Carrie Underwood's manager, Simon Fuller, has said of the American Idol winner's third album that "it's stronger in depth and there's more variety" - and he's exactly right. "Play On" is the album that I had hoped Carrie's previous album, 2007's Carnival Ride
, would be; and - in my opinion - it's her best album to date.
Where, on her two previous releases, there has been a tendency for Carrie to always be hitting the top of her range, track after track, here we find some welcome balance, and a nice mix of styles and tempi - as exemplified by the album's first two singles - the storming "Cowboy Casanova", and the heartfelt "Mama's Song". There's a hint of more mainstream pop/rock on piano-led tracks such as "Change" and "Unapologize", a wonderful synthesis of country and pop on the infectious, Max Martin produced "Quitter", and some welcome, more traditional country sounds on "Someday When I Stop Loving You" and "Look At Me", which - with Vince Gill on backing vocals - is happily reminiscent of Faith Hill's 1998 hit "Let Me Let Go."
Almost everything on this album sounds like a potential chart-topper, and - after a few listens - there's still nothing I'm wanting to skip. I should probably mention Carrie's vocal performance, but - perhaps unsurprisingly - her singing is flawless. It's a given that Carrie fans will be buying this, but if you're thinking of investing in an album of hers for the first time, you could do no better than this. "Play On" is an album that's going to live up to its name for a long time to come.