Prior to the release of her fourth album, Blown Away, in the spring of 2012, Carrie Underwood claimed that she was getting back to having "real things to write about and real things to sing about" -- a sentiment that's all well and good but has precisely nothing to do with the brassy blowout of the finished product. Dispensing with any pretense that Underwood remains a down-home country girl -- the kind who takes carnival rides and sticks a daisy in her hair -- Blown Away is an unabashed glossy pop album, positioning Carrie as the heir to Shania Twain and Faith Hill's country diva act, pushing the comparisons so far that she looks like a runway refugee on the album cover and she concludes the hourlong marathon with a song written by Twain's former husband, Mutt Lange. Naturally, this showstopping act suits a former American Idol winner but, better still, this exercise in turn-of-the-millennium nostalgia is executed with skill and savvy, offering the kind of larger-than-life power ballads and cheerful, clomping arena country that have fallen out of favor in the early days of the 2010s. Not that Underwood and team -- led by producer Mark Bright and also featuring songwriters Ashley Gorley, Chris DeStefano, Josh Kear, Hillary Lindsey, and Ryan Tedder -- are ignorant of the country and pop trends of 2012. They find room for light, sunny pop ("Do You Think About Me," "Nobody Ever Told You"), a bit of Caribbean breeze on "One Way Ticket," and a stomping chant-along hook on "Leave Love Alone," and they splice Miranda Lambert and Gretchen Wilson together on the ludicrously fun "Cupid's Got a Shotgun," which is enough to make Blown Away not seem like a throwback even if its heart belongs to the days of diamond-certified albums. Sure, that diva worship makes it seem ever so slightly old-fashioned, yet this is Carrie's wheelhouse -- she's meant to sing these oversized ballads and hooks, she's meant to look as unattainable as she does on the cover. She's meant to be be a superstar and she's never seemed as comfortable with her calling as she does on Blown Away.
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