Single Review: Carrie Underwood, “Cry Pretty”

“Cry Pretty”
Carrie Underwood

Written by Hillary Lindsey, Lori McKenna, Liz Rose, and Carrie Underwood

Anyone else on board for a Carrie Underwood album completely co-written by Lori McKenna?

“Cry Pretty” has the song craft that Underwood has become known for, honed through collaborations with Nashville’s top songwriters like this track’s Hillary Lindsey and Liz Rose.  But where previous Underwood songs have always had a sheen of professional perfectionism, all of the beautiful imperfections that are signature to McKenna’s writing style are present here.

The melody doesn’t flow perfectly, and the backing track seems a bit unsure how to support a stylist like Underwood delivering lyrics that almost but don’t quite fit with the rhythm of the music.  That awkwardness works well given the theme of the song, which is all about when emotions get the better of you and you can’t keep up the perfectly honed image that you’ve presented to the world for so long.

Underwood co-produced the track with David Garcia, and that’s the collaboration that lets the record down just a little bit.  There’s a grim determination to turn this into an eighties power ballad that the song doesn’t truly demand, as if there was a concern that we’d think maybe Underwood lost some of her vocal power during her brief hiatus. The lyric and her delivery of it throughout most of the song is more powerful than when they think we’re getting the big payoff toward the end, which is more of an anti-climax.

As demonstrated when she performed this on the ACM Awards, that won’t be an issue during her live set. But I do wish they’d dialed the bombast down a few notches. Underwood is the best vocalist on country radio by a wide mile. She doesn’t need the band to do anything but stay out of the way, especially if she’s going to be baring so much of her soul this time around.

Grade: B+

 

11 Comments

  1. KJC writes “I do wish they’d dialed the bombast down a few notches”. It begins around the 2:15 mark, and at that point I’ve had enough.

  2. …carrie underwood has got the artistic sensibility of a caterpillar dump truck. she may be vocally gifted, but has as of yet failed to deliver a whole album that would leave one feeling more than slightly underwhelmed. basically, “cry pretty” is a very decent ballad, written by a more than qualified group of songwriters, yet carrie underwood manages to make a shriek fest out of it after two minutes or so. thank god for the “pause” button and that the girl in the song hopefully is not an nra member.

  3. This song has been growing on me, but man…I sure do hope the whole album doesn’t sound like this. I would have hoped that the change in label and producer would mean a bit less of the overproduction that’s been a problem on so many of her efforts, but so far it doesn’t look like it.

    It’s one thing about Underwood’s music that has often frustrated me. For as strong a singer as she is, and for as much artistic sensibility as she’s demonstrated, I still sometimes feel like I have to listen to her records with a forgiving ear in order to enjoy them.

  4. I love Carrie but I’m growing tired of the bellowing in her music. She needs to show she can do more than that.

    However, if this hits #1 on Billboard (the overall chart, not the airplay chart), it will give her 15 #1 hits. That’s only one behind Loretta Lynn, who is currently in 5th place among female artists with the most #1 songs. No other female has managed to break into that top 5 of Dolly, Reba, Tammy, Crystal, and Loretta for the last 20 years.

  5. Yeah, this one is made more for a live setting than, say, the radio. That ACMs performance was incredible.

    I get that she likes a lot of production, and it can work, but why not do an album with scaled back production as something different?

  6. She actually has lots of toned-down songs. Someday When I Stop Loving You, Forever Changed, Like I’ll Never Love You Again, Wine After Whiskey, Good In Goodbye, among others. Some people obviously just judge on the singles and have never actually listened to the albums

  7. Jojo – I wrote too generally. I didn’t just mean scaled back as in quiet, I meant scaled back in terms of a more sparse (and country) arrangement. “Forever Changed” is still a basic pop-country ballad, for instance. I love that you mentioned “Someday When I Stop Loving You” as it is an example of what I mean and, for my money, is one of the best things she’s ever done.

    Having said that, most people are only going to know the singles of artists. That’s just how it works. It’s also why it’s nice when artists show variety among their singles. There is no reason that at some point something like “Someday When I Stop Loving You” couldn’t have been a 4th or 5th single from an album.

  8. This is totally the wrong place to post this comment so feel free to move it, but a year or two ago CU turned me on to Terri Clark’s Country Gold podcast. This week’s episode featured Mary Chapin Carpenter and she was everything I hoped she would be. So wise. It was a great way to spend half an hour so check it out if you’re interested. The Martina McBride episode from a few weeks back was good too, but Chapin, and maybe I was just in the right frame of mind to hear it, was so amazing and downright ethereal at times.

  9. @Michael A,

    Thank you for the heads up. I tend to check in with that podcast every few weeks and binge on episodes that interest me. The MCC episode will certainly get me to do so soon. I’ve largely stopped following her work in recent years but still love the stuff that made me a fan back in the nineties.

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