Correction: An earlier version of this review incorrectly referred to "Before He Cheats" as Carrie Underwood's debut single. Her debut single was “Inside Your Heaven.” This version has been updated.
Carrie Underwood promised that her fourth album, “Blown Away,” would be “darker” than the country-pop sun rays she’s been known to radiate.
False alarm. This is merely a trans-faux-mation — that thing pop stars do when they dabble in minor-key melodies, frowny lyrics and/or smoky eye shadow, hoping their listeners will mistake a superficial shift in tone for a meaningful artistic left turn.
The idea of Underwood going goth is an intriguing one, though. The 29-year-old has become a dominant voice in country music since winning “American Idol” in 2005, and she showed us she could snarl with the best of them right out of the gate. Her early single, “Before He Cheats,” found her talking trash like a good girl gone super-bad. Double-cross this one and she’ll carve up the Michelins on your pickup like a jack-o’-lantern.
So what happens when a honey-voiced tire-slasher skews “darker”? We get only a handful of songs at the front end of “Blown Away” to find out.
After that, the clouds part and our regularly scheduled Carrie Underwood album ensues, spilling over with creamy love songs of the heart-thumpy and heart-achy variety.
But first, the so-called dark stuff: The album kicks off with “Good Girl,” a bland rock song in which Underwood warns a gal pal to watch out for a suitor’s devious intentions. Pushing her voice as if she’s trying to sing through bad cellphone reception, Underwood belts over electric guitars that sound like they’ve been cranked up to about 71 / 2.
The title track follows with a much more compelling story line — an abused child prays for a tornado to destroy her broken home.
“There’s not enough rain in Oklahoma/to wash the sins out of that house,” Underwood sings. It’s a gripping lyric, but the distorted guitars, thunderous drumming and wailing refrains make the song feel like an overcooked Taylor Swift hit (or a still-cold-in-the-middle Paramore romp).
The mood starts to lift with “Do You Think About Me,” a fetching ballad about how memories of an old flame can trigger involuntary smiles. After making such a melodramatic entrance, Underwood’s tenderness here proves that her voice is best suited for the sentimental stuff.
That includes “Thank God for Hometowns,” a reflective number about embracing the comforts of home, years after its discomforts drove you away. “Thank God for the county lines that welcome you back in/when you were dying to get out,” she sings in a voice that’s as sonorous as it is sweet.
Which isn’t to say Underwood can’t get too sweet.
“One Way Ticket” offers peppy happy-hour advice over a diet-reggae beat that reeks of sunscreen, Corona Light and the Zac Brown Band.
“Sun’s shining bright and it’s meant for us,” she chirps. “Life is like a ride on a party bus!”
Really? So life ends by stumbling off the charter, crawling across your bathroom floor and passing out next to the toilet?
Now that’s dark.
“Do You Think About Me,”
“Thank God for Hometowns”