So if you’ve visited an independent country blog within the last couple years, you’ve probably noticed some recurring themes that pop up on these blogs. For starters, Sturgill Simpson is God and everything he says is gold. Second, almost everything in the realm of Americana or Texas-Country is mind-blowingly phenomenal and revolutionary.
If you’re looking for some mainstream examples, well let’s see, there’s the one about mainstream country itself just being 100% inferior to its other country counterparts (not saying I necessarily disagree with that one but….). Of course, a very popular one revolves around Kenny Chesney, more importantly how he sucks.
Now, look, I’m not going to say I’ve ever been a huge fan of Chesney either. However, I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t enjoy a good number of his songs, and for the most part have always liked the guy. He’s always made the sort of lightweight, easygoing beach material that, yes, many people have ridiculed him for. For the most part though, I think he pulls that material off better than people give him credit for, and that’s not even mentioning songs like “Don’t Blink” or “There Goes My Life” which proved he could go deeper. I will say he hasn’t a stellar album in quite awhile, but as far as my opinion on the guy, I like him.
With all of that being said however, even I wasn’t that excited going into his newest album, Cosmic Hallelujah. The lead single “Noise” was awful, and while I liked his newest single with Pink a bit better, it still wasn’t anything that really sparked with me. But hey, everything deserves a fair chance, so I dug into his newest album with a ray of hope and with that, my opinion of this album is……
Well, after listening through this album many times, I’m still not quite sure what to think folks. On some level, I feel like it’s both his best and worst album in a long time, and believe me, I know it sounds weird. We’ll get to it.
So where to start? Well, I’ll say that if you’ve never been a Chesney fan in the past, you definitely won’t want to check this out. You have your typical beach songs like “Trip Around The Sun”, “Bar At The End Of The World”, and “Winnebago”, and really upbeat, sunny songs like the aforementioned ones are what you’ll mostly find on this album.
However, there’s also another side to this album, one that finds Chesney trying to “say something” with his music. You get songs like “Noise” which proclaims that complains about things such as humans being trapped in their phones, and how the media is controlling our lives. Then you have the absolute the worst Kenny Chesney song ever with “Rich and Miserable”, a song which finds Kenny trying for some Imagine Dragons-esque rock sound to bad results. Of course, that’s not all that makes it bad, but what does is something that plagues both this song as well as “Noise”. Where “Noise” fails to offer a solution to all of the things Chesney complains about and instead just leaves him complaining, “Rich and Miserable” comes across like an incoherent, pissy rant. The lyrical flow here is just completely awful, and Kenny’s vocals do not fit this song in the slightest. This song alone is enough to bring the entire project down a point or two honestly.
While not quite in the same lane as “Noise” or “Rich and Miserable”, the song “Bucket” also falls flat on its face for me. The entire concept of changing the ‘b’ on your bucket list to an ‘f’ could be comical (although I thought bucket lists were full of things you WANTED to do?), but when you have Chesney trying for some pseudo-rap on the verses, it just doesn’t sound good at all. That’s not to mention some cringe-worthy lines such as “I took my bitchy lyin’ lover and I added an ‘x'”. Ugh.
But hey, that’s just what I REALLY didn’t like, so what about the rest of this album? Well, it’s alright I suppose. Most of the songs here are playing to that easy going vibe that you’d expect from Chesney, and the results honestly aren’t that bad. I liked the hand-claps and banjo accompaniment in “Trip Around The Sun”, and while “All The Pretty Girls” is not all that great lyrically, at least the guitar melody has a nice little crunch to it. While “Some Town Somewhere” does feel like an inferior version of “American Kids”, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t really enjoy the bouncy melody and infectious feel of it overall.
Of course, the one track that really wins over points for me (and what I would declare the best song) is “Jesus and Elvis”, a song about a mother who owns a bar. When that mother’s son dies in a war, she remodels the bar to include things he loves, such as well, Jesus and Elvis. The pedal steel here sounds great, and it was nice to see Kenny include Allison Moorer (one of the co-writers and an awesome artist in her own right) on backup vocals here. I also liked “Coach” for being a tribute to I’m assuming his former football coach. Hell, I even liked the Foreigner cover here with “I Want To Know What Love Is”, especially with the darker acoustic textures.
So overall I’m still not sure what to make of Cosmic Hallelujah. I think at a lot of points it could have been better, but at the same time I think a lot of the melodies and instrumental choices are tighter than on his previous albums. It certainly won’t win over any other country bloggers out there, or any other previous non-Chesney fans but admittedly, I liked it more than I didn’t. Heck, take out “Rich and Miserable” and “Bucket” and it would definitely be a better album. As it is…..eh, take this grade with a grain of salt.