Carrie Underwood won the hearts of American Idol fans in the show’s fourth season (in 2005). Since then the 26-year-old crooner from Checotah, Okla., has sold nearly 10 million albums—more than any other Idol alum. She’s also garnered four Grammys.
It’s no wonder, then, that she hasn’t mixed things up too much on Play On. Love songs predominate, more happy ones than sad. But as has been the case on previous releases, Carrie never shies from giving exes and "jerks" who’ve yanked her chain a feisty piece of her mind.
"Mama’s Song" praises a mother for her prayers and guiding influence. Carrie reassures Mom that the man she’s found "treats your little girl like a real man should/ … He makes promises he keeps." On "Quitter," Carrie sings about how a man’s faithfulness to her has kept her from sabotaging the relationship. "This Time" captures the first blush of love and the singer’s desire to savor the moment. And there’s more of the same on "Look at Me" ("How do you do that, babe?/Make me feel like I’m the only girl alive for you?"). "Unapologize" finds Carrie issuing a recall on an apology for prematurely (she fears) telling a guy she loves him: "I unapologize/I meant every word/Won’t take back the way I feel about you." Hugs and kisses are mentioned, but physical affection generally doesn’t progress any further.
Even when love doesn’t pan out, more often than not Carrie keeps her wits about her. "Cowboy Casanova" is a countrified proverb of sorts, a cautionary tale for ladies to watch out for that guy who "looks like a cool drink of water" but who is actually "the devil in disguise." Rebukes of cowboy playas can be found on "Undo It" and "Songs Like This" ("If it wasn’t for guys like you," she sings on the latter, "there wouldn’t be songs like this").
"Change" reminds us that even small actions, such as giving change to a homeless person, "can make all the difference." "Play On" counsels perseverance amid hardship, while "Temporary Home" focuses on three struggling sojourners whose hope is in heaven ("Old man, hospital bed/ … And he whispers/’Don’t cry for me, I’ll see you all someday’/He looks up and says, ’I can see God’s face’). Carrie’s Christian faith (she thanks God in the liner notes, specifically mentioning His grace, forgiveness and love) is evident in several references to prayer.
A painful breakup ditty ("Someday When I Stop Loving You") talks about talking "in bed," but doesn’t give marital context: "I remember that night we laid in bed/Naming all our kids that we hadn’t had yet/ … One foot on the bus ’bout half past nine/I knew that you were leaving this time/I thought about laying down in its path/Thinking that you might get off for that." Portions of another sad song ("What Can I Say") could be interpreted as an allusion to a physical relationship ("I hate to think all you had of me"). A lingering kiss on "Quitter" is just shy of steamy ("The way you’re kissing me makes it hard to breathe/But I still like it/ … You know exactly how I want it").
Take catchy country tunes, add girl-next-door appeal and a big dose of wide-eyed optimism and you’ve got Carrie Underwood. Despite some high-profile romantic miscues, Carrie continues to hold her head high—and continues to keep her lyrics cleaner than her peers’. Play On plays out as a personal and positive testament to perseverance as Carrie steers clear of the hard livin’ country clichés.