Review Summary: On his ninth full-length release, the country megastar does exactly what has commercially worked for him before, not shortchanging his formula in any way.
When modern mainstream country acts come to mind, Blake Shelton is almost always at the head of the discussion. He saw his already established celebrity status rise further to prominence when he became a judge for The Voice
in 2011. He has a string of number one country hits dating back to 2009, and that is very impressive. Like his music or not, you have to acknowledge the commercial apex he has pinnacled, because the method to the proverbial madness is one that appears, on the surface, to be quite complex. In actuality, however, it's very simple; Shelton's warm and tender voice perfectly suits both the feel good anthems and lovelorn ballads he keeps sending up the charts, not to mention Shelton and his team, more often than not, put their best foot forward in terms of the composition that is put forth. On Shelton's ninth studio album If I'm Honest
, Shelton provides more of the same, but does so in a surprisingly fresh and even bold way.
"Straight Outta Cold Beer" opens the album with synths and plunked strings galore. The execution is easily a quintessential example of what makes Shelton a commercial juggernaut; his vocal performance is strong, like a familiar star's performance should be. The lyricism, while not amazing, works because it's job is not to wow you with high-profile vocabulary; easily the most feel-good track on the album, it was co-penned by Marv Green. Green is notable for writing iconic hits like Lonestar's "Amazed" and Rodney Atkin's "Farmer's Daughter"; moreover, this isn't Green's strongest pen to paper showing, but again, it works because it's not supposed to be a strong lyrical showing. And when you add a seasoned Shelton, someone well versed in weekend anthems, behind the microphone, you've got yourself your next live show favorite.
"She's Got a Way with Words" is said to have been written prior to Shelton's well publicized divorce from fellow country star Miranda Lambert. As of this writing, the track is five days away from embarking on what I am 99.9% sure will be a quick crusade to the top of the charts; it would be Shelton's eighteenth in a row. The track takes dead horse lyrical content and attempts to present it in a clever way, and I understand the sentiment, but the track sees a weak vocal performance and the track tries to cram all the wordplay down the listener's throat in one chorus ("She put the her in hurt/She put the why in try/She put the SOB in sober/She put the hang in hangover"). "Bet You Still Think About Me" sees better vocals, but the track does give lip and ear service to the claim that Shelton's songwriting machine penned lyrics for him based on his own experiences. "Every Time I Hear That Song" is a country pop special, and the synth laden structure seems a bit tedious.
The album picks its head of steam back up with "Came Here to Forget", which is easily the best track on If I'm Honest
. The track boasts everything mainstream listeners love about Blake Shelton, but there's more to it than that. The track shows what is arguably Shelton's best vocal performance on a single in years. It's also easily the best written single Shelton has sent to country radio in years, even if he didn't write it himself. The track does give the listener a typical case of going to the bar to drown a memory, but does so in a fresh and bold way; in this instance, the song gives the listener a chance to meet a new flame, who will help the listener forget his/her memory before he even reaches the bartender's vicinity. Easily my favorite track on this record, I'd go as far to recommend it to bro country detractors who need something to revitalize any positive feelings they may harbor for country. What's more is the track was co-penned by Craig Wiseman, who was penned lyrics for acts like Nickelback and Three Days Grace, so to see Wiseman provide strong lyrics is a great sign.
There is only one track on this record on which Shelton shares writing credits, and take a wild guess which one it is" "Go Ahead and Break My Heart", a flushed out duet with Gwen Stefani, Shelton's new flame who wrote the track with him. The production value is solid and Shelton simply outclasses Stefani behind the microphone, but Stefani puts forth a solid performance in and of herself, so credit to her. What I thought would be a lovelorn radio-friendly sob fest was actually a surprisingly strong showing for both artists; I was predicting the song to be one of the weakest on this album, but it turns out to be one of the strongest.
The rest of the album boasts of average filler, but thankfully enough, Shelton provides some very strong tracks to hold the listener over while Shelton sends at least a third of the record to the top of the charts (don't be even a little bit surprised when he does). The lyricism is very strong, even when almost none of it is actually beholden to Shelton himself. He gives us the strongest vocal performance of his 2010s discography, the instrumentation and production value are solid and well executed, and it all starts and comes back to Shelton. Being the seasoned star behind the microphone, he manages to be the constant highlight of If I'm Honest
, not letting anyone or anything even attempt to outshine him.