There’s a fascinating, frustrating divide between Underwood’s ability to conjure and express her emotion. It’s fascinating because when the divide comes down, the result is magic – but frustrating because it takes some digging around to find these moments of commanding personal conviction, which typically come in the form of live performances. As ironic though it may be considering her mass-exposed start on Idol, it often feels like the only way to really know what Underwood is all about is to pursue her.
But Play On works to breaks this pattern, as best illustrated by “Temporary Home,” Underwood’s most emotionally-invested studio recording to date. Using the familiar three-prong story structure, the song visits three characters that are each holding out hope for a better tomorrow, and culminates poignantly in the religious belief that we are just passing through earth on our way to a permanent home in heaven. Lyrically, the characters are more symbolic than they are three-dimensional, but Underwood compensates by layering the broad strokes of hope in each story with a range of tangible emotions: fear, pain, peace and doubt. Her vocal interpretation is stunningly precise, most notably on the resolve in the teenage mom’s proclamation (“someday we’ll find our place here in this world”), and the falter in the dying elderly man’s reassurance (“I’m not afraid because I know…”).
Ultimately, “Temporary Home” acts as a story of shared humanity – and here’s the thing: for the first time in Underwood’s career, it feels like her story. It’s not the narrative that powers this song, but the depth and strength of her personal conviction. From the inclusion of neglected members of society to the intricate shades of fully-invested emotion to the telling last line –“this is our temporary home”–, the song provides a glimpse at the person behind the artist. It’s a refreshing departure from a catalogue of superbly interpreted but somewhat impersonal singles, and hopefully a sign of an artist who’s learned that your music becomes that much richer when you’re willing to share yourself with it.
Photo by Buffy Burton
Written by Luke Laird, Zac Maloy & Carrie Underwood
Listen: Temporary Home