Carrie Underwood, “Cry Pretty” (Capitol)
The most talked-about song on her new album has been “The Bullet,” in which the country superstar traces the damage left behind by a shooting. “You can blame it on hate or you can blame it on guns,” she sings over fingerpicked acoustic guitar, “But mamas ain’t supposed to bury their sons.”
In interviews Underwood has said she was drawn to the tune (written by three Nashville pros) as a mother. But nowhere I’ve seen, including in the carefully equivocating “The Bullet,” does she take a decipherable stance on the issue of guns. And that simply doesn’t jibe with a real-life parental mind-set (of whatever political persuasion) — one of several red flags on an album, “Cry Pretty,” that Underwood’s team is explicitly framing as her most personal.
Elsewhere on the record, her first since a facial injury that led to months of seclusion as she healed, Underwood sings about pain and desire and finding a kingdom in a family home. “Backsliding” recounts an ill-advised hook-up with an ex; “Southbound” runs down the charms of a region that hardly needs the help.
Underwood sets off the usual vocal fireworks. But as the painfully familiar images in “Southbound” show, these songs (most of which she co-wrote) cast these emotions and experiences in such generalized terms that it’s hard to get a clear sense of a human in the world.
The effect is of a gifted strategist trying to cover all her bases, never less so than in “Ghosts on the Stereo,” which sounds like a Coldplay song even as Underwood insists that she’s happiest all alone listening to “Hank, Haggard and Jones.”
Mikael Wood, Los Angeles Times
Good Charlotte, “Generation Rx” (BMG)
The Madden twins, Benji and Joel, tackle current issues with the same brashness they used to puncture the lifestyles of the rich and the famous when they started out two decades ago. The single “Prayers” shows how much things have changed, as they use a straightforward rock framework to throw punches at “thoughts and prayers” culture. “I see a little girl who’s crying ’cause she lost her family,” sings Joel Madden. “All these strangers sending thoughts and prayers, she’s buried underneath.” It’s a powerful image, delivered simply, showing how effective a rock anthem can still be at that.
On “Actual Pain,” they take on the opioid crisis. “Shadow Boxer” takes on bullying and esteem issues. While their views on these topics may not be deep, they are certainly memorable, making “Generation Rx” a first step that could introduce fans to a lot of new ideas.
Glenn Gamboa, Newsday
• Prince, “Piano & a Microphone 1983”
• Josh Groban, “Bridges”
• Metric, “Art of Doubt”
• Slash, “Living the Dream”
• Billy Gibbons, “Big Bad Blues”
• Joe Bonamassa, “Redemption”