Published Oct 21, 2015One thing seems sure about Carrie Underwood: She doesn't do anything halfway. The 32-year-old's ascent to the height of the pop music pyramid was breathtaking, and her dominance up there has been nearly total since she ran away with the American Idol crown in 2005. She is, undeniably, one of the world's biggest pop stars; that she emerged from Nashville only underlines the effectiveness of her cross-genre mainstream appeal. She is a star in every way, and her arena-ready, radio-torqued, ultra-slick take on country/rock is designed for maximum crowd pleasure.
But, too often, it is more than halfway boring. It isn't uninspired or weakly performed. Rather, it is boring in spite of the overwhelming bombast, the booming bass and pounding drums, the huge vocals, the wailing guitars; it is boring because rather than electrifying you, it distances and anaesthetizes. I was on my third listen to this record before I found the energy to pierce the sheen, to get at the songs underneath.
The good news is that those songs are, most of them anyway, pretty great. The leadoff single "Smoke Break" offers an incisive look at small town America a la Miranda Lambert or Kacey Musgraves, and rides a clever lyrical turn through a satisfying chorus. "Chaser," a gorgeous melody lifted even higher by an irresistible rush-drag vocal line (and a soulful performance), is destined to be sung into hairbrushes in front of mirrors for years to come. But the best track on the album is "Relapse," a tangle of ideas about addiction, love and sex that features a moving, tension-breaking chorus that you'll want to hear on repeat. But since it's sure to be a huge hit single one of these days, that'll be taken care of for you. (Sony Music Nashville)