Depending on how you count releases, Welcome to the Fishbowl marks Kenny Chesney’s 13th studio release. If you add in the Christmas album, Greatest Hits, and Live compilation, then Fishbowl brings the total to 18. Chesney has being doing this long enough to know how to make a great album in his sleep. However, after 2010’s Hemingway’s Whiskey, many music writers (this writer included) were wondering if Chesney was boxing himself in with his Caribbean cowboy template songs about buddies, boats, beach, babes, and beer. With the media hype surrounding the first single “Feel Like A Rockstar,” everyone had it pegged to be his next number one single. But that did not happen. In fact, it barely cracked the top ten and was pulled quickly from radio playlists. I sank back from my laptop and began worrying if this was the beginning of the end of Chesney’s hold on radio listeners.
I cringed when I read a comment posted on a website by a reader that said she was over these two “over the hill” guys trying to act like rock stars. Of course I feel like Chesney and Tim McGraw are my good friends that have been with me for a long, long, long time. The three of us hang out every summer, we sing together in the car, we three are all kind of not 20 anymore (for the record, they are both older than me, but still, we all have been friends for a long time). The reader’s comment was the first time I thought about the age gap between Chesney, McGraw, me and the younger demographic that the anonymous reader represented. I was worried, worried for Chesney, and frankly worried that I was getting old.
But then something happened, something that sounded a little different, something sexy, and something that made my chest pains disappear. “Come Over” was released. It currently sits at No.12 on the Billboard Country chart and has only been out four weeks and it’s moving into the top ten. The song is sexy and the video’s steamier. If the feel of the song sounds familiar to a few notes of “Somewhere With You,” it’s because Shane McAnally is a co-writer on both.
Now, after listening to the album in whole, Chesney has reassured me that he knows what he is doing. Chesney has mastered the ability to create an album that is a genuine reflection of where he sees himself as a person on life’s journey, combined with something that is worth listening to by a wide audience, and is something that still challenges him as an artist and allows him to grow and develop. Welcome to the Fishbowl is all of those.
Fans who have followed Chesney for some time understand that when he releases an album it isn’t something put together by suits at a label trying to score radio spins and result in platinum sales numbers. Chesney strives to go deeper with his fans and has spent years nurturing that relationship. If a listener becomes a fan of Chesney, he allows that fan to see what goes on in his head, his heart, and his life. And after all these years, his life is, of course, a fishbowl.
“There is a reason I recorded each one of these songs; they each have their own thread of commonality in my life,” Chesney says in the liner notes. “My hope is that those of you who hear this music feel the same way. And I hope you get as much enjoyment listening to and living with this album as we did making it.”
The title track is co-written by Chesney and if you have forgotten how deep his voice can go, this will remind you. It’s not a whiny woe is me lament about how tough being a celebrity is, in fact, it’s a social commentary that now everyone lives in a fishbowl. If you have a chance, check out his Walmart Soundcheck interview for the story behind the song.
My recommendations of notable tracks are as follows:
“Welcome to the Fishbowl” is one of my favorites just because it is a little different than Chesney’s typical tune.
“El Cerrito Place” is reminiscent of the early Chesney slow tempo tunes like “I Can’t Go There”. Chesney’s good friend Grace Potter lends her voice to back-up vocals. While the inclusion of Grace Potter and the Nocturnals is a misplaced fit for live shows, her voice is beautiful and fits beautifully with Chesney’s.
“To Get To You (55th and 3rd)” and “Always Gonna Be You” are both slow tempo ballads, but Chesney’s softening of his voice makes me actually believe him much more than I did with “You Save Me”.
“Come Over” is just hot and even has its own joke on YourEcard. “Kenny Chesney says “Come Over” 5 times in a row and it sounds sexy. I say it 5 times in a row and I sound desperate.”
“Feel Like a Rockstar” might not have lived up to all the hype at country radio but it still makes for a rocking sing along with 50,000 fans in a stadium show. Plus, it’s just cool to see two guys who became friends when they first came to Nashville to chase a dream and now they are living it.
In case you need at least one song to fill your beachy Chesney fix, there’s the fun little ditty “Time Flies”. As the song says “time flies when you’re having rum”….The steel drums are missing but I liked the banjo at the end. Kind of feels like “Small Ya’ll” in a beach bar.
Overall Rating: 5/5
-Judy Core, CMIL Contributor
To read the story behind each song on the album, be sure to check out the “Tales from the Fishbowl” feature on KC’s website.