Kenny Chesney’s new album, “Welcome To The Fishbowl”, dropped today. It features his fantastic hit duets, “You and Tequila” with Grace Potter, and “Feel Like a Rock Star” with pal Tim McGraw. For the most part, the album follows the “You and Tequila” style. Chesney tones down the party-boy attitude on this release, opting instead for more brooding (and sometimes downright gloomy) numbers.
Chesney opens with recently released single “Come Over”, a softer take on the same theme as Lady Antebellum’s “Need You Now”. While Chesney is better known for his upbeat, party-country tunes, he sounds just as comfortable with this heartsick, melancholy track. In “Come Over”, you notice a sense of real longing, almost begging, on the part of the singer. It’s no surprise this one is climbing the charts already.
The mood turns an immediate 180 with “Feel Like a Rock Star”. On the off-chance you haven’t heard it yet, it’s country-rock without a ton of substance. But man, is it ever a fun song. The lyrics easily bring to mind the raucous twenty-somethings who stream into Kenny Chesney and Tim McGraw shows with aviators, cowboy hats, and a beer in each hand. It’s an anthem about them, for them. And I’ll pull a flask out of my boot and drink to that.
The album turns again after that hit, though. “Sing ‘Em Good My Friend” is the line a man tells the singer when selling him an old guitar full of memories. He says it’s got a few songs left in it, but if they’re at all like this moody number, Chesney would do well to save his money.
Kenny reflects on life in the public eye in “Welcome To The Fishbowl”. He told USA Today the story of how the song came to be.
“(My friends and I) walked in (to a bar in Florida), and it was packed,” Chesney recalls. “There was about 20 minutes of people coming up, saying hello, wanting to get something signed.
“After that died down, one of those guys said, ‘I didn’t realize your life was like this.’ I said, ‘Hey, man, welcome to the fishbowl.’ As soon as I said it, I realized that I was going to write a song about how our world and our culture is shrinking.”
Personal relevancy for Chesney aside, the song lacks a real hook, and the electronic synth sound grates after a while. You’re left wanting more from the title track.
The singer next turns to that country music staple, the small-town song. In “I’m A Small Town”, Chesney narrates for the village. “There’s hundreds just like me/but I’m the one where you happen to be” is one of the more brutally honest things ever sung on the subject. Of course, the lyric could equally apply to the song itself. That said, some combination of the lyrics and the chord when Chesney sings “Son, either you love me/or you hate me/for everything I am” caught my attention. If it catches anyone else’s, this might just turn into a big radio hit.
“El Cerrito Place” details the fruitless search for a possibly long-gone lover. Charlie Robison recorded a rougher, less-polished version in 2004. Chesney’s song is smoother, but also lacks a bit of the character of the original.
“Makes Me Wonder”, about two paramours in an apparently casual relationship, captures perfectly some of the little things that make the heart flutter – “Your hand took my hand/like it knew what to do/Girl it’s so easy/being with you”. The melody isn’t as interesting as the story, nor is the title lyric. But anyone who’s been left wanting a bit more in a relationship will recognize the thought process – why aren’t we more?
Chesney tackles some heavier material in “While He Still Knows Who I Am”. I’m not sure about the electric guitar-driven interlude after Chesney resolves to tell his father he loves him before the Alzheimer’s takes over completely, but the lyrics do capture the heartbreaking struggle.
“Time Flies” is a typical Jimmy Buffet-inspired number, advising the recently single to head south. After all, “time flies/when you’re having rum”. Easy to sing along to, expect this one to become a concert staple. It’s a pleasant relief from the mostly unoriginal material all around it.
With the album winding down, it’s time for the obligatory love song, “To Get To You (55th and 3rd)”. Lyrics like “I’d go through it all again if I had to/to get to you” and a similarly banal melody leave little to remember about this song. In fact, I had to try four times before I paid attention enough to review it.
Chesney does a better job with “Always Gonna Be You”. It still has too many clichés, but backed by a soft piano, Kenny’s vocal range comes through in an interesting key. And when he sings, pitch-perfect, “But it’s always gonna be you/always gonna be you/that I love”, you can’t help but feel like he’s singing just for you.
The album closes with a live version of the beautiful Hemingway’s Whiskey hit, “You and Tequila”, featuring Grace Potter. A RIAA platinum certification from its previous release is about all you need to know – if by some wild fluke you’ve never heard it.
Chesney might appreciate the freedom to record what he wants after nearly two decades of phenomenal success, but his upbeat concert songs are still his bread and butter. Nobody’s buying this album for the bleak and clichéd love and love-lost songs. They’re buying for the party anthems.
“Feel Like a Rock Star” is far and away the best song here, simply on the power of its fun-loving attitude. It’s an instant concert favourite. “Come Over” holds its own, and “You and Tequila” continues to shine. A surprise favourite will be “Time Flies” – a simple little tiki song, and eminently sing-along-able.
“Welcome To The Fishbowl” is available today.