Let’s get the “important” stuff out of the way. I like Kenny Chesney, and I like his new album Welcome to the Fishbowl. Go buy it.
There. Now we can talk.
The thing about Kenny Chesney is that while he is certainly talented and deserves the success he’s achieved, he’s always been a bit of an anomaly to me, a combination of irony and contradiction. Forget the fact that he’s ventured into the modern pop-rock influenced version of “today’s country” (my readers know I tolerate this, but I prefer “old school” country). There’s also the fact that while the word “country” itself speaks to us of midwestern farms, open pastures, ranchers in Texas, and a cold beer on a hot day, Kenny Chesney brings to mind a hammock on the beach in the Caribbean tropics. Okay, so he’s country’s version of Jimmy Buffett—but the country is the country, and the ocean is the ocean. See what I mean?
Now, take Welcome to the Fishbowl, for example. There’s a lot about this record that’s true to Nashville formula: lots of radio-friendly tunes, songs that cater to the fan base, and a duet with another huge country star, Tim McGraw, with whom Chesney is touring this summer in what promises to be the country music live show event of the year. I get it; I don’t fault anyone for it.
But there’s also the fact that said duet with said Tim McGraw, aptly titled “Feel Like a Rock Star,”—the song that will no doubt be the one song everyone remembers about this record—is also the one song that feels most out of place on the record. The lion’s share of the track list on Fishbowl ventures from the reflective to the heavily emotional, to the point that songs like “Rock Star” and “Time Flies” seem almost jarring in context. Chesney takes us to these deep, even dark, places, then suddenly throws open the door to blinding sunshine without any sense of transition. Ups and downs are fine, but this takes us to the verge of whiplash.
Then there’s the title track itself, one of three on the record which Chesney penned himself, about the lack of privacy in our culture (thanks to the Internet and overhead satellites). For someone writing about life in a fishbowl, Chesney manages to remain a remarkably private and non-transparent individual. He’s a great storyteller, but you come away feeling like the stories aren’t really about him.
Are you getting what I’m saying about irony and contradiction? It feels like Kenny Chesney is filled with both.
So you have this islander cowboy playing country music with a Caribbean vibe, passing himself off as a “rock star,” singing songs of incredible vulnerability without giving away too much of himself—and people are totally digging it. If that’s not ironic, I don’t know what is.
From a critical standpoint, there’s not much good I can say about this type of record—it just breaks all our rules, and not in the good, revolutionary kind of way. But the thing is, like I said—I like Kenny Chesney, and I like Welcome to the Fishbowl. These are still some great songs, and despite all the irony and contradiction I just pointed out, I still think you should buy the record.
And that’s perhaps the greatest irony of all.
I’m so confused right now. Someone find me a beer and a hammock.
ALBUM RATING: 3 Stars (out of five)