Carrie Underwood made a smart move after winning American Idol in 2005, firmly setting herself up as a country-music artist and attacking the pop charts from the comfortable safety of the Nashville establishment. She’s had plenty of crossover hits—most notably 2006’s “Before He Cheats”—but even if she never hits mainstream radio again, she can count on a lifelong country career.
Underwood’s music is as poppy as country gets, though, and her third album, Play On, is the poppiest yet, with contributions from a slew of non-country songwriters. Still, it generally sticks to her effective formula of upbeat, attitude-filled numbers that recall “Before He Cheats,” plus dentist’s-office-waiting-room treacle in the vein of “Jesus, Take the Wheel." Play On is a little too focused on the latter, with generic tearjerkers like “Change” and “Temporary Home,” and comes to life infrequently, although lead single “Cowboy Casanova” is suitably fun, and “Songs Like This” is a very “Cheats”-like kiss-off to a no-good guy. Most of the rest is pretty forgettable, and Underwood’s co-writing seven of the 13 songs doesn’t lend the music any more personality. Underwood’s clearly found a commercial sweet spot, and she’s determined to stick with it.