When Kenny Chesney announced last January the title of his new album, Life on a Rock, he also attached a photo of himself standing on a beach next to a rocking chair. How indicative that photo (of a stranded Chesney on a desolate island) was of the album, I had no idea at the time. He has positioned himself into artistic isolation with his constant retread of the whole I’ve-traded-in-reality-for-a-no-shoes-life-on-a-beach persona. As for the rocking chair in the photo, all I can say is the Chesney act is starting to get old; he might want to just take a seat and enjoy the view. Album after album, tour after tour, Chesney is incredibly successful. It’s just that there comes a time when expectations are merely met and never exceeded. Musically, listening to new Kenny Chesney material is becoming a bit like treading water. Life on a Rock, indeed.
Kenny Chesney – “Pirate Flag”…
The album is the usual collection of songs with pop psychology platitudes that amount to background music. “Spread the love, spread the love, all over the world, All God’s people…,” Chesney croons to a Caribbean beat as if vamping while someone brings him another tequila from the beach cabana bar. Why is that whatever he sings now carries all the meaning and sincerity of a cruise ship entertainer?
Worst of all is Chesney’s attempt at a touching ballad about a homeless man named “Lindy.” Country music can successfully engage with social issues, but when that engagement is diminished by a cloying lyric, it just comes across as cheesy Chesney at best and embarrassing at worst. It happened last month with Brad Paisley’s “Accidental Racist”… not for its simple-minded treatment of race relations, but for the saccharine way Paisley placed his feigned ignorance at the center of the subject to alleviate what society has branded him guilty of. Ignorance is not bliss, merely a lack of observation and life experience and to fall into the cottage industry of simplifying race matters so that it fits a Hallmark card sentiment is all too typical in our culture. The white, southern mea culpa is a racist tool of its own kind and it is a bore.
But back to Chesney. Not one to rock any boat, he keeps things low key, gentle and mostly acoustic. The music is inviting, the singer is full of charm, but the songs he sings leave thumbnail-sized impressions — just outlines really — that the listener can fill in with their own colors. These are songs that help you tune out, in a country way… safe, pale songs that we’ve admired for almost 20 years now. Here’s hoping Kenny Chesney gets rescued from the ubiquitous island and starts to make some real connections with his next album.
Possible Download: “Must Be Something I Missed.”
To preview or purchase this album on iTunes, click here.