Country music superstar Kenny Chesney released his 13th studio album, ‘Welcome To The Fishbowl,’ today, only a couple weeks following the first date on his nationwide Brothers Of The Sun stadium tour with Tim McGraw.
Our first glimpse at the new album came courtesy of the lead single, “Feel Like a Rock Star,” which pits Chesney, 44, and McGraw in a duet, clearly a preview of a performance on their tour this summer. However, while it’s a monumental event to have two of the biggest stars in the history of country music singing together (and touring together), the song itself comes off a bit empty, overdone, and a little hollow from an artistic standpoint. After all, given all the incredible music these two superstars have created over the years, we expect more.
‘Welcome To The Fishbowl’ does not fall in line with the Kenny Chesney albums of the early 2000’s, one stadium anthem, throw back song, and party rocker after another. No, it is, in a number of ways, quite reminiscent of ‘Hemingway’s Whiskey,’ his 2010 platinum effort. It’s popular…it’s prominent…and it’s 100% Kenny Chesney.
For the past few albums, we are finally discovering the type of artist Kenny really is, in terms of his songwriting and delivery. His earlier releases, while certainly full of chart-toppers, were clearly steered by outside forces propelling him to the mainstream stratosphere. Now, with all the success any artist could ask for, Chesney is now able to release the music that he wants, the music he writes, with the people whom he’d like to collaborate. Is it ironic that he chose his friend of over 20 years, Tim McGraw? Or how about Grace Potter, whom he penned a huge hit with a few years ago (“You and Tequila”) and also invited to come along on his tour? It’s a little more than a coincidence. Kenny’s in his comfort zone on this album, and it’s obvious on every single track.
Unlike some of his earlier albums, there is a lot of variety present on ‘Fishbowl,’ and Kenny seems to stretch his limits on a number of these tracks. The difference between the record’s two singles, “Feel Like a Rock Star” and “Come Over,” is a perfect illustration of the diversity on this album.
The title track touches on the positives and negatives of stardom, including the media’s role in the riches of celebrities as well as the loss of privacy. “Sing ‘Em Good My Friend,” one of the best tracks on the record, showcases Kenny’s thoughts on aging and the realities of getting older. “While He Still Knows Who I Am,” a sure tear-jerker, touches on Alzheimer’s and the effects the disease can have on friends and families. We’ve heard these sentimental tunes from Kenny before…but never before this personal.
The album falls a tad short with the slower songs and ballads…as in “To Get To You” and “Makes Me Wonder.” These seem forced and impersonal, almost like fillers amongst a slate of some of the most identifiable songs in the Chesney catalogue.
“I Am A Small Town” is predictable but irresistibly likable, while “Time Flies” is the beach-themed tune we all have loved about Kenny over the years. Unfortunately, the album-finale, a live version of “You and Tequila” with Grace Potter, does digress from the overall quality of the record.
Look, this is a Kenny Chesney album. We all know it’s going to sell a lot of copies and produce at least a few more chart-climbing singles. But the most impressive part about this record is that it is a true reflection of Kenny as a songwriter, not a performer…as an artist, not a celebrity. This is who he is, and amidst the stadium shows and outrageous antics that have become part of his summer tours, his previous two records, most recently ‘Welcome To The Fishbowl,’ solidifies him as one of the most talented artists in country music.