Wednesday, January 23rd, 2013

Carrie Underwood – Two Black Cadillacs

The Jukebox says “yes” to mariticide. Maybe.


Alfred Soto: Last time out she blew me away with a twister metaphor; now she turns to narrative, the culmination of years of professional, occasionally moving, often faceless craft. Underwood sounds assured over the guitar peals and strings, and when the backing vocals go “bye bye,” she responds with relief if not euphoria. Her imperious singing makes rhetorical sense: she’s absorbed the story’s consequences enough to re-imagine it. Inhabiting schlock without going overwrought – the secret Underwood shouldn’t hide.

Edward Okulicz: This is a really felt and efficient piece of songwriting that builds with each line and draws you in. With just a few well-chosen words, Underwood and her co-writers paint an incredibly vivid back-story; she tells you enough to work out that the song’s about the funeral of an adulterous man, but it leaves enough about his death unsaid to let the listener join the dots without running the idea into the ground for unearned pathos. The knockout, predictably, is Underwood’s voice, but she’s never been quite this soulful before like she is when she sings “the preacher said he was a good man.” It’s intense and dark, but it still fits sonically as quality AOR-cum-country-pop, and it deserves to slaughter any radio station that doesn’t (incorrectly) deem it too humourless for play.

Iain Mew: First couple of listens, I just thought that this was about a man’s wife and mistress meeting face-to-face at his funeral having decided that they weren’t going to take their issues out on each other, and sharing a wry (crimson) smile at the hypocrisy of the event. I marvelled at the way the song progresses as a series of deftly used symbols, Cadillacs and veils and roses and dirt, and at the power of the musical blow-out towards the song’s end. I also marvelled at the gracious sweep afterwards, like the two are walking away into the distance with a trail of destruction and open mouths behind them, and not looking back. Then I realised that I was missing half of the song – duh, of course the women’s secret isn’t just that they both knew already – and marvelled anew at Underwood’s wicked humour and realisation of narrative ambition.

Brad Shoup: Off the top of my head, my favorite cheating-corpse songs are “Gunpowder & Lead” and “The Thunder Rolls,” and neither man is dead when his story stops. I don’t mean to suggest there’s only one way to render this kind of narrative, but I do think there’s something in surveying one side of this canyon. “Two Black Cadillacs” dispenses a cold justice, losing the plot while it’s being framed. Whatever violence was visited upon our cad, we can only imagine; the production offers as few clues as the lyric. Underwood sounds as if she could never be hurt, which kind of wrecks the whole premise of the song… was he abusive? Did he crack the nest egg? Were there kids? I’m not getting anything. The song — all steady toms, one-handed piano and tasteful strings — even refuses camp. I do note a couple neat arrangement decisions: as Underwood describes the funeral, a male voice doubles hers. When soon as the conspirators hatch a plan, a female vocalist is added (whether Carrie or co-writer Hillary Lindsey, I dunno). But that’s a Nolanesque mistake: attend to the small touches, botch the theme.

Josh Langhoff: Like most of Blown Away, “Two Black Cadillacs” strives for the mythic, its title cars and their passengers as unadorned, dark, and impassive as those two lowercase “L”s. You can hear that same striving in Underwood’s perfectly modulated performance, almost steely in its precision. Maybe I just lack the diva bone, but these qualities prevent the song from ever coming to life — it needs more specific names, more black-eyed peas, some hint that it could offend an uptight program director somewhere.

Anthony Easton: The problem with recent attempts to make country music cozy is that often the human struggles that it chooses to talk about are sexual or violent; there is something powerfully corrective about the domestic being about adultery or murder or abuse, or other examples of illuminating the hidden. It’s also why melodrama acts as a vehicle for very real questions of ethics and moralism in heavily formal packages — the packages can be noticed by gatekeepers and the messages are then noticed by the intended audience. The genius of “Two Black Cadillacs” is its ruthless Chandler-esque efficiency. There are few details, and nothing stated directly; the insinuation, the hint, and the wink do the heavy lifting. “Cadillacs” is a stripped-down violent tale of revenge with exquisite parallelism and vocals that eviscerate small town hypocrites and refuse. The narrative skill, moral ambiguity, local or domestic implications of violence, and the production — oh the lush production! — provide the grease for all of it to slide down. Noir — both domestic noir and noir in song — read through the lens of melodrama is not only the realm of women, but the realm of country. This is important, and it’s also an amazing pop song.

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: I am all for the end of this song, where Underwood’s band keeps playing into her next costume change. The rest isn’t bad either – a tale of cheatin’ and dyin’ and drivin’ (I think) – but I’m giving all my points to 3:37 onwards.

Reader average: [7.69] (33 votes)

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7 Responses to “Carrie Underwood – Two Black Cadillacs”

  1. I’ve rarely enjoyed a blurb I completely disagree with as much as Brad’s here. Great work everyone else, too.

  2. I hope my blurb addresses one of Brad’s points.

  3. Thank you, Iain. And that’s a fair way to see it, Alfred. She’s most moving when she’s spitefully recalling the preacher and the brother. But presumably she’s home free; unless that Cadillac’s about to be intercepted by the sheriff, the tension seems off.

  4. I gotta say, the Spotify commentary track really let me down here.

  5. That ‘as much’ was stressing my enjoyment, not my disagreement, by the way, just in case anyone was confused by the imprecision of my sentence there.

  6. The songs change, but Carrie Underwood remains a horrendously boring singer.

  7. Can’t wait to own her comp in a few years.