NIAGARA UNIVERSITY, N.Y. – Carrie Underwood’s label switch from Sony Music Nashville to Capitol Records Nashville was a crucial and mysterious move. As the country music industry continues to succumb to ongoing misogynistic problems, Underwood is one of few female artists to continue pushing against those boundaries.
On that note, while the effort for “Cry Pretty” is appreciated, unfortunately it’s a bit scattershot as a whole, with certain elements working extremely well while also failing in other parts.
The production on this album is one such example. On one hand, Underwood excels with her traditional brand of pop-country ballads with “Love Wins” and the title track, but elsewhere, the string of songs starting with “Backsliding” and ending with “Drinking Alone” try to go for something soulful and end up feeling cold. “Low” relies on bombastic production tactics rather than natural soul, making everything feel overcooked.
Lyrically, the album takes on running themes of loneliness, fragility and darker subjects in general that most mainstream country artists are afraid to approach. The title track is still a brilliant example of the frustrations of traditional gender rules that women are expected to adhere to, with the transition from a ballad to a rocker midway through feeling natural as the frustration continues to grow. “Ghosts On The Stereo” is another excellent cut that shows music heals when nothing else can.
Of course, while this is lyrically a strong album, Underwood does manage to generalize or miss the mark at times. “Love Wins” focuses more on an end goal of peace and love rather than the road map to get there, all of which is delivered with cliché-ridden lyrical content.
On the other hand, “The Bullet” has features a unique perspective on mass shootings by focusing on the future impact of victims’ families rather than the immediate aftermath. It manages to look at both sides of the issue rather effectively. After this is another candidate for one of her best songs with “Spinning Bottles,” a stark piano ballad that focuses on the effects of alcoholism in a relationship.
While “Cry Pretty” is not Underwood’s best effort, her best assets continue to shine in certain areas.