Go and live in the past if you want, Mr. Shelton, but don’t expect me to go there with you.
Trend-hopping artists are nothing new in country music, but Blake Shelton has raised the practice to an art form, carefully scrutinizing the mood of the public in order to release the safest possible songs to country radio. It doesn’t always work out (“She’s Got A Way With Words,” for example), but in an era where many of his late 90s/early 2000s peers are being put out to pasture, Shelton has managed to defy the odds and maintain a strong presence at the top of the charts. His latest offering “I Lived It,” however, feels more like a miss than a hit, as its stern, serious sound invites listeners to inspect its content more critically, and they may not like what they find.
The production takes the acoustic foundation from “I’ll Name The Dogs” and pares it back even farther, dropping the fiddle, electric guitar, and drum machine and relegating the steel guitar to atmospheric background tone. What’s left is a sparse mix driven by an acoustic guitar and an active-but-organic-sounding percussion line (although the bridge solo sounds like there might be something extra accompanying the guitar, like a dulcimer or zither.) The happy, celebratory tone of “I’ll Name The Dogs” is gone too, replaced by a somber, wistful vibe featuring a full suite of minor chords. Unlike Brad Paisley’s “Heaven South,” which kept things light as it glorified the past within the present, this mix has a taste of bitterness to it, giving the listener the sense that a) this lauded way of life is gone forever, and b) it has been replaced by something unsatisfactory. While the sound is still relatively easy on the ears, this underlying darkness makes this trip down memory lane less than enjoyable.
On the surface, the lyrics provide a sepia-toned view of the narrator’s childhood using vivid imagery that ranges from the generic (riding in old trucks, pushing around a lawnmower) to the unique (putting tobacco juice on a wound?!), and doesn’t seem terribly offensive or pointed. With the serious nature of the production, however, this song feels less like “the way we lived back then” and more like “the way we should live now.” Suddenly, statements like “I’d go back there right now” and “we all survived somehow” have a bit more force behind them, and indicate that we should literally return to living in a world where tobacco usage was commonplace, women were reprimanded for their attire, and TV shows prominently displaying the Confederate flag were all the rage. Given the choice, I’d rather not live in a world like that, thank you very much. While I don’t believe the songwriters actually set out to make a political statement with this song, the production makes it feel like one, and I don’t like it. At all.
All of the above leaves Shelton himself in an awkward position: Match the seriousness of the song and come across like he’s pushing an agenda, or try to pull his verbal punches and say “Don’t mind me, I’m just lamenting my lost childhood?” (The track has four co-writers, but Shelton isn’t one of them.) Ultimately, he chose the former route, using his trademark charisma and believability to come across as a bitter old man scowling at the world from his front porch. Additionally, the song feels a tad too low for Shelton, forcing him farther into his voice’s lower register than he would prefer to be. However, his range and flow are just enough to cover the notes and maintain a smooth delivery throughout the track. All in all, it’s a tolerable performance that would be more palatable if the writing didn’t annoy me so much.
Honestly, I’m not sure what to make of Blake Shelton’s “I Lived It.” Is it a harmless look back at the way things used to be, or the narrator’s vision of the way things should be now? Either way, there are much better nostalgic tracks you can listen to, ones that don’t make you question the songwriters’ motives.
Rating: 5/10. It’s not really worth your time.