Having sold more than 27 million records, Kenny Chesney is one of country music’s inarguably minted commodities. But from a traditional perspective, he is something of an oddity. With his good-timey sound and signature image of cutoff shorts, cowboy hat and Corona Light, he represents a peculiar strain of modern country whose main progenitor seems neither Bob Wills nor Merle Haggard, but rather Jimmy Buffett. Sometimes it seems strange to refer to Chesney’s music as “country” at all. Take, for example, his new album’s first single. It’s a noxious duet with Tim McGraw, “Feel Like a Rock Star,” which shoehorns in every conceivable cliche regarding rock-and-roll excess into a tune more befitting late period Van Halen than the Louvin Brothers.
Throughout, there’s a paint-by-numbers character to Chesney’s latest LP, “Welcome to the Fishbowl,” which seems intent on marking every box required of a major figure in the genre. This ranges from the obligatory tribute to small towns (subtly titled “I’m a Small Town”), to the modern-technology-is-just-too-much-themed title track. There are moments that suggest Chesney’s ability to transcend silly hats and advertising opportunities. The atmospheric “Come Over” feels like a genuine exhibition of wounded longing, while “You and Tequila” brings a shade more gravity to its tale of obsessive love gone wrong.
However, these exceptions are rare and as co-writer of only three of the record’s 12 songs, it is difficult to imagine Chesney as much more than a punch-the-clock vessel for music carefully contrived to keep the faith with his reliable audience. “Welcome to the Fishbowl” is far more product than personality.
“Come Over,” “You and Tequila”