emotional connection present that has often evaded her music. Whether she is getting over an ex by listening to the country greats of yesterday (“Ghosts on the Stereo”), reminiscing on old escapades (“That Song That We Used To Make Love Too”), making love in the backseat (“End Up With You”) or sipping on two-for-one margaritas (“Southbound”), it is all experimental and most importantly, it is all her.

However, the real magic happens when she teams with co-producer Garcia and her go-to-girl Hillary Lindsey, who has been a main fixture in her writing credits since her Grammy-winning debut “Jesus, Take the Wheel”. Aside from penning “Backsliding”, the Sam Hunt-tinged stunner about an impromptu rendezvous with an ex, the trio also craft the striking beautiful “Low” and the tear-jerking “Spinning Bottles”.

The latter is piano-laced cut about the downfalls of alcoholism (“He’d quit if he could.”), while the former is building heartbreaker that unfolds gorgeously (“Like a cigarette without a light.”) and features a dynamic vocal performance that starts subtle and ends with palpable force. Underwood has long been the best singer in country music and the most consistent in any genre of music, and the unparalleled range that is shown here and on the soulful “Drinking Alone”, only reinforces her prowess as a vocalist.

The riskiest (and bravest) moments form with two songs about gun violence. True to form, she tries her hardest to enlighten and not offend, but it’s a controversial issue regardless of what side of the political aisle you are on and she deserves credit for going anywhere near a subject that her peers have answered with silence.

Co-written with Garcia and Brett James, “Love Wins” begins with a stray bullet that leaves a mother in tears and builds into a romping celebration of love that is at times cliché, but always effective. She openly embraces love over hate by celebrating the differences that make us “sisters and brothers”, while simultaneously acknowledging the current state of the world (“Politics and prejudice, how the hell’d it ever come to this?”).

The impact is felt, and it only gets stronger with “The Bullet”, a sweeping tale about the unstoppable damage and sting that a single bullet has through several generations, long after it has been fired. Still, none of those moments feels as authentically real for Carrie Underwood (the person, not the persona) as “Kingdom”, the closing track that sees her singing about the highs and lows of a family that is “perfectly imperfect”.

Final Verdict

‘Cry Pretty’ is brave, emotional, vulnerable, soulful, experimental and unshakably real, and although you can tell that Underwood hasn’t completely let her guard down, she pivots into new directions with pop and R&B influences and is more open than she has ever been.

By the end of the twelve tracks (thirteen with the Ludacris-assisted bonus “The Champion”), the picture is still pretty perfect, but you can finally see some cracks and as a listener, you only hope that she continues to expand and lift the veil on the struggles of real life.


Celebrity Bug’s Key Tracks
“That Song That We Used To Make Love To”
“Spinning Bottles”

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