Written by Chris DeStefano, Hillary Lindsey, and Carrie Underwood
“Smoke Break” is a remarkably good attempt at a working class anthem. It’s so stylistically different from the “rah rah, let’s party this weekend” approach that has made drinking synonymous with adolescent behavior in modern country music.
Underwood isn’t singing about people who are working until they can party all weekend. She’s singing about people who are working themselves to the bone, and need a few minutes to themselves before returning to their responsibilities.
“Smoke Break” is so wonderfully adult and so refreshingly grounded in reality. The characters aren’t there to play out a three act tragedy or to be stand-ins for whatever caricature of small town country living is fashionable at this given moment. They’re the boring working folks who just don’t get songs written about them very often.
Underwood effectively tells their truth, simply by acknowledging how difficult it is sometimes to do everything that is required and expected of you.
It is really hard to care for four kids while working full-time, and. It is really hard to “be a good man, a good son, and do something good that matters.” Sometimes it’s really, really hard, and that quick smoke break or one strong drink might be the only temporary release of tension that your obligations will allow.
As for the sound of the record, I’m less surprised that Carrie Underwood can do Southern Rock well than I am that she would choose to do it at all. But it works very well with the groove that the lyric requires.
She doesn’t belt much in this number, and the production chugs along at a pace that is appropriate for the characters who are doing the same. Steady, forward drumbeat. Little bit of release in the chorus, but not too much because you’ve got to get back those responsibilities that you’ve cut out on for just a few short minutes.
It’s a new sound for her, but she sounds awfully comfortable outside of her comfort zone. Perhaps because the change of musical style is just cosmetic. At the core, she’s still doing what she always does: telling stories about the kind of people she cares about.
I’ve written before that Carrie Underwood radiates humanity. But that’s just a fancy way of saying she’s got a whole lot of empathy, and as she continues to develop as a writer, she’s getting just as good at telling the everyday stories as she is at telling the grandiose epics.
She has the finest singing voice of her generation, but her greatest gift is her ability to express empathy for others through song.