You’d be forgiven if Carrie Underwood’s current hit left you a little underwhelmed. After the one-two murderoo of “Blown Away” and “Two Black Cadillacs,” the releases that announced Underwood’s ascension from superstar singer to potentially cool artist, the Narnia-inspired “See You Again” may feel like a retreat back to simpler days. Actually, with its mechanical piano, bloated chorus production, and vague celestial imagery, it almost sounds like a descendant of “Inside Your Heaven,” Underwood’s sappy American Idol single. Uh oh!
But if you can accept that songs of this flavor will probably always be part of the Carrie Underwood experience, you may find that she’s improved the recipe a good bit over time.
It helps that “See You Again” is a decent composition on its own merits, with a stirring – if safe – theme of reconnecting with the loved ones we’ve lost or been separated from, plus some enjoyable – if gratuitous – “woah”s and “oh”s.
But the crucial difference is in the performance. For all the hosannas Underwood’s huge voice received early on, tracks like this demonstrate how much she’s still progressing both technically and interpretively. Early cuts like “Inside Your Heaven” or “Lessons Learned” were occasionally mired by reedy tones, robotic vibrato, or impassive phrasing; you had the sense of a singer finding her way around her instrument. Not so for the muscular, dynamic presence who drives this song. She’s gradually growing into her preordained destiny as a country-pop diva, confidently weaving runs and slurs into the fabric of the melody, and creating fun, little Carrie-isms like her quirky pronunciation of “again,” her whips into head-voice whenever she hits the title phrase, or her impassioned (if unintentional) belting of her own name. (“I will carry!”)
Does that sound like teasing? It’s praise. You can fall in love with a singer’s voice, but you stay in love because of the distinct ways they use it. It’s my opinion that Carrie Underwood still needs a new producer, someone who will encourage her more ambitious instincts and stop putting so much bland noise behind her, drowning out potential nuances. But I’m finally enjoying the Carrie we have at this moment in time, too. There’s something there.
Written by Carrie Underwood, Hillary Lindsey & David Hodges