You can always count on Carrie Underwood to churn out songs about exacting revenge on cheating boyfriends (Before He Cheats, Dirty Laundry) and spiritual anthems (Jesus Take The Wheel, Temporary Home).
This time round, on her sixth album, Cry Pretty, there’s none of those. In fact, her new material is quite a departure from the Carrie Underwood we’ve come to know and love.
Life-altering events during the album’s production may have something to do with it. Late last year, she ended up getting some 50 stitches on her face after falling down outside her home.
The freak accident inspired the emotionally-charged title track. Filled with meaningful lyrics and sung with so much conviction, the song is one of her strongest efforts in her 13-year music career.
The roaring ballad encourages listeners to embrace life’s tears instead of bottling them up. That howl she performs towards the end is the perfect embodiment of letting out our deepest sorrows.
Elsewhere, Underwood also chooses to use her voice to shine a spotlight on pressing current issues. In The Bullet, the 35-year-old takes on the most divisive topic affecting the United States yet – guns.
The power ballad opens with a scene at a funeral of a victim who presumably died of gun violence.
The narrative suggests that the bullet didn’t only take its victim’s life but greatly affected the lives of the victim’s many loved ones long after he or she has died. “The bullet keeps on going,” she sings despairingly.
A similar theme runs through Love Wins – in which she sings, “a stray bullet and a mamma cries” – though it is decidedly more hopeful and upbeat.
There’s a strong sense of purpose in these songs that I haven’t heard from Underwood before.
Another marked difference in Cry Pretty is the introduction of pop, dance and R&B.
Perhaps in an effort to tap into the mainstream market, she leans heavily on these influences on tracks like That Song That We Used To Make Love To, End Up With You and Backsliding. The former, in particular, might just be catchy enough to climb the pop charts.
Interestingly, it’s not jarring at all. The country crooner’s voice is versatile enough to carry these songs.
While Cry Pretty sees Underwood making significant changes in her musical direction, one thing remains the same – her voice. Her powerful vocals thunders through the album (especially on the title track, Low and The Bullet) the same way it did during her American Idol days. She can’t cry pretty but she sure can sing pretty.