Is it just me, or has Kenny Chesney completely run out of things to say?
At nearly 52 years old, Chesney is living on borrowed time in the young man’s town that is Nashville, and over the last half-decade he’s become increasingly aware of his mainstream mortality. He’s begun releasing tracks like “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright,” “Noise,” and “Get Along,” all of which kinda-sorta have something to say from an elder-statesman point-of-view, but they never really get beyond generic platitudes and vague, preachy proclamations. After his recent tire fire of a sex jam “Tip Of My Tongue” ran out of steam at #8, he’s gone back to his “saying a lot without really saying anything” ways with his latest single “Here And Now,” a predictable ode to the present tense. The song brings absolutely nothing new to the conversation, and teeters precariously on the edge between looking-forward optimism and screw-tomorrow nihilism.
Let’s start with the good news: The production is about the only thing worth noting on this track because of its relentless energy and positivity. The Petty-esque opening rock-tinged guitar riffs generate a ton of energy and give the song a real sense of motion (although the drums here lack the punch of “Runnin’ Down A Dream”), and although the chorus seems to slow things down with its every-third-note cadence, it’s a nice sonic cue to stop and smell the roses while they’re there. Unfortunately, there’s very little in the rest of the rest of the song to warrant such a stance (no one’s running down any dreams here), and there’s nothing more in the mix to help distract the listener form this fact. Still, the mix drags the song forward anyway, giving it a feeling of momentum and cheer that it really doesn’t justify. If nothing else, it makes the song a fun distraction for a few minutes, even if you won’t remember it once it’s over.
I’m feeling mixed about Chesney’s performance here, because he seems to be caught between expressing optimism about the future and telling people to forget about the future and live it up now because the future’s not guaranteed. Now on the backside of 50, Chesney may have the experience to claim that he’s done all the things described in the verses, but it also puts hims squarely in the ‘live it up now’ camp: There is no future in mainstream country music for Chesney, so he’d better have his fun while he still can. There’s a real positivity to his delivery and his technical skills seems to be as strong as ever (honestly, this is more vocal power than we’ve gotten from him in a while), but his narrator gives me the distinct impression that he’s done working towards the future, and instead plans on sitting around watching the world burn à la Chris Janson in “Fix A Drink.” The producer can drive the song all they want, but despite Chesney’s charisma, his narrator doesn’t feel like they’re up for the ride. It’s a bit disappointing, although he’s admittedly severely hamstrung by…
The lyrics! Frankly, the writing is surprisingly bad: The narrator claims that “here and now” is the best place to be, but…
- The laundry list of things they’ve done and seen in the past (island hopping, romances in exotic locales, etc.) make it hard to believe that the narrator actually belives staying put where they are now in the best place to be.
- The message has been around for as long as people have been, and this song not only adds nothing to the conversation, its reliance on groan-inducing catchphrases (“been there, done that, got the T-shirt and hat,” “why you think we call the present the present?”) make it feel even staler and more outdated than it is.
- Despite chiding people for waiting for their ships to come in, the narrator demonstrates no more proactivity then the waiters they put down. At least the waiters exhibit hope for the future; this dude just sounds like they want to sit around and drink the rest of their life away (despite the fact that there’s only one alcohol reference in the entire song).
All this leads to a narrator that has given up on the future and is in party-hardy mode until the bull throws them off, making them come off as lazy and unsympathetic to the audience.
“Here And Now” is only good for squandering your own here and now: It’s a forgettable, uninspired track whose upbeat, driving production is countered by the sloth and disinterest of the writers, and Kenny Chesney just isn’t the guy who can pull a song like this back from the brink anymore. It may have the happy sound and party vibe to make it a short-term summertime hit, but more than anything it makes me think that the low-fuel light has come on for Chesney’s mainstream career. In some sense, it’s the same song that he’s been pitching for the last five years, and if this is all he has to say anymore, maybe it’s time he went back to those islands and ruminated on some new ideas.
Rating: 5/10. There are better ways to spend your time.