The sanitised sound of New Nashville and what has become the soulless swagger of Music Row might rankle country purists, but identikit singers with Teflon stubble have been swelling stadiums stateside for over two decades.
Tennessee’s Kenny Chesney might not be a familiar name in the UK – he’s probably best known as the former Mr Renée Zellweger – but back home he’s huge. He released his debut album in 1994 and has since spread his straightforward brand of cowboy hat-wearing back-porch pop over 15 albums, including Welcome to the Fishbowl.
This new album’s first single, Feel Like a Rock Star, sees Chesney teaming up with fellow country superstar Tim McGraw for an unapologetic cashing in on Nickelback’s Rockstar, which is a counterfeit copy in everything from melody and lyrics to sentiment. Lacing a rip-off with a vague hillbilly twang, Kenny, does not make it any less shameless.
Chesney shouldn’t take all the blame though, as he didn’t write the song. In fact, it’s interesting to note that he actually only co-penned three of this album’s tracks; and even then he was helped out by prolific songwriter Skip Ewing.
The massive team behind Welcome to the Fishbowl is proof positive that this record – like the rest of Chesney’s multi-million selling back catalogue – is aimed squarely at the mainstream. These songs are genetically engineered to be both supremely catchy and intensely wet.
Tugging on the heartstrings seems to be Chesney’s favoured fallback, with the album’s more buoyant moments and familiar, mountaintop guitar riffs eclipsed by the slushy El Cerrito Place and the god-bothering balladry of Always Gonna Be You.
Then there’s the mawkish Sing ‘Em Good My Friend, an uncomplicated musing on mortality that features some more lightweight bible-bashing and bald couplets such as “I’m gonna cry right now and that’s okay / We’re all going die someday”. We don’t imagine that Wordsworth will bother spinning in his grave over that one.
Welcome to the Fishbowl is already a chart-topping record in the United States, but one suspects it’ll take more than this to make Chesney a household name on UK shores.