A frequent gripe about country music circa 2013 is that when its not busy being tone-deaf (paging Brad Paisleys Accidental Racist), the genre, broadly speaking, is fast becoming dull.
Country stars can seem pretty interchangeable quick: can you tell Eric Church from Luke Bryan? and so can their songs, often a celebration of some mix of automobiles, patriotism, sex appeal and/or alcohol. But as damaging as the past decade has been to Music Citys legacy, the more troubling development has been the sacrifice of the album.
Once carefully crafted statements, meant to have a cumulative impact, LPs are now treated as colorless loss leaders for large-scale arena tours. Gone are the days of Willie Nelsons Phases and Stages or Kenny Rogers Gideon todays country artists, at almost every level, want a big splash on the radio and at sold-out stadiums across the country.
Kenny Chesney certainly has the latter (hes routinely a top-selling touring act), but hes also guilty of the former, which is doubly frustrating, because he has occasionally demonstrated flashes of potential as a serious-minded troubadour, interpreting songs steeped in pain and regret. But thats not where the money lies: Chesney has made serious coin off the island lifestyle. Although he has pried a few good records out of the shtick, most notably 2005s Be As You Are (Songs From an Old Blue Chair), he returns to that well on Life on a Rock, his 16th studio album.
Co-produced with Buddy Cannon, these 10 songs are perfumed with tropical elements, and Chesney even takes a stab at reggae with Spread the Love, which features a cameo from the Wailers. It sticks out only because it dares to sound somewhat different; the remaining nine tracks slide together in a haze, as if youd spent the day on a white sand beach, chugging fruity drinks and slowly going numb. (Speaking of Nelson, he turns up here on Coconut Tree, the sonic equivalent of a fleeting breeze.)
Whether the country music genre can continue to keep abiding records as bland as Life on a Rock remains to be seen, but the better question is: Why do listeners keep buying the same old song?