Song Review: Kenny Chesney, “Tip Of My Tongue”

Dear country music: STOP IT WITH THE SEX JAMS ALREADY.

On some level, it’s hard to blame Kenny Chesney for what his career has devolved into: He’s been able to resist the slow radio phaseout that has afflicted many of his contemporaries by leaning on lightweight, milquetoast feel-good material like “All The Pretty Girls,” “Get Along,” and his monotone David Lee Murphy collab “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright,” and when he released a track with some actual weight and substance behind it (“Better Boat”), the label prematurely pulled the plug on it at #25 on Billboard’s airplay chart. On the other hand, there’s something to be said about being a leader and a model at this stage Now, he’s back on the “safe” side of country music with the trend-chasing track “Tip Of My Tongue,” and frankly, I haven’t cringed this much while listening to a song in a long, long time. It’s not romantic, it’s not sexy, it’s not fun, it’s not clever, and it’s not a good song.

The production has some potential, but the instruments are used in the most bland and sterile way possible. The song opens with a bright, slick electric guitar and some sort of amped-up string instrument (it’s likely just an acoustic guitar, but it reminds me a lot of a dulcimer), with a deep, darker guitar floating around in the background masquerading as a bass. The percussion (which naturally has both real and synthetic elements, though heavily weighted towards the former) is pushed back to the end of the first verse, and the whole thing swells up to provide a spacious feel on the chorus. Questionable arrangement choices aside (why are the drums so prominent in the mix, and why are they the only thing you hear during the second verse?), the producer doesn’t really do anything with the pieces they have: The musicians just lifelessly play the same riffs over and over (even the “solo” is just Chesney howling like a wolf over the same blasted beat), and the song has absolutely zero energy as a result. The worst part, however, is how the mix completely fails to set the proper atmosphere for the song: Nothing about this thing feels even remotely sensual (in fact, it doesn’t make the listener doesn’t feel anything at all), and if you tried to make love to this track, you’d most likely fall asleep before anything happened. I’m begging you Nashville, please please please stop foisting failed sex jams like this drivel upon the public.

I wouldn’t say that Chesney mailed in this performance, but I wouldn’t say he brought his “A” game to the studio either. It’s not a range-tester or tongue-twister by any means, but even though you get the sense that Chesney is trying to make this feel emotional and sexy, you certainly don’t feel any of that yourself. Instead, Chesney’s performance feels awkward and weak, as if he’s struggling to convey his emotions despite the unmistakable tone of the lyrics. Despite the charisma and earnestness that has carried Chesney through a two-decade-plus career, not only is he simply isn’t believable in the narrator’s role here, he gets dragged down into the mud by the writing. (Given that this sort of song has never really been a part of Chesney’s repertoire, I’m confused as to why he or anyone at Warner Music thought this would be a suitable song for him.) It’s reminiscent of Dierks Bentley’s “Black,” although while Bentley was able to kinda-sorta pull this trick off, Chesney just can’t seal the deal. It’s a mediocre performance for an artist who can ill afford one.

The lyrics are what irk me the most about this song. The narrator tries to use a “tip of my tongue” metaphor to describe the depth of their emotions for their partner, and honestly, it was a really bad choice. The phrase is a fairly limited one, and the ways that it’s used here are just…ugh. That “salt and sugar” line makes my skin crawl every time I hear it, and the “everything about you’s on the tip of my tongue” comes way too late to make the wordplay work (it’s literally the last line in the song, and it ignores the fact that he’s had no trouble spewing out everything he’s been thinking for the last three minutes). And don’t get me started about the way the “dimples in the small of your back” are “speaking to” the narrator, which is supposed to make the audience swoon but instead makes them question the narrator’s mental fitness. This song is more “Ew” than “Ooh,” and it utterly fails to set any sort of mood at all. In fact, the only thing it motivates the listener to do is change the station.

Country music would do well to revisit the definition of insanity, because despite the fact that Nashville can’t put out a sex jam to save its life, its denizens keep cranking out these creepy, slimy tracks ad infinitum. “Tip Of My Tongue” is a textbook example of how far these things can go off the rails: The production is bland and boring, Kenny Chesney is unconvincing and sketchy, and the writing is just…no. The result is a track that never should have seen the light of day, and brings shame and disgrace to everyone associated with it.

Stop it, Nashville. You’re embarrassing yourself.

Rating: 3/10. Yuck.