Saturday, August 14, 2010

Carrie Underwood, "Mama's Song"/ Jesse Lee, "Like My Mother Does"

Songs about Mama have become quite common in country music, so much so that The Mama almost seems like a mythical character who teaches you to smile when things get rough, and gives you everything you need to make it through this crazy thing called life (and in a more upbeat song, you might even mention what a great cook she is).  But if you're going to sing about your mama, you have to walk a fine line between sincerity and artificiality.

One of the best "Mama" songs I've heard is "The Best Day," an excellent track from Taylor Swift's Fearless album (Please note that I am not trying to start a Carrie vs. Taylor battle, and please do not start one in the comments section).  What made that song work was the way it conveyed simple universal emotions by relating cherished memories that Taylor's mother gave her.  Better yet, the scenes described in the song caused us to see Taylor's mother as a real person instead of a stereotypical character.  That exposes one major area in which Nashville's newest "Mama" songs have gone wrong.

But before I get mean, I must point out some notable strengths on Carrie Underwood's current release, "Mama's Song."  First of all, her voice sounds positively angelic.  Neither the vocal nor the arrangement is overly bombastic - a problem that has plagued much of Carrie's past material.  Carrie has much talent, but she's not beating us over the head with it like she's still on American Idol.

While Carrie's fans will likely tout it as meaningful, the fact is that "Mama's Song" is a song that only a mama could love.  The lyrics are vague, full of cliches, and just plain boring.  The song is from the perspective of a young bride who is assuring her mother that she will be well cared for by her husband-to-be.  But lines like "He is good, so good" sound particularly dull when drawn out in long notes, and then repeated.  The song is infiltrated by a series of throwaway lines from "you taught me to do the right things" to "he's never gonna leave." 

Another problem is that Carrie comes across as a co-dependant character making the transition from living under her parents' care to living under her husband's care.  She gives no insight into what strengths and qualities her mother has endowed her with; she merely expresses confidence that now her man will take care of her. 

That is the main area in which Jesse Lee's "Like My Mother Does" elevates itself over "Mama's Song."  The main focus of the lyrics is the influence the character's mother has had over her daughter, as well as the daughter's desire to emulate her mother's qualities. 

Unfortunately, the song also suffers from one of the same problems of "Mama's Song" - too many cliches!  Though the narrator does describe her mother's admirable traits, these descriptions come in the form of vague, trite expressions such as "She's always got my back" and "When I love, I give it all I've got."  To make things worse, the heavy production veers off into overblown power ballad territory by the time the song ends.

But the biggest flaw that both of these songs possess is that neither one paints a clear portrait of the mother in description.  Neither mother seems like an authentic, believable, and admirable character; and neither rises above the mythical Mama figure found in far too many songs.
Think about it:  Do you really flatter your mother by reducing her to a vague stereotype?



(Scores are given on a scale of 1 to 10)


To hear "Like My Mother Does," click "Cool New Music."