I don’t think there’s a real easy way to start this review.
When discussing Blake Shelton’s newest studio album, If I’m Honest, there’s really only one huge event you can talk about that played a part in the making of it. We all know what it is. This isn’t me writing another review for an indie act explaining their background and why you should be listening to them. This is Blake Shelton, and unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past year, you know exactly what event I’m talking about.
The divorce between Blake Shelton and Miranda Lambert is one that seemed to go as quick as it could for a celebrity couple. The details behind the “why” were never clearly answered, and as most muscians need to do in times of hardship, Blake Shelton decided to express his feelings through his music. Indeed, Blake Shelton’s tenth album was self-proclaimed to be his most personal and honest work to date, covering topics such as his marriage to Lambert as well as his newfound love in Gwen Stefani.
When we reach “Came Here To Forget” we’ve come across the part where Blake seems to find Gwen Stefani, and again, the song is generic and contains immature lyrics such as “nobody’s ex texting for a rewind” that only diehard Blake fans are going to give it a pass. “Every Goodbye” is literally the same damn song. Two people find love in each other at a bar and skip off into the sunset. After that, I’m not really sure what the bulk of these songs have to do with Blake at all. “It Ain’t Easy” is just here to capitalize on the Muscle-Shoals sound that has invaded most music genres these days. The duet with Gwen Stefani, “Go Ahead and Break My Heart” talks of the two splitting up since there’s just no love left in the relationship. It doesn’t make any sense given their current relationship.
Even when I finally reached a song I genuinely liked in “Friends”, it still just has nothing to do with the concept of the album and is only here as a movie soundtrack leftover. Still, the plucky banjo and fiddle accompanied with the playful lyrics are steps in the right direction in my ears. It also helps that Blake naturally has a ton of charisma in his delivery. It’s probably his biggest talent. It’s just too bad Blake doesn’t apply the same sound to his actual singles. “Green” is a decent enough leftover from Blake’s “Startin’ Fires” album but considering there’s really no discernable difference between the version there and the version here, again, what does it have anything to do with the concept of the album? “Doing It To Country Songs” features the Oak Ridge Boys of all people and this song may be even more asinine and immature than “She’s Got A Way With Words”. I admit, the hook of the song totally flew over my head the first time I read the title but then I heard the song. Now I know that Blake likes doing “it” to country songs. Yes folks, that’s right. Blake Shelton brought in the Oak Ridge Boys to sing a sex song. And if hearing it once isn’t enough they pound the hook multiple times into your head throughout the song. It really isn’t until “Savior’s Shadow” that you feel something raw and honest from Blake, as he knows that despite all of the hardships he goes through, he’s still got God to lean on. It’s a song that is accompanied by little more than an acoustic guitar, organ, and pedal steel. This is part of the Blake Shelton I’ve been missing for years.
I’ll give Blake Shelton credit. This is probably the closest any mainstream country star has come to making a “concept” album. There’s the beginning where he thinks back on his marriage to Miranda Lambert, the middle where he finds love in Gwen Stefani, and finally the end where he sings a hymn that makes everything come full circle and lets Blake know that a new chapter is starting. The problem is that by only writing a total of two songs on this album, this hardly feels like a personal album for Blake. This is coupled with the fact that there’s tracks that don’t belong here, despite some of them being the better tracks on here. It’s not just the lyrics that are generic in most of these songs either. Most of them sound like safe, radio-ready pop-country that doesn’t show Blake going as deep as he should have with this.
While this is probably the best album Blake Shelton has put out in a long time, it’s still just a safe, mediocre collection of songs. Considering all that has happened in Blake’s life in the past year, I’m sure we could have gotten something really personal here. Putting aside one’s stance on the Blake versus Miranda issue (if one even has one), the album that Blake had the potential to make could have been interesting, and instead, you’re just left wondering how music like this catapulted Blake into A-list territory.