Carrie Underwood — “Blown Away”
Its brooding intro sounds more like background accompaniment to a Desperate Housewives commercial than traditional country. Its storyline is bleak and unrelenting, with very little indication of a happy ending. And its singer demonstrates the vocal chops that have made her an international superstar.
Above all, “Blown Away,” the title track and second single of Carrie Underwood’s latest album, accentuates both the best and worst tendencies of its performer and the format she calls home.
Considering the genre’s disturbing recent trend of hokey redneck songs, “Blown Away” serves as a reminder of the best narrative storytelling that Nashville can offer. It relays the desperation and panic of a child suffering at the hands of an abusive and alcoholic father. Her resilience, as evidenced by the chilling and nonchalant response to his eventual plight, is as powerful as the incoming storm. Written by the same duo who penned “Before He Cheats,” “Blown Away” is another account of a put-upon young woman seeking swift retaliation. “Some people called it taking shelter,” Underwood sings in a cool, detached tone. “She called it sweet revenge.”
“Blown Away” has one of the bolder themes to be heard on country radio in 2012, and Underwood further challenges the boundaries of the format by singing against a string-laden production with no fiddles or steel guitar in earshot. At least in these mysterious verses, it’s the right trimming for a story that raises more questions than it answers.
Perhaps surprising given her carefully manicured image—-wholesome, down-home and prom queen pretty—-Underwood is at her best when she’s exploring more complex situations. Her dramatic and forceful reading, burnished by a series of evocative details, spells out the impending doom: “There’s not enough rain in Oklahoma/To wash the sins out of that house/There’s not enough wind in Oklahoma/To rip the nails out of the past.”
It’s refreshing to hear Underwood willing to take a few risks. What’s troubling, though, is how loud and overly slick the whole thing is. Underwood can sing with power that most of her peers couldn’t approach, and her vocal range on “Blown Away” is as impressive as always. Still, her vibrant soprano must contend with the overwrought production in both the chorus and the triumphant coda. The gritty subject matter clashes often with the glossy arrangement. With a voice as strong as Underwood’s, less is more.
“Blown Away” won’t assuage the fears of those who are concerned about the state of country, and the pieces don’t fit together as seamlessly as they should, but it’s a compelling listen and qualified success for the former Idol winner.
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