Review – Carrie Underwood’s “Smoke Break”

Carrie Underwood Smoke Break

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, a much-hyped Carrie Underwood announcement has been building in anticipation for a week. Well that event finally came yesterday evening (8/20) and we got two big announcements from Underwood. The first announcement is that she will be releasing a brand new album on October 23 titled Storyteller. The second announcement was the immediate release of the new, lead single from the album, “Smoke Break.” For those who aren’t on Twitter or happened to miss it, I highlighted the most interesting answer from Carrie’s Q&A on Facebook yesterday (which is worth a read) and it was in regards to the influence on her new album. Here it is:

https://twitter.com/realcountryview/status/634481340361142273?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw

I don’t know about you, but this sounds pretty promising. Storytelling, traditional and twangy are the three words I like to hear in regards to a country album. This will be her first new album of completely new songs since the 2012 release Blown Away. Last year of course she released a greatest hits album with two new songs, “Something In The Water” and “Little Toy Guns.” Both singles were good, especially the former as it won a Grammy for Best Country Solo performance this past year. So this new single “Smoke Break” certainly had lofty heights to live up to, as the previous singles set the bar high.

Does it meet the standard Underwood has set? Yes. There’s definitely a twanginess to the song, so Underwood lives up to this promise at least with this song. Leading up to this announcement there were a lot of murmurs of her adding more of a rock influence to her music and that can definitely be heard here too. I’ve always said if country artists want to borrow from another genre, it should be rock, as it’s the closest to country in sonic compatibility. A combination of guitars and drums make up the instrumentation for the most part, although there is also a much welcome organ, in addition to electric guitars, that makes an appearance in the bridge of the song. I think the instrumentation does a great job of balancing between having traditional roots and having a fun enough sound for country radio.

The song itself is an ode to the working class person. The protagonists of the song are a woman and a man who both work their asses off. The woman has to work three jobs and feed four kids. She finds it hard to be a good wife, good mother and good Christian (I like to think this last part has a little snarky sarcasm). The man is trying to work his way up the ladder in the world, as he’s the first from his family to go to college. Both are clearly tired. Neither drink or smoke, but wouldn’t mind a drink or smoke break. Now some might imply this as literal, but I think the songwriters here (Underwood, Chris DeStefano and Hillary Lindsey) are implying it’s just an expression. I’m sure many of you have heard someone utter the phrase after a long day at work, “I could use a stiff drink” or “I could use a smoke.” I don’t really do either, yet I’ve probably uttered both phrases many times. It’s just something you spit out after a frustrating day or week.

While this isn’t a serious song like the last two singles, I think it’s a nice change of pace for Underwood. She was due to release a more relaxed and fun song. I think it’s a song many people can connect with and relate to, especially the working class person. On top of that Underwood keeps the sound very much rooted in country rock, something right in her wheelhouse. When she went with a more pop sound for a while, I was disappointed as it not only sounded worse, but it didn’t sound like it fit her well either. I’m glad she’s going with something that suits her again and let’s her big voice shine. “Smoke Break” is just the type of song that I’ve been wanting to hear on country radio. I definitely recommend this song and I’m looking forward to what Underwood has to offer on her new album Storyteller.

Grade: 8/10

45 thoughts on “Review – Carrie Underwood’s “Smoke Break”

  1. Raymond August 21, 2015 / 1:20 pm

    I really like it. If there is one thing though many are comparing this to early Miranda. I do wish the melody was better. However one part I like is I think Carrie is showing leadership

    Surprised you got this out quickly since it hasn’t been 24 hours since this has dropped.

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    • Josh Schott August 21, 2015 / 1:38 pm

      As soon as it was announced and I tweeted about it I was bombarded with review requests, so I wanted to get this out asap. Carrie reviews have always done well with hits, as she has a very passionate fan base. A high demand will always push me to get a review out quicker too.

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      • Raymond August 21, 2015 / 1:55 pm

        Also with Kip Moore’s album out are u guys gonna review that. Also Maddie & Tae’s album I’ve been contemplating buying either one and I can’t wait to see your guys review for either one.

        Carrie Underwood’s fan base is just astonishing I mean they’re passionate it amazes me.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Ron August 21, 2015 / 1:42 pm

    Totally agree. Think its a great song.
    Interesting that she tends to have songs in the 3rd person. Its usually not herself she’s writing about (or is it?) but someone else.

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  3. Megan Conley August 21, 2015 / 2:01 pm

    I think it’s a good song, but I am worried that she’s trying to become another Miranda Lambert. It feels like she’s even forcing herself to sound more country. It’s not that I don’t like the song, but I don’t think it is as “right in her wheelhouse” as you do. I’d rather her sing this than pop country and pop, but I hope she’s doing it because she wants to and not because she wants to sound like Miranda Lambert. After all, who have we heard sing about “smokin’ and drinkin'” before? But maybe I am reading too much into this. I like that it is more country, I just suspect she is trying to be country for the sake of being more like Miranda. I hope I am wrong.

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    • Ron August 21, 2015 / 2:05 pm

      Yeah I don’t really see at as a smokin/drinking song. Its basically a life stresses us out at times and so its ok to indulge once in a while kinda thing, doesn’t make us a bad person. I really don’t see her as trying to compete with anyone, especially when there’s no reason for her to do so

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    • Derek Hudgin August 21, 2015 / 2:07 pm

      I’m personally not seeing the Miranda comparisons. Could you expand how she’s trying to become another Miranda? If you ask me, Carrie’s early single of “Before He Cheats” is more Miranda-like than anything else. “Smoke Break” sort of reminds me of “Wasted” in the way the stories presented and tied together in the chorus, granted the content of the two songs aren’t that similar.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Nadia Lockheart August 21, 2015 / 2:38 pm

      Like I mention in my review below, I was greatly reminded of “Automatic” in terms of the melody and production.

      It also just occurred to me there are some striking similarities, thematically, with “Heart Like Mine”. The second verse of that song especially stood out in my mind where Lambert’s character admits smoking cigarettes liberally, even though she hates to admit it, and she tells fellow Christians “God Bless!” when urging her to quit that habit.

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      • Derek Hudgin August 21, 2015 / 5:02 pm

        The comparison you both see still isn’t as apparent to me, but I can sort of see where you’re coming from. I did notice a bit of similarity in the verses of this song and “Automatic” after playing the opening stanzas back to back.

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  4. Nadia Lockheart August 21, 2015 / 2:33 pm

    Eh, I’m not enthused about this one.

    “Smoke Break” sounds like the result of an effort where Underwood and her collaborators intended to go harder and for something more organic, but the end result felt too flat.

    Musically, it actually felt rather conservative to me. I sensed a lot of Miranda Lambert’s “Automatic” comparisons as far as production and melody is concerned. It may be loud and proud, but it still comes across as too polished to really stand out as either rock or country. And while I can partially get where the remarks regarding this being her most “country” single in a while are coming from, the percussion couldn’t help but sound too mechanical throughout the verses especially, while the wall-of-sound chorus also proved too much of a diversion. Even the lyrics could pass off anonymously as a rock song as opposed to a country song, and so I’d dare deem “Something In The Water” considerably more country than this.

    Lyrically, this is gunning for rather similar terrain as Lee Brice’s “Drinking Class” (which I didn’t particularly enjoy either, mostly because it sounded so boring and the lyrics felt too lightweight). It commits no real offenses (though the drink/drink rhyme in the first chorus is annoying)…………………..but I also have to say that there’s a striking disconnect between the first two verses and the bridge/final chorus. In the first two verses, we’re introduced to characters who are a woman balancing three jobs to provide for four children, as well as someone who grew up in the country but has went onto try and climb the corporate ladder in the big city instead of being a farmer like his ancestors did………………..and they express guilt in drinking and smoking in that they’re viewed as vices, but do so anyway. And yet, the final portion of the song is all about indulging in those vices in a vein similar to any blue-collared drinking or pot anthem. I personally think the song would have been a lot better off if it stuck to the theme of sympathizing with the need to indulge once in a while instead of playing the good Christian, good man card.

    As a whole, it doesn’t make any egregious missteps a la “Somethin’ Bad” or “Good Girl”, and so passes for agreeable radio fodder. But considering the strength and leadership Underwood displayed with her previous two singles at least as far as themes and lyricism were concerned, “Smoke Break” sounds like a regression. Her stellar vocals aren’t even given much room to breathe here like they were on “Something In The Water” most notably.

    *

    In all honesty, I’m feeling a Light to Decent 5 on this. Simply put, I expect more from Underwood than this. Even in understanding it was necessary to go with something more upbeat as a lead single release.

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  5. Megan Conley August 21, 2015 / 2:41 pm

    Like I said, I could be reading more into it than I should. Yeah, now that you say that, I can see the comparison to “Wasted.” It’s hard to explain, it just feels like she’s trying to force herself to sound more country, like Miranda Lambert forces her drawl. Also, Miranda Lambert sang “Heart Like Mine” and admitted that “sometimes I smoke cigarettes,” etc. It feels like “Smoke Break” is trying to appeal/relate to a wider audience than, say, “Something in the Water” might. Maybe “Heart Like Mine” is a better comparison to make than “Smokin’ and Drinkin'” for the Miranda Lambert parallel, but it seems like something Miranda would sing. Especially the outrow, which reminds me actually as I write this of Miranda’s “Hard Staying Sober” outrow. It’s Carrie Underwood reminding us that she’s not judging us if we want to have a smoke or drink. It’s something I could see Miranda Lambert or even Kacey Musgraves singing, but Miranda comes to mind first because Carrie has unfairly lost to her at award shows over the last several years. Naturally, this would be frustrating, and maybe the solution would be to try to be more like Lambert.

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    • Alicia (@aligill82) September 2, 2015 / 3:56 pm

      Kacey sang it first and better ala “Blowin’ Smoke”. Even Carrie’s video is a total rip off of Kacey.

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      • Josh Schott September 2, 2015 / 5:09 pm

        Well imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

        Seriously though I don’t see the comparisons to Kacey & Miranda at all. There have been several country artists who have sang about smoke this year, including A Thousand Horses’ #1 song “Smoke.” Nobody holds a patent on singing about smoke. And really the pitting of female country artists against each other is absolutely ridiculous and beyond tiring. Just enjoy the music. It’ll make you happier, trust me.

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  6. Megan Conley August 21, 2015 / 2:45 pm

    Wow, one of the rare instances where I agree with Nadia 😉

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    • Nadia Lockheart August 21, 2015 / 3:19 pm

      Not to mention one of the rare instances where me and Josh or Derek’s grades of a mainstream country single are greatly off! 😉

      Liked by 1 person

      • Josh Schott August 21, 2015 / 3:32 pm

        It was bound to happen eventually 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Cobra August 21, 2015 / 3:51 pm

    I haven’t had a chance to listen to the song yet, but it’s definitely on my radar for tonight or tomorrow.
    But I’m glad that you’ve given it such a strong review. Gives me some hope to see a mainstream artist releasing an 8/10 song.
    .
    But that gives me three albums in September and October now to look forward to. Carrie’s new album, Josh Ritter’s new album in October, which he is referring to as “Messianic Oracular Honky Tonk” (technically, Ritter isn’t country, but some categorize him as alt-country, and he’s a fantastic singer-songwriter with great storytelling ability). And of course, Dave and Phil Alvin are putting out another Blues cover album next month, and those two are phenomenal. So glad they are back together again.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Josh Schott August 21, 2015 / 3:55 pm

      Corb Lund and Turnpike Troubadours are also coming out with new albums. Fall is shaping up to be pretty good, much better than last year. The fall of 2014 consisted of Wade Bowen, Angaleena Presley and a lot of crap. Haha.

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      • Cobra August 21, 2015 / 4:13 pm

        Fall of 2014 also had Stoney LaRue, too!
        But overall, despite the abysmal mainstream output, 2015 has had so much great music released. And as many have noted, there’s not universal consensus on what the best album has been (the way 2014 had Sturgill Simpson). There’s been so much great music in 2015 that I can honestly say there have already been ten albums released worthy of being on a Top 10 list. The trouble will be in narrowing them down.
        I will definitely have to look out for the new Corb Lund and T.T. albums as well.
        .
        Oh, and I am going to see Garth again, so that’ll be a fun show!

        Liked by 1 person

  8. Zack August 22, 2015 / 8:31 am

    I don’t take this as a literal expression of people smoking and drinking and it’s sad that people are turning this into a “Girl Crush” thing. I see it more closer to something like George Strait’s “I Hate Everything” where they narrators aren’t serious in their actions, they’re just thoughts that help them get through the day. And I agree, Country and Rock go better than Country and Pop, it’s part of what makes grading Kip Moores latest so hard but that’s another story haha. I know people have compared this to Miranda Lambert but I don’t see it. This song is an expression, where as Miranda is actually doing the real thing. Plus if the new album is traditional and twangy with storytelling elements, that’ll surely solidify Carrie’s action as an evolution of sound rather than a mimicking game.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Megan Conley August 23, 2015 / 4:38 pm

      Good point, looking forward to the album =)

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  9. Lillian August 23, 2015 / 6:23 pm

    Love the song. People are constantly bitching about one thing or another. Give it a rest. Carrie is Carrie and will always be herself. She in no way shape or form sounds or resembles Miranda. Why should she? She is a singular voice unmatched in vocal ability or clarity, so its beyond me how anyone will even compare her to Miranda. I am happy she is sounding more country than pop and those of you trying to find fault with that, don’t. Carrie is as unique as they come. I am loving this sound

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  10. krysmile August 25, 2015 / 4:28 pm

    In a world filled with talent-less artists, I am happy to hear one of the few talented artists release a song that an everyday person can relate to. This is the kind of music I love, thank you for this!

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    • Bill Newsome November 5, 2015 / 10:16 am

      The waitress and the guy she is serving in the video looks like actors I’ve seen before but I can’t place them. Does anyone know who they are by chance?

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