Carrie Underwood — “Before He Cheats”

Released: 8.06

Peak: #6

American Idol has “given back” very little to the pop world it so brutally devastated. And if “Since U Been Gone” were mine to surrender, I’d gladly trade it in to erase that steroidal Star Search from our collective conscious. Why can’t a country so viscerally xenophobic ever develop a healthy distrust of the damn British, always the greatest external threat to the vibrancy of American pop culture? Given mainstream country’s affinity with the worst kind of leather-lunged mawk that wows the Idol electorate, I had no higher hopes for Carrie Underwood than for hunky Bo Bice. And when she followed up “Jesus Take the Wheel” with a Diane Warren tune (albeit one Marshall Crenshaw beat her to), I was almost ready to forgive “Because of You.”

But from its jaunty piano roll to its slash-and-burn fiddle, “Before He Cheats” harnesses the AI high-wattage aesthetic as force for good. As per the Nashville norm, Chris Tompkins and Josh Kear are better at imagining the floozy’s limitations (her inability to pound shots and weakness for “Shania karaoke”) than for the shortcomings of the jerk himself. And though the wronged woman believes she “might have saved a little trouble for the next girl,” most likely, the jackass will be careful next time not to date such a psycho bitch. But what carries the song is what sets Underwood’s voice apart from her competitors–that she takes pleasure in its soaring power, rather than offering vocal intensity as proof of sincerity.

Underwood has since shaped up into a fairly reliable female country star–like Faith Hill if her pulse wasn’t battery operated, or a less eager-to-please Martina McBride. I can even stomach her she’s-leaving-home ballad, “Don’t Forget to Remember Me.” (I know, I know, but I like that it’s mom-daughter, rather than dad-daughter, and told from the kid’s POV.) But she hasn’t topped “Before He Cheats,” and she won’t. I’m no licensed psychoanalyst, but do you think it’s a coincidence that the two best singles from Idol winners bade farewell to dysfunctional relationships?

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  • Chris Molanphy  On November 5, 2010 at 4:13 pm

    I dunno, “Since U Been Gone” has made me tolerate a lot of Idol claptrap. I wouldn’t give it up, even knowing what I now know about Lee DeWyze.

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