Welcome to Kenny Chesney‘s fishbowl. You’re invited in to get a good look at the types of things that a mature artist sings about: longing and yearning, family bonds, missed opportunities, vulnerability, regrets, escaping troubles, and making mistakes. While there’s no doubt that Kenny can be the King of the Party when he wants to be – as many of his previous hits can attest – this album is deeper, more introspective, and dares to challenge with some thoughtful examination of life and love.
Welcome to the Fishbowl, Chesney’s tenth studio album to be co-produced with long time collaborator Buddy Cannon, captures the mega-platinum artist showcasing some of his most vulnerable and raw material yet. You might expect Chesney to come out of the gate with something new to rev up the arenas with but, the album’s opener, ‘Come Over’, written by Sam Hunt, Shane McAnally and Josh Osbourne, starts things off on a surprisingly plaintive note. There’s a yearning need in Chesney’s vocals as he repeatedly pleads “Come over. Come over. Come over.” The rawness of his desire is right out front from the get go. Other soul-searchers like “Always Gonna Be You” and the Charlie Robison cover ‘El Cerrito Place’, cement the fact that this album has a multi-layered, sensitive core to expose. I dare anyone not to well-up at least a little bit when Chesney sings about going back home to see his father ‘While He Still Knows Who I Am.’
“I can tell you this album was unlike any other just for the emotional journey I went on to make it,” Chesney said in an interview. “The songs are very personal. Once I heard them all together I realized the thread of searching was there. This is the most vulnerable I’ve ever been as an artist on a record.”
The three tracks that Chesney co-wrote on the album also show off some of his most heartfelt writing to date. The funky title track, co-written with Skip Ewing, is a rumination on how everything in our modern lives is under the media microscope. “Everybody’s business is everybody’s business, and it’s big business now. We’re all in here and we can’t get out. Welcome to the fishbowl.” This is not your typical grab-a-beer-and-party fare and it might just make you think a bit while you’re bopping to the beat. ‘Makes Me Wonder’, co-written with Wendell Mobley and Neil Thrasher, is a mid-tempo rocker about a friend you get along so well with you “wonder why we’re not in love.” It’s a situation that’s intimately identifiable to most. Finally, ‘To Get To You (55th and 3rd)’, another co-write with Skip Ewing, is one of the album’s finest and deepest moments that again has Chesney singing about a character who’s laying his heart out firmly on his sleeve for all to see. “And there’ve been lessons learned, pages turned, even a few bridges burned. Love’s become a frightening thing to do. I’ve been out and I’ve been in. I’ve been scared to love again but you’re worth every hurt my heart’s been through. I’d go through it all again if I had to to get to you.” It’s a heartbreaking but steadfast admission from someone who’s been through it all and has come to know what he wants with the maturity of experience. Kudos to Chesney for doing some deeper emotional mining with these tunes.
The one song that feels out of a place and surface on the album is the duet that Chesney recorded with his best friend and touring partner, Tim McGraw. ‘Feel Like a Rock Star’ has been manufactured to act as a sonic kick-off to the Brothers of The Sun Tour that the two have paired up to pack arenas and stadiums with this summer. Sure, it’s a feel-good romp but it also feels like an unnecessary and ultra-commercial add on.
Of course, what would a Kenny Chesney album be without a tip of the hat to laid-back, island life. Co-written by Steve McEwan and Craig Wiseman, ‘Time Flies’ fills that bill with its “escape your troubles, hop a plane to the islands and just get numb” refrain. It’s something that we all sometimes long to do when the pressures and disappointments of our day to day worlds get too heavy.
It’s refreshing and affirming to see that the artist who brought us frothy, good-time hits like ‘When The Sun Goes Down’ and ‘She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy’ can comfortably dive into much deeper subject territory and still retain his relatability. Take the plunge into Kenny Chesney’s Welcome to the Fishbowl and you’ll find songs that are meaty, memorable, and thought provoking.