Capitol Records Nashville
Release Date: June 10th 2022
Reviewed by: Jonathan Andre
- Denim & Rhinestones
- Velvet Heartbreak
- Ghost Story
- Hate My Heart
- Crazy Angels
- Pink Champagne
- Wanted Woman
- Poor Everybody Else
- She Don’t Know
Carrie Underwood has been one of my favourite country artists for quite some time. Even before I was listening to country music regularly these last few years (initially listening to country artists in order for me to write about them in my blog post series, now just listening to country because I enjoy it!), I still heard of Carrie’s music. Though I wasn’t as much of a fan of it as I am now, I did listen to songs here and there, from ‘Something in the Water’, ‘Jesus Take the Wheel’ and ‘Temporary Home’, to ‘So Small’, ‘There’s a Place For Us’ and ‘See You Again’. Now fast forward to 2022. I wrote about Carrie and her influence in a blog post here on the site, back in 2019 when I first started this life-changing post series. We reviewed My Gift, Carrie’s Christmas album, in 2020, and My Savior, Carrie’s hymn album in 2021, and frankly, it was my writing of Carrie’s influence in her music in 2019, that I even had the courage to take the plunge and listen to other country artists, from Lady A, Rascal Flatts and Shania Twain, to The McClymonts, Faith Hill, Sugarland, Little Big Town and Keith Urban. So I guess, Carrie’s music started it all, and upon reflection on how my musical expansion into the vast expansiveness of country music travelled during 2019 – 2022, I’ll forever be grateful that Carrie’s music ‘pushed me out of the nest’ so to speak, where I sat for the longest time, listening with the safety measures, to CCM (nothing wrong with CCM in the slightest, it’s just that now I listen to a more vast collection of music). After Carrie’s Christmas album and gospel album, it was time for Carrie to release a brand new album (considering her most ‘recent’ full-length album of original material, Cry Pretty, was released in 2018)…and just this past Friday, Carrie has indeed released her brand new album. Denim & Rhinestones released Friday 10th June, and with the singles ‘Ghost Story’, ‘Crazy Angels’ and the title track, Denim & Rhinestones is one of Carrie’s most out-of-the-box releases she’s created in her career so far, as she fuses together the genres of pop, country, and dance, to create one of the most musically versatile (or maybe even musically confusing) releases of 2022 thus far.
‘Ghost Story’, the first radio single from the album, starts off with a bang as we see this 3 minute tune present to us, a different take on the term ‘jilted lover’. The persona in the track has seemingly moved on from said relationship, and yet she sings in the track that while she’ll be living her life, she’ll inavertedly be ‘haunting’ him, as he’ll know (until forever?) that breaking up with her was the most foolish thing he has done- because he’ll ‘see’ her everywhere in the places he goes and what he does, and thus, she’ll ‘haunt’ him that way. ‘Ghost Story’ isn’t your traditional ‘revenge’ and ‘let’s get some payback’ country song, but more of a subtle ‘I’ll still live my life, and we’ll see how I will still haunt you and how you live’ track…which isn’t really done much in country music, so ‘Ghost Story’ is the first, in a potential line of many more songs that use this subtle approach through song. The song, in some way, is a reminder to really figure out if what we have now is worth the heartbreaking or not, or if we’re willing with having the ‘haunting’ for what we are to perceive as ‘something better’ around the corner. As Carrie herself has relayed, ‘…Instead of smashing headlights, this scorned lover is letting her ex know that she will continue to haunt him no matter how hard he tries to forget her…[Josh Kear, Hillary Lindsey and David Garcia] are such talented, amazing songwriters who know me so well, and from the first time I heard it, I knew I had to record it. I have always loved performing songs that tell a story and inspire some kind of cinematic imagery when you hear them, and that is definitely true of ’Ghost Story.’ It creates a mood and a vibe that is different than anything else I’ve recorded before…I feel like the chord changes and just kind of the musicality of it; it just didn’t sound like anything else that’s on the radio right now. And I feel like it was a great first choice first single because I feel like it’s enough of hopefully what people like about me. There’s some drama. It’s a cinematic song. It’s a great story song … and there’s just something kind of epic about it. So I just felt like it was a great song, and then getting in the studio and singing it myself, it was just like, ’Ah, this just feels good.’…’
Both ‘Crazy Angels’ and the title track ‘Denim & Rhinestones’ were the other pre-release tracks unveiled prior to last week Friday, and both these songs, alongside ‘Ghost Story’, set the tone for the rest of the album, melodically and stylistically. The title track (also the first song on the album) speaks about how things naturally go together, as Carrie specifically speaks (through similies and motifs) to her lover (or husband), stating that both her and him are compatible with each other, even though they know themselves that they are different from each other, in every human way possible. We’re also reminded that the song is ‘…super fun, with a bit of a retro vibe – we just go together, like a sweet tea and a lemon, like denim and rhinestones. You have these things that are great on their own and then you put them together and they just fit. That’s how this album feels…’ ‘Crazy Angels’ is a little dichotomous symbolically and thematically, but the song still works, as we see Carrie deliver this song with jubilant glee, stating that just because she goes to church on Sundays, doesn’t mean that she doesn’t have fun at nightime. A song that states to people that the perception of Christians (of which she is also, herself) as being a ‘shirt buttoned to the top’ person, who is primarily a ‘goody two shoes’, who is super judgy and can’t have fun on weeknights is seemingly a false one; and right she is. Some fundamentalist right Christians can be like that, and how they place restrictions on literally everything, but by and large, and more often than not; Christians can have fun and still go to church on Sundays. It might not be at bars, but they can still be fun nonetheless- this perception that Christians are ‘boring’ and have to ‘behave’ or ‘else’, is a notion and understanding that people have gotten from the ultra fringe right, who are more gnostics than anything else. Yes, Christians are to behave as though they are changed for the better, not not to the point where the Christian deems everything spiritual as good, and everything material as bad. The Christian life isn’t as ‘clinical’ or even that ‘rule keeping, or God is going to smite you’, as people generally think. Well done Carrie for both ‘Crazy Angels’ and ‘Denim & Rhinestones’, songs that surpass ‘Ghost Story’ thematically, as this album continues to present itself as being the most musically diverse album of 2022 thus far.
Throughout the rest of the album, Carrie continues to deliver powerful tracks that express a variety of emotions, from hurt, betrayal and secrecy, to hope, poignant revelation and encouragement. ‘Velvet Heartbreak’ features the persona giving a warning to other people, about this person who exuberates charm and promises, only to give hurt, heartbreak, and leaving the persona with nothing but regrets and longings for second chances; while ‘Hate My Heart’ speaks about a persona’s longing to get back to where they once were pre-‘post-breakup’, but can’t find the means and resources to do that right now, because ‘…I hate my heart right now…’, as they have regrets as to how they could be so blind in love with a person, only to have themselves be the ones duped by the whole process. There’s this sense of self-hating, when it comes to the immediate aftermath of a breakup – ‘why didn’t I see _____’ or ‘why couldn’t I just do _____’, even ‘ughhh. I hate myself for being too gulliable/trusting’; and while people would want to rush through that part in order for us to get to the healing, ‘Hate My Heart’ is something all of us need to come to terms with, that maybe, just maybe, in order for us to have healing, we do need some confrontation, and ‘hate our hearts’ a little.
‘Burn’ speaks about how a love died out, but the aftermath of the separation, divorce (or even just breaking up if they’re just dating), is going to lead to a metaphorical candle, burning and burning, and burning, as a reminder of the love these people have had, and the good times (and maybe not so good) is going to spur people on to either reconciliation, or a journey to new partners. ‘Faster’ presents a love song between Carrie and her husband in how she states that ‘…I only wanna be wherever you are, ’cause whenever I look in your eyes, you make my heart beat faster…’, we see something that single people want to have, and something that married people want to maintain and cultivate; while ‘Pink Champagne’ is the fun-and-bubbly country-rock melody (that delivers similar themes to ‘Faster’) that uses the metaphor of drinking and being high on drinking (especially champagne) as being in love with your significant other, a reminder that for each of us, there’s this someone that we can be metaphorically ‘high’ on…and that isn’t a bad thing at all. ‘Wanted Woman’ shows us all, how women can feel when a man wants them, or in Carrie’s personal case, how she feels when her husband loves her unconditionally and wants her like how she should ‘want herself’; whilst the song ‘Poor Everybody Else’ paints a picture of who to avoid if you want to protect your significant other from people on the prowl that title themselves as ‘black widows’- people that flaunt what they have, who are seemingly ‘professional’ homewreckers- that’s what they ‘do’ for a living. In some strange way, ‘Poor Everybody Else’ is a metaphor for how the devil will tug and play at someone’s heart- he’ll present himself in an alluring, temptful, often a ‘nice’ way, but at the end of the day, will be nothing but trouble and heartache involved for the people who are being lured, and the others around, as well.
The album then ends with 2 of Carrie’s most meaningful songs on the album- ‘She Don’t Know’ and ‘Garden’. ‘She Don’t Know’ is, in blunt terms, a cheating song, where Carrie is playing the part of a wife of a cheating husband, and her finding out that the person he’s cheating with, works at a store she frequents from time to time. When she finds out the identity of the person her husband is sleeping with, she’s not mad or angry, but rather, she’s full of faux-sympathy for this other woman, that ‘she don’t know’ that he could do it again, and the lover, the other woman, could someday take the role of the ‘jealous wife’ at any stage. As Carrie herself reminds us, ‘…it’s just playing a character, and it’s fun to go there. And especially a song like ‘She Don’t Know.’ It is a cheating song, but it’s still got this cinematic quality in that you just play the movie in your head. And you can see these characters that you have in your head; you can just see the girl in her heels, pushing the little cart down the aisle…’ Album ender ‘Garden’ is by far the most meaningful song on the album, as we see Carrie ask the question of what our own personal metaphorical gardens will look like at the end of the day. Carrie herself reflects on some life lessons, whilst tending to her own garden, and reminds us through song, of our own personal gardens (be in physical or in metaphorical form) that we need to tend to as well- ‘…I had a garden before, but hadn’t really invested myself into it that much. But I had a lot of time to do that in 2020. It’s something that I love so much for a lot of reasons. I do love having our own food for health reasons. I love that. But then there’s so many life metaphors that you think about when you’re in the garden. You think about, ‘Well, which one of these is bearing fruit, and what do I need to do? I need to cut this off because it’s not contributing to the plant.’ Growing things, relying on God to make some miracles happen—it is a miracle to me. You have this tiny little seed that means nothing and you stick in the ground, put some water on it, and then magic happens. It’s amazing…’ ‘Garden’ asks the question- ‘what are we spending our lives on, and what is bearing fruit in our lives? What needs to change, and what needs to stay the same?’ A song that’s starting to become a favourite on this album, well done Carrie for a great way to end an album that is both playful and meaningful at the same time, the most musically diverse album she’s done in her whole career thus far.
Denim & Rhinestones is a long time coming (4 years), but this album is indeed worth the wait. A little bit of rock, country, pop, and a whole lot of heart and passion, Carrie is at the top of her craft, as we see one of country music’s most accomplished artists at the moment, deliver one of her most musically interesting and sonically diverse albums she has done in her career thus far. Maybe a full-on worship album for the next venture? Or even an official remix album? Or even a live CD/DVD? Whatever happens for Carrie, the sky’s the limit, and she’ll be able to dictate the terms of what her future will look like. It may be back to her country music basics, or even a sabbatical. Or even moving into another musical genre entirely. Whatever happens next, Carrie’s albums have redefined the country music genre as we know it…all for the better. Well done Carrie for Denim & Rhinestones. Looking forward to whatever God has in store for you, in the upcoming weeks/months/years ahead.
4 songs to listen to: Crazy Angels, Hate My Heart, Faster, Garden
RIYL: Miranda Lambert, Blake Shelton, Faith Hill, Brad Paisley, Leann Rimes