Hate is a strong word, and among the feelings this song is evoking, it’s not even in the Top 10.
It seems like country radio has been trying to play Carrie Underwood off the stage for several years now (she hasn’t had a solo airplay #1 since 2016, and her singles keep running out of steam prematurely, including her last song “Ghost Story” at #6), and honestly I’m about ready to join that movement myself: Her output has been almost universally mediocre since I starting this blog, and at some point you need to either say/do something interesting or make room for someone else who will. Sadly, if the second single off of Underwood’s Denim & Rhinestones album “Hate My Heart” is any indication, she’s likely to do neither. This song is an awkward clash between a lost-love lament and an arena-ready atmosphere, and simply doesn’t tell a compelling-enough story to keep its audience engaged.
Frankly, I have no idea what the producer was thinking with this arrangement. The production comes out with all guns blazing behind several heavy, hard-rock guitars that run together into a wall of noise, and then follow it up with hard-hitting drums on the chorus (and Grady Smith’s favorite clap track on the verses), and wrap it all up with…well, more guitars and drums—there aren’t that many instruments credited on this track to begin, but even the standard keyboards and acoustic guitars struggle to be heard on this mix. Despite its moderate, the force and volume of the instruments inject energy into the song and drive it forward, and the overall tone and vibe of the instruments is upbeat and positive…which seems like the complete opposite of what this supposedly-sad song needs for support. Such a heavy-handed approach might work if there were some anger or frustration behind it, but there’s no trace of such emotions in the mix—this is set up to be an anthemic banger getting blasted out to sixty-thousand-plus in a stadium, and whatever hatred the narrator feels towards their heart is completely lost in the noise. Long story short, this was a really bad direction for the sound on a song like this one, and I’m convinced whoever put this arrangement together never actually listened to the lyrics.
It would take a serious power voice to bring this song back from the brink, and the good news is that Underwood is perhaps the power vocalist among female artists today. The bad news, however, is that she doesn’t do anything to inject any melancholy or emotion into the song, and just goes with the flow of the production. For a performer as charismatic as Underwood, it’s shocking to hear her miss the mark this badly: She brings plenty of intensity to the table, but she focuses so much on doing so that there’s no sense of sadness or longing in her performance, and very little malice or frustration either—honestly, for much of the song she sounds like she’s enjoying herself. The more I listen to this song, the more I think an artist with a weaker voice would have done a better job with it: Instead of spending so much time using their outside voice like Underwood, they could have put some feeling behind their delivery and generated some empathy and sympathy from the audience. Instead, it just seems like the listener is getting yelled at for three minutes, and is more than ready to hear something, anything else by the time the song ends. As much vocal power as Underwood has, this is a big swing-and-a-miss from her, and her performance pushes listeners away instead of drawing them in.
Of course, it would help if Underwood had an actual story to draw the listeners in with. Instead, the writing here gives us a run-of-the-mill heartbreak song: The narrator really wants to get out there and get on with the moving on, but they just can’t escape the hold of the memory of what was, and thus they “hate my heart right now” for dragging them down. Even if we put aside the fact that Underwood and the producer completely ignore the lyrics, and even if we put aside the weaksauce hook that barely holds the song together, there’s just not much to this story: The narrator wants to go out and paint the town, but they can’t, and they’re not happy about it. Put a drink in the speaker’s hand, and the song would be indistinguishable from all the other cookie-cutter lost-love tracks the genre is drowning in right now. If this song had any synergy at all, maybe you might feel bad for someone who wants to move on but can’t find a way to do it (again, at least they’re not drinking themselves into a stupor), but when it’s sung and played with so much forcefulness and so little sorrow, the audience can’t find a reason to pay attention to the lyrics either, especially when there’s no wit or cleverness behind them. The writing isn’t exactly bad, but it’s not good either, and when the execution is botched this badly, it never had a chance in the first place.
I don’t know what the ceiling for “Hate My Heart” could have been, but thanks to Carrie Underwood we certainly know how low its floor was. This thing is a tragedy of errors, from its uninteresting writing to its clashing, perpendicular production to Underwood mostly-shouted performance. In short, this is par for the course for Underwood’s recent work, and at this point I don’t know what she can do to get back on track. I advised Miranda Lambert to take a hiatus a while back, but given how mainstream radio has treated Underwood lately, I’m not sure she’d be able to get back on the airwaves if she took any sort of break. It’s a real shame, because I think she’s still capable of making good, powerful music, and I’m afraid she’s not going to get many more chances to prove it.
Rating: 4/10. No thank you.