Country Rating: 5/10
Overall Rating: 7/10
Carrie Underwood’s fifth album, Storyteller, has been the subject of heated debate since its first single, “Smoke Break,” was released in August.
Carrie had promised that her next album would be more rock-influenced, have more twang, and respect her country roots. “Smoke Break” was certainly more rock-influenced, but it had so much twang that I felt like Carrie Underwood didn’t sound like herself–instead she sounded like a lesser version of Miranda Lambert. So it was with mixed feelings that I came into Storyteller, and after several listens, I still have many mixed feelings.
The album opens with “Renegade Runaway,” a pop/country/rock song about a woman who is a “Tumbleweed blowin’ in the wind come sundown, call a girl like that renegade runaway.” This immediately reminds me of a Miranda song, but here this is not necessarily a bad thing, as Carrie Underwood does not emphasize her twang and still sounds like Carrie. However, it’s not more country, as Underwood promised–and if you were looking for more of a country sound, I suggest you avoid this album because it does not get better in this regard. However, if you enjoy good songwriting and “storytelling,” Carrie does deliver on this promise, and “Dirty Laundry” does a good job of telling the story of a woman who catches her man cheating by finding his dirty clothes. It’s a nice double meaning, and I’d be able to enjoy this song more without the pop production. “Church Bells” is a pop country song about Jenny, a woman who marries a man for his money, only to find out he is abusive. Carrie sings, “All his money could never save Jenny from the devil living in his eyes.” Jenny slips something in his whiskey and “he hit a woman for the very last time.” This is a Miranda Lambert-esque song as well, but despite this and some overproduction, the story makes it one of the better songs on the album.
“Heartbeat” is a straight pop song that Carrie should have left off the album–it’s a female bro country song, albeit more romantic, but we’ve already heard 957 songs about people hooking up by rivers, and so this is just unnecessary. Also, if you didn’t hate this, prepare to–Sam Hunt is the backup singer. Next is “Smoke Break” which I already shared my thoughts on in my review, and in the context of the album, it actually bothers me more. The story told here, of characters who drink and smoke (or would like to but don’t actually do it) to cope with the pressures of their daily lives, doesn’t compare to the other stories on the album, and her Miranda Lambert impression is more noticeable in the context of an otherwise Carrie Underwood-like sound on this album. “Choctaw County Affair” is one of the best songs on the album; this is a country rock song about a small town murder. Carrie sings from the view of one of the suspects. It’s great songwriting, and the production doesn’t overshadow it. I recommend listening to this if you only listen to one song on Storyteller, and I will post it here.
“Like I’ll Never Love You Again” is another of the better songs–a pop country love song in which Underwood gives us a rare subdued moment on this album. The sincerity in this song makes it even better. “Chaser” and “Relapse” could have been left off the album, as neither of them add a thing to it. The first is a pop rock song basically about telling a man to go ahead and “chase” the other woman. It doesn’t work as a pop song or a country song. “Relapse” does have a more pop country sound, but it’s just a boring song. It tells the story of a woman having “relapses” with an ex–that’s all I can say, as this is all there really is to it. “Clock Don’t Stop” is another straight pop song, complete with a clock ticking. This is a song explaining that “the clock don’t stop ticking away”–I wouldn’t blame anyone for hating this song, but I actually don’t mind it as a pop song. At least it chooses a genre, and this certainly helps it as a song, even if it does nothing for Storyteller as a whole.
“The Girl You Think I Am” explores the relationship between a father and daughter. The daughter just wants to be the girl that her dad sees–the girl in church who was “eight years old wearing angel wings.” It’s a heartfelt moment with stripped-back production that I also recommend you listen to. “Mexico”–now that sounds like a bright, happy beach song. Not from Carrie Underwood–it’s a song about running from the law with “blue lights on the horizon, dust clouds filling the sky.” This is a mix of country, pop, and rock that actually works–another Miranda-esque song that Carrie doesn’t overdo with twang. The album closes with “What I Never Knew I Always Wanted,” a personal song for Underwood about her marriage and new son. She says she never thought she would be this type, but now she has “what I never knew I always wanted.” Despite the fact that this song is a pop song, it is one of the better ones because it shows some of Carrie Underwood’s heart.
Storyteller came with many expectations. It was said to be more twangy and contain more stories. On this front, Carrie delivered–the songwriting here is actually really great, with the exception of a few songs. Carrie Underwood had a hand in writing many of these songs, a fact that should certainly be noted. If you prefer great songwriting, you’ll really enjoy this album. On the other hand, Carrie Underwood promised this album would sound more country–it’s actually an album of pop and rock and country mixed together to create a unique sound. If you place emphasis on a country sound, you will probably find a lot to hate with this album. I personally find more to enjoy than to criticize, but it’s an album you must hear for yourself.