Carrie Underwood: Cry Pretty review – precision-tooled country with a soupçon of sad

Six albums into her career, Carrie Underwood sometimes seems more like a weaponised expression of modern country’s commercial power than a singer. Even the promotional bumf from her label spends more time dwelling on statistics – albums sold, awards won, streams amassed – than on her music. Mind you, that’s probably wise: Cry Pretty is precisely as interesting as the malls and insanely programmed radio stations where it will be played to death. Cry Pretty’s big “statement” is The Bullet, a song Underwood has apparently been considering for inclusion on several albums, using it this time in response to the Las Vegas mass shooting of last year.

The build-up leads you to expect a lacerating critique of US gun culture; what you get is a lachrymose exposition of the misery of families who lose a loved one to shooting. “You can blame it on hate or blame it on guns,” Underwood sings, in a “who really knows how people end up dead with bullets in them?” sort of way. Ghosts on the Stereo – with namechecks for “Hank, Haggard and Jones” – is the obligatory nod to forebears whose family connection is now very remote indeed. Cry Pretty is an album of power ballads and – on Drinking Alone and End Up With You – nods to pop R&B. It’s not horrible, but it feels very much like something that could have been produced without any human involvement; it is all gloss and shine, with sadness at industry-approved levels of maximum efficacy. Take 75% uplift, add 20% melancholy, top up with 5% not actually contentious controversy, and voilà: Cry Pretty.

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