Carrie Underwood is the definition of a superstar. She is recognized worldwide, her concerts are worldwide sellouts, and her music is wide spread. When she releases an album, people pay attention. Carrie’s latest record, Storyteller, hit the market earlier this year. While country radio has been mostly a boys club the past few years, Carrie, along with her friend Miranda Lambert, has been able to break through the testosterone wall. Furthermore, she’s been able to do it with songs that have actual stories and meaningful lyrics. “Smoke Break” was a great first single to get the ball rolling, so does the rest of Storyteller keep up with the high expectations that we have for Carrie?
To this reviewed, Storyteller finds Carrie Underwood trying way too hard and making an album that isn’t bad, but ultimately falls flat. Let’s knock out the negatives right away. This album isn’t country. It is over-produced beyond recognition of the genre. Carrie has always had a pop sound to her music, but much of Storyteller simply takes it too far. Otherwise great songs are ruined by overproduction. The most glaring example is the second single, “Heartbeat”. The song has a pleasing melody, decent if not cliché lyrics, and some heartfelt honesty. All of this is layered on top of an electronic beat and Sam Hunt harmony. Nothing sucks the emotion out of a song like a drum machine, and nothing sucks the country out of a song like Sam Hunt. It could have been a great song and it ends up being a disappointment. “Church Bells” and “Dirty Laundry” have the stories, but are also overproduced and cliché. Miranda has already cornered the “hot girl murders a cheating husband” market. Carrie sounds like she is chasing a trend, not being sincere. The worst offender is the opening “Renegade Runaway”. The tittle sounds like it came from a Random Outlaw Cliché Generator, and the lyrics aren’t much better. No story, just a lot of pomp and circumstance. Save the chest beating crap for the bros, Carrie. Subtlety used to be your friend.
Despite the upsetting moments, there is still some good things to take in here. “Choctaw County Affair” has a swampy blues feel that really lets Carrie show off her fantastic voice. “Like I’ll Never Love You Again” is a pretty solid tender love ballad, which is what Carrie does best. “Smoke Break” is the perfect choice for a radio single, as it balances pop sounds with country storytelling to make a commercial hit that is still respectable (Full "Smoke Break" Single Review Here). “What I Never Knew I Always Wanted” is a great ode to motherhood, but it too suffers from being overproduced. The best song on the album is “The Girl You Think I Am”. It is simple, honest, and understated. This is where Carrie Underwood shines. She may have the pipes to hang with any diva in the pop world, but her ability to deliver heartfelt songs at a tender level is what sets her apart.
All in all, Storyteller is what we thought it would be. Carrie has never claimed to be traditional country. There has always been a pop element to her music. It just shows up more often than I’d like on this album. What separates this from other pop-country records is the fact that many of the songs still have some type of story to tell or an interesting approach. Storyteller isn’t perfect, there’s probably more to shrug at than really get in to, but it’s hardly the worst thing country music has to offer. If anything, appreciate the fact that we get to hear one of the best voices of our generation on the radio, even if the song doesn’t always fit the genre.
Standout Tracks: "Smoke Break", "Choctaw County Affair", "The Girl You Think I Am", "Like I'll Never Love You Again"
"The Girl You Think I Am"
"Choctaw County Affair"