Never has a song tried so hard and made me feel so little.
Despite running this blog for over a year and a half, this is my first chance to review a Carrie Underwood single, which seems impossible to fathom. Underwood exploded out of the gates with her American Idol victory in 2005 and has been a major force in country music for over a decade, but a lot has happened since her last single “Dirty Laundry” came out in late 2016: A family-driven hiatus, a label change, a slew of collaborations (“Forever Country,” “The Fighter,” “The Champion”), and a serious accident that left her with a broken wrist and over 40 stitches in her face. Now, however, Underwood is rested, recovered, and ready to return to the radio with “Cry Pretty,” the leadoff single for her upcoming sixth album, and…well…it’s okay, I guess? As much as I enjoyed Underwood’s material in the past, I have to admit: This song doesn’t move me at all.
The production starts small (a bit too small, honestly, as the guitar is really hard to hear), opening with only Underwood singing over a dark, methodical electric guitar. Things ramp up in a hurry, however, as an affected drum set and a steel guitar jump in halfway through the first verse, and the whole mix (including Underwood herself) gets cranked up to eleven for the choruses, guitar solo, and extended outro. For all the noise and volume, however, the song’s slow tempo and waltz time seem to drain it of all its energy, making the track feel hollow and superficial instead of deep and moving. You can practically feel the musicians straining as they try to pump life into the tune, and yet for me, it just flows in one ear and out the other without leaving any impression at all.
Carrie Underwood is perhaps the most talented artist we’ve seen in country music since the turn of the millennium, so her failure to connect with the listener here is completely baffling. Her range and power remain stellar and unmatched, and though some of the “cryyyyyyyyy pretty” phrases feel a bit awkward, she’s mostly on point here as well. She’s also as earnest and believable as ever, and plays the narrator’s role with plenty of conviction and charisma. Yet outside of her haunting pseudo-yodels on the outro, she just can’t seem to transmit her pain and feelings to the listener as she’s done in the past, a result so unexpected that it makes me wonder if the issue is with Underwood or with me. I suppose I’m not really part of the target audience here, but I’m not sure I’ve ever been part of Underwood’s target audience, and it’s never stopped me from absorbing her material in the past. I’m at a loss to explain this one.
The lyrics here feature the narrator matter-or-factly stating that sometimes their emotions get the best of them, and they need to let them out regardless of how it makes them look or how other people might view them. Though they “apologize if you don’t like what you see,” the song is anything but an apology, with the narrator declaring that a) sometime people get emotional, b) it’s not weak or impolite to show said emotions, and c) and if you don’t like seeing that, tough cookies. It’s a strong, positive message, but it gets obscured by the serious, minor-chord-heavy production (perhaps brighter, faster production like Terri Clark’s “Emotional Girl” would have delivered the message more effectively?) For a song that defiantly proclaims that showing emotion is okay, it draws surprisingly little emotion from its audience.
I really want to like “Cry Pretty” and the song really wants me to like it, and I almost feel the need to apologize to Carrie Underwood because I don’t. The sad fact, however, is that I would rather listen to a fun no-op song like Old Dominion’s “Hotel Key” than this track, because I’ll at least feel something when it’s over. Your mileage may vary, of course, but I’m going to let this pass by and hope Underwood’s next single is more interesting.
Rating: 5/10. I wasn’t impressed, but I’d still encourage people to check it out and make up their own mind on it.