Carrie Underwood’s ‘Denim & Rhinestones’ Shines Bright Under Neon Lights

by Lauren Boisvert
(Photo by Amy Sussman/Getty Images for Stagecoach)

Carrie Underwood is fully embracing her sparkly-denim-jacket era, and you know what, I’m grabbing my bedazzled cowboy boots too. Because Denim & Rhinestones is just that for Carrie Underwood: an era. It’s more than an album, it’s a whole moment in her career. And Underwood is the moment right now.

Denim & Rhinestones shines as a cohesive collection of tracks that take us back to early Underwood, that “sing into your hairbrush” sound she promised us. This album is like all her hits–“Before He Cheats,” “Jesus Take the Wheel,” “Last Name,” to name a few–but it’s all grown-up. Grown-up, yet with a fun, flirty, and bubbly pop-country sound. So, without further ado, let’s break Denim & Rhinestones down and get into the shiny, neon soul underneath.

Carrie Underwood’s ‘Denim & Rhinestones’ Recalls Early Work With a Neon Spin

The title track, Denim & Rhinestones, calls to mind 80s and 90s Japanese City Pop, actually, as does the later track Faster. It’s the synth guitar and percussion at the beginning, the 80s electric guitar solo in the middle. It’s an interesting choice sonically, but one that works with what Underwood is trying to create with this album. I want to call it a modern throwback; there are elements of newness that shine through. But, essentially, this album is a callback to early pop-country and early Carrie Underwood.

A few of my favorite songs off this album are “Ghost Story,” “Hate My Heart,” “Crazy Angels,” “Poor Everybody Else,” and “She Don’t Know.” Ghost Story is, of course, her big aerial number in live shows. It has that certain drama that works well with big live stunts. The video is delightfully dark and spooky, giving haunted burlesque vibes all the way down. It’s very “Moulin Rouge” in its production, which pairs so well with the song’s entire vibe.

Hate My Heart is a great country song where Underwood really lets her voice off the leash. It’s essentially about being alone with your thoughts after a breakup. You’re missing your ex, and hating it, wishing you were at the bar instead. “I want my feel-good back,” Underwood sings. “The fact that I can’t love nobody else / I would if I could but I don’t know how / I hate my heart right now.”

I’ve written about Crazy Angels being the prequel to “Last Name,” but it’s more than that; it’s basically a night-out anthem for good girls. “You know where to find me on a Sunday morning,” Carrie Underwood sings, “But tonight I come with a whiskey warning.” It’s a fun bop for those of us who don’t party much, but who like to let loose every once in a while. All we need are our friends, a drink, a good song, and a dancefloor, and we’re gearing up for a good night.

In contrast, Poor Everybody Else is a fast, rollicking track with a heavy rock sound; Carrie Underwood is drawing on her love of rock and roll here, featuring prominent electric guitar and loud, brash vocals. Her voice is still crystal clear and angelic, but it’s also tinged with a guttural sound around the edges, that rock and roll pièce de résistance. All in all, it’s just a fun as hell song.

What Do I Think About ‘Denim & Rhinestones’ As a Whole?

Denim & Rhinestones is classic Carrie Underwood, but it’s not tired or overplayed. She consistently gives us a similar sound, but her imagery is rich and varied. Underwood gives us new subjects that pull from her older work; “She Don’t Know” feels like a grown-up “Before He Cheats,” or the lead in to “Two Black Cadillacs,” while “Crazy Angels” is basically the prequel to “Last Name.”

Carrie Underwood has kept her signature challenging vocals on Denim & Rhinestones. She even seems to be pushing herself to new heights with this one. She’s exploring new sounds and new images while still giving us what we know and love from her. Denim & Rhinestones is a new era for Carrie Underwood, and we’re thrilled to be crossing that bedazzled threshold with her.