— -- intro: This week country superstar Kenny Chesney releases a new album, Swedish pop sensation Tove Lo drops her sophomore effort, M. Ward and Zooey Deschanel release yet another She & Him Christmas album, rapper and producer Sammus makes a grand entrance, New York metal band Helmet returns, and My Chemical Romance’s Frank Iero releases an album with his new band, the Patience. It’s quite a varied week as we step into November.
quicklist: 1title: Kenny Chesney’s “Cosmic Hallelujah” ***text: If you can believe it, “Cosmic Hallelujah” is Kenny Chesney’s 17th studio album. He’s a seasoned veteran at this point. While this album unsurprisingly has a lot of the same issues as a lot of the twangy pop records that pass for modern country these days, with folksy tales of “buying another round” and other such genre tropes, Chesney manages to tell stories with a narrative style that indicates that he’s doing more than hitting the normal talking points. He nails his unlikely duet with P!nk, “Setting the World on Fire,” and while the slightly overproduced “Noise” reeks of modern Nashville formula, the angst that Chesney is addressing is palpable and real.
The album works above the obvious stereotypical elements partly because it is decently crafted. It is unapologetically aiming for the pop charts. This is proud, factory-made “country” music, and Chesney doesn’t try to hide that in the least. Why should he? He’s got the hooks and the chops to sell a song like “Bar at the End of the World.” It’s a delicate balancing act that takes a lot of skill.
On some level, this sounds like many other records you have heard before. You can hear the transparent pandering to his audience on “Some Town Somewhere.” The same can be said for “Rich and Miserable,” which kind of nicks a melodic line in its chorus from Taylor Swift’s “Wildest Dreams,” and the a-bit-too-on-the-nose and saccharine “Coach,” which has a riff that sounds like a major-key answer to the Smashing Pumpkins’ classic “Hummer.” (I kid you not.)
Listening to a song like “All the Pretty Girls,” it almost seems like there are people working in boardrooms in Nashville crossing off things to mention in “hit” country songs in order to get airplay. But Chesney has the charisma to make this kind of writing work for him. When he delivers a surprisingly excellent countrified reworking of Foreigner’s “I Want to Know What Love Is,” it shows he could do better with deeper material. That being said, he’s doing just fine. On “Cosmic Hallelujah,” he’s playing the music his audience expects. The formula exists because it has proven to work. Sometimes that ends up working out for the best.
“Setting the World on Fire” (Featuring P!nk) I suppose it isn’t surprising that P!nk and Chesney don’t sound out of each other’s elements singing together, but let’s face it. This is much more pop than it is country.
“I Want to Know What Love Is” When you are drastically reworking a culturally ingrained song, you have to be careful. Against the odds, Chesney is able to make this song his own.
“Bucket” Part of me thinks that Chesney wants this to be a sing-along favorite somewhere between Johnny Paycheck’s “Take This Job and Shove It” and Garth Brooks’ “Friends in Low Places.” It doesn’t pack the punch of either, but it is still a decent effort.