Unfortunately for Kenny Chesney, there’s a big difference between telling a story and telling it well.
I think it’s time for Chesney to get back into the studio and find some new material, because the Here And Now era really needs to end. Out of four singles from the album, he’s scored a five three separate times (and the less said about “Tip Of My Tongue,” the better), and as I was re-reading my review of “Knowing You,” I struck me that it could serve as the opening paragraph for this review as well. Everything I said about Chesney taking McGraw’s “auditory Xanax” title and how his singles are “lifeless” and “inoffensive” and how they’re nothing but “background noise”…all of this continues to hold true for Chesney’s fifth single from the disc, “Everyone She Knows.” There’s a weak attempt to at least try to tell a story, but it’s told in such a bland and lethargic manner that no one actually cares about it by the end. Kenny Chesney has gone from a beach bum to a boring blatherer, and the only reason he’s still around is that in the current wasteland that is Nashville, there’s no one in the wings to replace him.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: The production is nothing but the same old guitar-and-drum mix that the genre has been shoveling out for the last few years. The acoustic guitar at least gives the song a hint of texture, but mostly we’re stuck with rock guitars and a beat that sounds more programmed than live, and the only reason the guitars don’t run together and form a wall of noise is because there’s literally nothing else here for them to run together with. The mix’s slower, deliberate tempo and darker instruments tones drain any semblance of life from the atmosphere, and the hints of foreboding introduced by the regular minor chords don’t fit very well with the subject matter (a lot of negative things are discussed, but the protagonist is happy with their lot in life in the end). It’s the sort of dull, plodding mix that can be used an Ambien substitute in a pinch, and it does nothing to draw in listeners or accentuate the story being told.
Let’s do a little more copypasta from my “Knowing You” review: “The song poses no challenges from a technical perspective (limited range, slower flow), but it does require a narrator that can inject some life into a song.” It was true then, and it’s true now: Chesney isn’t tested vocally in any dimension, but he doesn’t put any feeling or emotion behind the track: The protagonist’s defiance of “adulting” is a thing that they do, and Chesney doesn’t give us any indication that he actually cares about it. (Which is kind of ironic, given that being a free spirit and hanging on in a young man’s game is exactly what the 53-year-old Chesney has been doing for the last decade…) After this song and Dustin Lynch’s “Party Mode,” I’m starting to think there’s a real danger in these slightly-negative songs: The artist restrains themselves to avoid being too doom-and-gloom (perhaps because doom-and-gloom doesn’t sell, even when the song actually calls for it), but they end up overcorrecting and sounding like a dispassionate news anchor discussing the latest crime wave. Chesney’s been around too long and dropped too many solid songs to not know how to sell a story (“The Good Stuff” and “There Does My Life,” for example), but tired, soulless performances are starting to become the rule rather than the exception for him, and even the best-written tracks need a little heart from the singer to make it work. Chesney is either unable to unwilling to give the song what it needs, and as a result it falls flat on arrival and the audience has tuned out by the second verse.
Chesney and the producer’s abdication of their duties is a real shame here, because the writing is actually a step up from the usual drivel that’s been dumped on us. The leading lady finds herself out of step with “everyone she knows” as they start achieving traditional life milestones (marriage, kids, houses, etc.), but in the end she decides that she’s content with her free-wheeling lifestyle. It’s at trying to achieve some actual story progression, but the song spends so much discussing the downsides of both camps (the protagonist can’t find love and is struggling to keep up with the trending scene, but her peers seem to be getting pressured into making these decisions and seemingly end up in bad relationships—that “even though their husbands don’t come home” line feels pretty ominous) that it’s hard to believe that anyone here is actually content with their lot in life. The decision to make the narrator an uninvolved third party doesn’t feel like a great one either: Not only does it encourage the artist to remain disengaged from the story, but we don’t get to share in the depths of any characters’ feelings, and the listener’s doesn’t really connect with them as a result. I feel like there’s a kernel of a good story, but the execution is mediocre at best, and it’s never compelling enough to convince the audience to stick and pay attention.
“Everyone She Knows” had potential, but it winds up being part of the problem in Nashville instead of the solution. The sound is bland and boring, Kenny Chesney is uninvested and uninterested, and the writing doesn’t do enough to overcome the other issues and appeal to its audience. It’s just another song from an artist who’s been in a serious slump over the last few years, and in a few months no one will remember that it even existed. I advocated for Miranda Lambert to take a break when she was going through a similar rough patch a few years, and that’s my advice for Chesney too: Find a tropical island, sit out on the sand, and try to recharge your batteries and recapture that old magic. Otherwise, he should forget about getting back in the studio and start looking for a rocking chair.
Rating: 5/10. Zzzzzzzz….