Underwood’s third album is overdeveloped and undercooked Carrie Underwood’s new album isn’t meant for iPods or headphones—or, for that matter, for individuals. It’s a more public record than a private or personal one, sometimes for better but usually for worse. Opener and first single “Cowboy Casanova” is a barnburner that will be the prelude to many girls’ nights out, while “Mama’s Song” will no doubt soundtrack innumerable weddings in the next few months.
Daisy in her hair aside, Carrie Underwood looks flat-out glamorous on the cover of Play On, which is a pretty fair indication of what awaits listeners on her third album. Carrie is still nominally a country artist and sometimes will sing supported by fiddles and steel guitar, but this is crossover pop pure and simple, whether it's the thundering rhythms on the Shania-styled strut "Cowboy Casanova" or the succession of maudlin melodies on the preponderance of power ballads. Many of these overwrought ballads are infused with a heavy-handed social consciousness -- Carrie decries hunger on "Change" and homelessness on "Temporary Home" -- unfortunately reminiscent of Idol Gives Back, and they're not the only AmIdol connection here, as fourth wheel Kara DioGuardi co-wrote the strained sassiness of "Undo It" and the sticky, tacky "Mama's Song" with Underwood herself.
From the first few slicked-up yet grungy electric guitar chords, we know we’re in for more of the same: angry bad-boyfriend songs and gelatinous ballads, a little bit country, a little bit rock ‘n’ roll, everything sounding very, very expensive. The writing is insanely professional, and each track is so thoroughly baited with hooks it’s hard to hear the song underneath. Play On is a focus-group pop album, a hothouse flower, bioengineered at great cost to thrive on S.U.V.