Thursday, November 12, 2009

Album Review: Carrie Underwood - Play On (4/5)

After winning over the hearts of the American public as she reigned as the fourth winner of US talent show American Idol, Carrie Underwood has become one of the leading forces in country music (and with the arrival of Taylor Swift a couple years ago) completely overshadowing previous leaders such as LeAnne Rimes and Faith Hill--save she hasn't released an album for awhile. Underwood sold 7 million copies with her debut album, Some Hearts, and followed-up well with her second album, Carnival Rides, which unsurprisingly became one of the best selling albums of 2007.

There's no doubt Underwood's third album, Play On, will be another big seller for the singer, but does it follow-up well to Carnival Ride? Well, unlike the last two albums Play On doesn't acquire such a strong pop presence as opening track and lead single "Cowboy Casanova" implies, in which Underwood gives a bold vocal performance as the dramatic collision of drums, strings and banjo subside, kind of like "Last Name" from Carnival Ride. The rapid drums and twingy strings fuel country ballad "Quitter" well, although it's not the best ballad on the album or her most compelling, such as next track "Mama's Song," in which Underwood talks about a faithful husband: ("He makes promises he keeps, no, he's never going to leave").

"Change" sounds as if it was produced by Ryan Tedder, including all his dramatics that made Beyonce's "Halo," Kelly Clarkson's "Already Gone," and Leona Lewis' "Happy" so good, it would make such a good single or be a big hit, but this is a country album therefore they only way this song achieves a country attempt at a Tedder-ish sound is with Underwood's bold vocal, dramatic combination of drum and guitar and a climatic orchestration. Still sounds pretty good.

Finding the albums at its most playful is "Undo It" which probably has the albums best chorus, Underwood really lets lose as belts a catchy playground chant on the title:"I wanna uh-uh-uh-uh-undo it." It's refreshing to hear the raw "Someday When I Stop Loving You" stripped to just string and drum, almost as if it were fashioned to sound like a Lullaby.

What, Carnival Ride, managed to avoid was sagging during its second half, which unfortunately this becomes a victim of. Its second half is lackluster, mostly taken up by a cluster of bland ballads, such as "Temporary Home," which fails to build a solid melody on the chorus. "Look At Me," is just as underwhelming as it suffers from the same problem. "Unapologize" is a bit better as it goes for a more rockier sound, but it's pretty much still a ballad.

However it's not all bad--there are still some pretty good tracks on the second half. The breezy uptempo "Songs Like This" and the more slower, but still compelling duet with country trio Sons of Syliva on "What Can I Say," are pretty good. The album closes with title "Play On" a conventional, inspirational ballad in which Underwood delivered a stunning vocal. A nice way to close the album, especially after an underwhelming second half.

Play On, is a good country album, as good as Carnival Ride? Probably not. I like its strong country sound and not retreading the light pop presence of the last two albums and although the album begins to sag greatley towards its second half, it's still pretty solid. Just for note: How stunning does she look on that cover?

Best: Cowboy Casanova, Change, Undo It, Mama's Song, Quitter, Change, Someday When I Stop Loving You, Play On

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