Remember when Spectrum Pulse labeled Tim McGraw’s work as “auditory Xanax”? That’s about what Blake Shelton’s discography has devolved to.
As talented as I consider Blake Shelton, I’ve been mostly unimpressed by his work in the 2010s. While his songs are rarely bad (“Boys ‘Round Here” being the biggest exception to this), they’re never terribly good either, as Shelton seems content to pump out safe, trend-riding songs that sit squarely in the mushy mediocre middle of the genre. “Turnin’ Me On,” the third single from his Texoma Shore album, continues this disappointing pattern: A dark, “dangerous” love song that plods lifelessly from beginning to end and fails to move (or even engage) the listener. I might have let this slide a few months ago, but in a world where “Run Wild Horses” exists, a limp track like this one just doesn’t cut the mustard.
The production here at least tries to differentiate itself from its peers, complementing what would be a run-of-the-mill guitar-and-drum mix with a Wurlitzer piano stolen from Ronnie Milsap that gives the song a distinct retro vibe. Unfortunately, that’s about the only interesting part of the mix: The dark instrument tones and frequent minor chords attempt to infuse the song with a sense of danger and foreboding, but the guitars and drums don’t have the power or feeling behind them to make it stick, and I’m not sure the writing really warrants this tone anyway. (Honestly, if the producer had gone in the complete opposite direction and made this a bright, playful song, it would have been a much more interesting and enjoyable.) Moreover, the lack of musical energy weighs on the tempo as well, making the song feel like it’s plodding along lifelessly despite the fact that it’s actually faster than “Run Wild Horses”! (The comparison gets even worse for “Turnin’ Me On” on the extended outro, as Watson’s sizzling guitar walks all over Shelton’s milquetoast fadeout.) It’s not a terrible mix by any means, but its shortcomings become very apparent when placed next to Watson’s incredible performance.
I’m actually impressed that Shelton sounds as good as he does here, because he mails in this performance so blatantly that he should have stuck a stamp on his forehead. This is supposed to be a visceral song full of passion and danger, but Shelton’s delivery is so flat and even-keel that he might as well be reading a freaking grocery list. (If it weren’t for the few emphatic “turnin’ me on” lines at the very end, I’d question whether the narrator even had a pulse.) Additionally, there aren’t any range-testing or tongue-busting portions to inject some energy into the track, making Shelton’s flat performance all the more glaring. His natural charm and charisma shine through enough to keep the track from going completely off the rails, but once again, when pared next to Watson’s inspired delivery on “Run Wild Horses,” Shelton’s performance feels forgettable at best and half-hearted at worst.
The lyrics here have their moments, but there’s so much unoriginality here that they just can’t cover all of the song’s aforementioned problems. Even the premise isn’t exactly novel, as the narrator finds his senses and emotions being toyed with by their partner because they find it fun (picture a less-hazardous version of Easton Corbin’s “All Over The Road,” or the opening lines of Jason Aldean’s “Burnin’ It Down”). Most of what you’ll find here is stuff you’ll find anywhere: whiskey-flavored kisses, starting metaphorical fires, exciting people with a single phone call, etc. There are a couple of interesting images, but they feel a little awkward in context (calling someone “the needle on the vinyl of a midnight song” doesn’t seem particularly sexy, and while I get what they were going for with the neon light reference, it still feels out of place). Outside of the “Revlon red” reference (which doesn’t feel like an coincidence given Gwen Stefani’s association with the brand), none of the verbal punches really land, and the steamy, sensual mood the song tries to set ends up falling flat and leaving the listener unmoved.
To be honest, had Aaron Watson not thrown down the gauntlet so forcefully on “Run Wild Horses,” I would probably judge “Turnin’ Me On” a bit less harshly. Still, as one of the biggest stars in country music right now, Blake Shelton should know better than to drop a single that’s going to get upstaged this badly on the radio from day one. It feels like he’s coasting right now, confident that his immense popularity will carry even mediocre material like this to the top of the charts. The trick may work for a song or two, but country radio is nothing if not fickle, and for an 15+ year vet, even one as popular as Shelton, the end can happen in a hurry.
Rating: 4/10. With better material on the charts right now, there’s no reason to give this song the time of day.