The most striking scenes of Kenny Chesney‘s ‘Come Over’ video aren’t those of the bikini-clad beauty in the swimming pool or the panoramic shoreline. It’s the singer himself… without a hat on. As it turns out, those images are something of a metaphor for Chesney’s new ‘Welcome to the Fishbowl’ album.

Chesney has revealed what’s beneath the hat (both the actual and metaphorical one) before. He’s told the stories of his scars and shared his heartbreak, but never with such confidence and conviction. Two of the more vulnerable songs — ‘Come Over’ and ‘Always Gonna Be You’ — bookend the album.

Where does a man go for redemption / Where does he take a broken heart,” he asks on track No. 11, a piano driven ballad written by former NFL lineman Mike Reid. It’s pain one wants to keep reliving, with hopes the ‘you’ turns up at the end of the next listen. (Note: a live version of ‘You and Tequila’ technically closes the album, but we all know how that goes.)

The album’s signature, however, is the storytelling on ‘Sing ‘Em Good My Friend’ and ‘While He Still Knows Who I Am.’ The first is a breezy, bittersweet love song that would fit perfectly on ‘Be as You Are (Songs From an Old Blue Chair),’ Chesney’s songwriter album from 2005. “Honestly, honesty never goes out of style so sing the pain my friend,” the old man says in this song. It’s advice that finds open ears.

‘While He Still Knows Who I Am’ is powerful enough to win Song of the Year honors if released as a single. Describing this ballad as simply an Alzheimer’s Disease song doesn’t do it justice. It reaches deeper by putting a beautiful face on a loved one we’re watching slip away. Much like George Strait with ‘Drinkin’ Man,’ Chesney takes the topic head-on and commits himself to the outcome. We’re all better for it.

The seeds for this album were planted on ‘Be as You Are,’ an album that wasn’t really meant for commercial success, but went platinum anyway. ‘Welcome to the Fishbowl’ has more mass appeal, which means there are a few songs that appease instead of please. The title-track and ‘Makes Me Wonder’ aren’t offensive, they just sort of pass by like a ship in the distance. ‘Time Flies’ is second to ‘Feels Like a Rock Star’ in terms of fun, and honestly, the Tim McGraw duet is a little out of place on the project.

After back-to-back introspective albums, it’s fair to assume Chesney’s rock and roll days are mostly behind him. Fans looking to relive ‘Big Star’ won’t find much on ‘Welcome to the Fishbowl, but those who’ve grown and matured with the singer will find an album to turn to with frequency.

4 Stars

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