Underwood's latest underwhelming

After a semi-hiatus, Carrie Underwood returns to the forefront of country music with the release of her third album, Play On.

Although there is little doubt that it will rake in lots of money in time for the holiday season, the album as a whole is fairly disappointing given Underwood's star power.

The up-tempo numbers, though a minority, offer some highlights - lead single "Cowboy Casanova," sassy kiss-off number "Songs Like This" and the ridiculously catchy, if overproduced "Undo It" combine Underwood's crisp, almost percussive tone with rocking instrumentals to create what will surely be played repeatedly on radio and full-blast in the cars of people across the country who have recently realized that their ex is a jerk.

Underwood's vocals have always been her greatest asset, and they are strong throughout the album - "What Can I Say" is particularly easy to listen to. This is why it is so disappointing that she has been given such mediocre material to work with.

Though "Quitter" is a notable exception with a playful and creative melodic line, many of the songs are constructed strangely, and several have lyrics that are truly stupid: "Last night I was pouring out my heart like a waterfall to you / and with one kiss, I was a runaway train flying off the track to you."

Since her days as a contestant on "American Idol," Underwood has been criticized for lacking the lyrical phrasing and emotional delivery of her peers, and it is something she still seems to be struggling with. Even the ballads with decent lyrics fail to register with the listener as Underwood's vocals are at times almost too perfect, to the point where one finds it difficult to believe that she really believes what she is singing.

Perhaps the single greatest gem of the album, however, is the ballad "Temporary Home," which perfectly showcases the softer, prettier side of Underwood's voice. One particular line in the final verse is sung so pristinely that it almost makes one resent the filler that comprises the majority of the 13-track album.

All things considered, Underwood could make anything sound great because she's an incredibly gifted vocalist, but the surprisingly low quality of songwriting does a disservice to her talent and her career. Fortunately, there are enough winners on the album to tide fans over until the next release.