Weighted down by its penchant for bombastic balladry, the second album from 2005 American Idol winner Carrie Underwood is an otherwise fairly convincing set of nu-glam beats via new-country inflections. Or vice versa. With fiddles and steel guitars mostly providing mere shading in a much larger palette, it’s hard to say what genre this belongs to ultimately. At its best, it strikes me as a worthy tribute to Underwood’s (decidedly not-country) heroes, Heart.
By which I mean the schlock-metal/huge-hair/’80s version of Heart. All she really needs are more synthesizers.
Song-wise, nothing on Carnival Ride matches the feral intensity of last year’s tire-slashing classic “Before He Cheats.” “Last Name” mines similar territory, but to lesser effect, and the bound-to-be-a-hit “Crazy Dreams” is a post-Idol cliché that sounds like it was written by committee rather than a human being.
Still, Underwood’s own interest in the material never flags, and she handles a wide emotional range here, sounding just as comfortable as the “All-American Girl” as she does as the spurned ex having her 19th nervous breakdown (“Flat on the Floor”) or the eternally frustrated bachelorette (“The More Boys I Meet”). That last one’s a trip, by the way, with a beyond-silly punchline proving once and for all that Underwood will never, thank God, be undone by her own good taste.