CARRIE UNDERWOOD - BLOWN AWAY
She hasn’t quite joined the Jukebox pantheon…
Anthony Easton: I love country music because sentimentality as a legitimate emotion, as one that is not wrapped in irony or camp, is missing in our culture; and because melodrama is refused as a legitimate genre. I have a soft spot for the domestic as a site of chaos and revenge. The new Carrie Underwood album has several tracks of luscious, devoted, absurdly beautiful, heavily committed tracks about domestic melodrama that work on the surface level as examples of the genre and as subtext about the power of the culture. This is the second best, but it is so well written, so well performed, and so well constructed that second best would be better then most people are capable of acknowledging (the first is “Two Black Cadillacs”).
Alfred Soto: The writers develop the love-as-storm metaphor into a genuine conceit, and on the verses Underwood’s suppressed hysteria buttresses the details. On the chorus, however, the high notes with which she embellishes “away” sound prissy instead of blustery. I wonder how Reba or Martina McBride would have handled it.
Frank Kogan: Possibly the least interesting lyrics ever on the subject of spousal and/or child abuse. Impressively uninteresting. Interestingly uninteresting. How do they manage to get so little out of this topic? I could imagine the song’s reticence in regard to whatever it is that daddy might have done could be an evocative silence, correlating to a victim’s understandable reticence, as in “Luka.” But “Blown Away” won’t even try that—rather than going numb it huffs and puffs strenuously, but without any useful poetic ironies like “Independence Day“‘s “Daddy left the proof on her cheek” and “She lit up the sky that fourth of July.” Just references abuse, follows with apocalypse, over and out. Hack work. The music is correspondingly big and empty, but music being music, that’s not a flaw. Who says music’s supposed to be articulate? This music is polished to a shine—each little bit—the little mandolin plinks on the ground, the triple-tracked, sky-splitting vocal lines. Doesn’t evoke the dust and rain of the lyrics. Instead is a glisteningly bright downpour. Try not singing along.
Jonathan Bogart: I’ll make no bones about the fact that my high score has a lot to do with Beasts of the Southern Wild, which has more than a slight resonance with the song (change “Oklahoma” to “Louisiana” and “whiskey” to “vodka” and it could even be the theme song). But you don’t need that resonance — “Blown Away” traffics in the same root material as Beasts does, and abuse, solitude, and extreme weather as God’s punishment (or God’s reprieve) is powerful stuff regardless of medium or state. Underwood’s always-at-11 belt isn’t suitable for every song, but when she wraps her vocal chords around the right one, it’s magic.
Will Adams: I often use Pink’s “Who Knew” as an example of a great song marred by overproduction: hooky pop-rock that kept adding strings until the final chorus sounded like a stage production. “Blown Away” is a more striking example because it comes right out of the gate hammering you with its overstuffed orchestration: glockenspiel, pizzicato strings, booming timpani, and reverbed-to-Hell vocals. It’s all way too much for an otherwise interesting song with a menacing protagonist – “She called it sweet revenge” seems to cast her as a magician who conjured up a tornado to sweep her mean old father away. Shame the producers got too trigger-happy with the GarageBand Symphony Orchestra Jam Pack.
Brad Shoup: This sounds like a big deal: the suspicious orchestral touches, theme, and especially that melody. There’s a three-note flourish missing from the way she handles “yesterday” emblematic of Underwood’s overall treatment and a raggedness in her performance, lots of straight lines wrung out. The arrangement suggests much, and she seems satisfied not slicing through it with a trad bravura performance. This is a rock song, truly, with all the loose ends and uneasy thoughts that should imply.
Edward Okulicz: “Blown Away” comes close to being overblown but its half-Clarkson, half-Benatar power-pop/ballad is just the sort of territory that allows Underwood to do just about anything she wants with her voice. Her voice is still great, too, and if this isn’t as obviously entryism-worthy as “Good Girl,” a few weeks with it makes me think it might have some serious AOR staying power. That it doesn’t have the darkness its lyrics would suggest might take a few notches off its emotional impact, but its melodic payload is still considerable.
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Today marks one full year of blurbing for the Jukebox. Ian Mathers got me the introduction, Edward Okulicz set up the trial run, and everyone has been funny and passionate, cranky and scholarly. In finding a way into nearly every song we’ve covered since last July, I’ve become a better writer, added a few new approaches to my arsenal, and made myself just a little less terrible with deadlines.
I’ve written this before, but TSJ has whetted my appetite for the next step, and I hope to get “in” “print” before the year’s out. Thanks to everyone who’s ever blurbed, read, or commented on the Jukebox. You’ve turned my mornings into a daily highlight.