“Alone” is probably how Carrie Underwood should have left this song.
After “Cry Pretty” stalled at #9 and “Love Wins” ran out of gas at #11, I wonder starting to wonder if Underwood would end up on my “what happened to them?” deep-dive list sooner than I anticipated. Her last single “Southbound,” however, came out of the gate firing, and it rocketed to the upper echelon of the charts before eventually burning out and settling for a Mediabase-only #1 (still, #3 is the best Billboard airplay she’d had since 2016’s “Dirty Laundry”). Despite its showing, I was never terribly impressed by the song, and I’m just as unimpressed by Underwood’s new single “Drinking Alone,” the fourth from her Cry Pretty album. I wouldn’t call it bad, but I would call it poorly-executed from start to finish, and everyone involved should share in the blame.
The production may fit in nicely with the second coming of the Metropolitan era I’ve been warning folks about, but it’s a really poor fit for the subject matter. It’s a slightly-peppy 3/4 time arrangement dominated by slick R&B-flavored guitars (one mindlessly going up and down a scale for most of the song), spacious synths and keyboards, and a mixture of real and synthetic percussion (the real drums are more prominent, but the snap track gets some airtime as well). Underwood’s voice seems a bit too high in the mix, and when a random dobro appears during the outro, it manages to sound both completely out of place and yet better than any other instrument on the track. My main issue, however, is this: Based on the subject matter, the song aims to stake out a position somewhere between sad and sexy, but the frequent minor chords and darker instrument tones give this thing a very unsettled and dangerous feel, which really doesn’t fit in either category and leaves the listener utterly confused over how to feel about the song. It seems like another attempt at being dangerously sexy, but it just ends up feeling slightly hazardous and not at all interesting.
Underwood’s vocals have me a bit concerned here, because while I’ve been torn on the emotional side of her recent performance (I really felt “Love Wins,” but didn’t feel “Cry Pretty” at all), this might be the first time I’ve questioned her delivery on a technical level. Her flow is extremely choppy on this track (especially on the verses), and while her timing might be explained by her attempting to emulate a slightly-behind-the-beat diva style, I feel like it snaps the listener out of the moment more than getting them lost in it. Underwood’s range and power are still here, and she’s not afraid to use them more and more as the song progresses, but I’m not sure they fit the narrator’s role very well here: They’re supposed to be drowning the remnants of a lost love, but instead Underwood infuses them with a confidence and control that don’t fit the moment and make the character feel a lot less believable than she should be. (With this sort of attitude, are they really that broken up over their last relationship?) She definitely still has the ability to sway an audience, but that ability seems to be misapplied here.
The lyrics are…honestly, I have no clue what the lyrics are trying to do here. They start with the narrator forcefully rejecting the advances of another person, declaring that “I came here tonight to shed a few tears on my own”…and then they immediately start coming on to the person they pushed away, proclaiming that they should be “drinking alone together.” It leaves the audience completely baffled: What does the narrator really want out of this night? Should we take their “you ain’t taking me home” statement at their word, or is the “corner-booth kiss” they ask for only the beginning of a one-night tryst à la Ashley McBryde’s “One Night Standards”? Are they looking for love? Companionship? An expensive-liquored-fueled rager? All of the above??? It seems like the writers wrote some real vulnerability into the narrator, but it’s nowhere near enough to stand up to the force of Underwood’s personality, and we’re left trying to parse through the performance to try to find the narrator’s true feelings. Beyond that, there’s nothing terribly compelling about the story or the narrator, and so the audience lets the narrator’s feelings remain a mystery because it’s just not worth the effort to solve.
“Drinking Alone” is the equivalent of taking three different jigsaw puzzles and trying to mash all their pieces together, and nothing ends up fitting together. The sound is too dark and polished, the writing is confusing as all get-out, and Carrie Underwood brings a ton of swagger and attitude to the table that is neither necessary nor helpful. Momentum has been really had to come by for Underwood over the last few years, and given how badly a track like “One Night Standards” sings this thing under the table, I have a bad feeling this is going to squander everything “Southbound” generated. If I have to write a “What Happened to Carrie Underwood?” post in the near future, it’ll be songs like this that I’ll be pointing a finger at.
Rating: 5/10. It’s not worth your time.