In making the media rounds prior to the release of his 12th studio album, Lucky Old Sun, inspired by the annulment of his four-month-long marriage to Renée Zellweger, country music superstar Kenny Chesney spoke with CMT personality Katie Cook about the difficult emotional content of the record. The interview included the following exchange:
Cook: You talk about how you went through a dark period. How bad would you say it got?
Chesney: Uh huh.
Cook: Most people, if they get that down, they’ve got to do something about it. How did you pull yourself out of it?
Chesney: I’m still doing it.
Chesney: Yeah. I’m good though.
Cook: You seem good. Music has got to be good therapy.
Chesney: Of course it is. It’s great. Music is therapy…really.
In the way it captures the hard-hitting, complex emotional content of the album itself, it’s a damn near genius bit of auto-critique from Chesney. Were the record simply billed as another in his series of laid-back, low-key homages to life on the beach, that would be one thing and Lucky Old Sun would merely stand as one of the singer’s mellowest efforts, but since Chesney insists that there’s more difficult territory here, it’s not like looking for depth is untoward or rude.
It’s just that there isn’t any depth to the record beyond simple declarative statements of fact: beaches are great, women are better (except on “Ten with a Two,” a juvenile bit of frat-boy humor about beer goggles that proves how well-constructed Brad Paisley’s near-novelty songs like “Alcohol” and “Ticks” are), but boats might just be the best of what’s available. Songs like “Key’s in the Conch Shell,” “Nowhere to Go, Nowhere to Be” and the campy “Boats” barely register even the slightest of impressions, while the hook of “Way Down Here” (“If I’m gonna be way down/I’m gonna be way down here”) is as close to substantive and revealing as the album gets.
Even as pure escapism, which Chesney typically sells with conviction, the album fails. On one of the few uptempo cuts, lead single “Everybody Wants to Go to Heaven,” Chesney sounds detached and bored, even as he’s backed by the Wailers. On much of the remainder of the album, his lack of affect is matched step for step by the lifeless production. The sax outro to “Way Down Here” is pure muzak, while the light acoustic guitar work of “Spirit of a Storm” makes Jack Johnson sound like GWAR in comparison. While Chesney’s co-opting of Jimmy Buffett’s trademark style into his country-pop paradigm deserves some credit—if not exactly progressive or particularly interesting on its own merits, it at least gives Chesney a sound that’s distinct from his contemporaries on country radio—it has rarely sounded as flat out dull as it does here.
Albums about breakups don’t have to be downers—Pink’s Funhouse provides immediate proof of that—but not one of the songs on Lucky Old Sun bears more than an oblique reference to the album’s supposed source of inspiration, suggesting that Chesney’s either being evasive or is just the cipher that his detractors have long claimed he is. The album proves how vapid contemporary country can be: Very. Uh-huh.