Single Review: Carrie Underwood’s “Smoke Break”

Rating: 6.5/10

Carrie Underwood announced Thursday evening (8/20) that she will release her long-awaited fifth studio album Storyteller on October 23rd. This is her first full-length album of new music since 2012’s Blown Away. The first single off Storyteller is entitled “Smoke Break” and is quite different from recent Carrie Underwood singles.

In 2014, Carrie Underwood released Greatest Hits: Decade #1 while she took time out of her career to have a child. Singles from that album included the Christian song “Something in the Water,” as well as “Little Toy Guns,” which dealt with domestic abuse and how the parents’ words were affecting their daughter. “Smoke Break” is a much lighter song, which can be expected. After the serious issues of her previous singles, Carrie delivers an ode to the hard-working people who deal with life’s daily problems and sometimes feel like they need a smoke or drink to get through. It is not clear whether the characters discussed actually smoke and drink from time to time, or whether they simply would like to. This can be regarded as bad songwriting or good songwriting, depending on your viewpoint. I view it as good songwriting because it is ambiguous and thus more relatable. This song relates to those who do take a drink or have a “smoke break” sometimes to deal with the pressures of life, as well as to those who wish they could drink or smoke but for whatever reason (pressure from family, religion, etc), feel that it would be wrong to do so. The characters portrayed are also relatable. The woman works three jobs trying to feed her four children and struggles with being a “good wife and a good mom and a good Christian.” The man in the second verse is struggling to climb the corporate ladder and be a “good man, good son, do somethin’ good that matters.”

This song is a country rock song, and Carrie Underwood sounds more country singing it than she has in years. I do feel that perhaps she is trying to sound country on purpose, though. This song is very different from standard Carrie Underwood material, and I would have thought a title and lyrics like those of “Smoke Break” came from Miranda Lambert. Some have pointed out that part of the chorus of “Smoke Break” sounds like Lambert’s “Automatic,” a comparison that is not hard to make. However, the thing I noticed when I heard the song and before ever hearing these comments or similarities, was that Carrie seems to be trying to be more like Miranda. This song is Miranda Lambert material, and it’s no coincidence that Carrie Underwood suddenly sounds more country when she’s singing it. I think after losing at all the award shows for years, she and her team might be trying to make her into another Miranda Lambert. I am not saying I blame them, but that won’t help, because in the end, Miranda Lambert will still be a better Miranda Lambert, as “Smoke Break” proves. In the end, “Smoke Break” is fluff, similar to Miranda Lambert and Little Big Town’s “Smokin’ and Drinkin’.” I would give Lambert’s song a 5. This song is better because it is more country and the lyrics have more depth, but it’s not especially great. I hope Carrie’s album is better. I liked Carrie when she was herself, and I don’t want to see her become an inferior Miranda at the expense of her music. “Smoke Break” is not bad, but Carrie Underwood is better than this.

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