Are you a Taylor or a Miranda? That’s Nashville’s version of the Jackie-vs.-Marilyn question. Either you’re a country-pop prom queen, plotting world domination in a heart-shaped diary (Ms. Swift), or you’re a honky-tonk rebel, aiming a deer-hunting bow at anyone standing in the way (Ms. Lambert).
Carrie Underwood is a Taylor who’s dying to be a Miranda. True, she predates both stars, and with five Grammys, three multiplatinum albums, and an Idol win, she doesn’t need to worry about competing with either one. But she’s never been quite as sweet as Swift or quite as fiery as Lambert. Even on her best crazy-girl anthems (”Before He Cheats,” ”Last Name”), she sounds like she wants to tell Mama she’s sorry for what she’s done.
That’s why it’s so exciting to hear Underwood indulge her dark side for real on Blown Away, her most stadium-rock-friendly album yet. Mocking her wholesome rep, it begins with the sassy, Joan Jett-wannabe first single ”Good Girl” and segues into two dramatic murder songs: On the power ballad ”Blown Away,” a child-abuse victim kills her father, and on the Southern gothic ”Two Black Cadillacs,” a married woman teams up with a mistress to kill the man who betrayed them both. (”Bye-bye!” chirps Underwood.) Now that she’s discovered shotgun feminism, the family-values stuff (like the pious ”Who Are You”) is a bore. She’s way livelier on the awesome twang-banger ”Cupid’s Got a Shotgun,” an ode to love that feels like target practice. When she’s a good girl, she’s very good — but Bad Carrie just sounds better. B+