03 February 2014

Kenny Chesney "When the Sun Goes Down"

When the Sun Goes Down
Kenny Chesney

Produced by Buddy Cannon and Kenny Chesney
Date of Release: 3 February 2004

I've been fixated on the fact that this album, as of today, is now a full decade old. It wasn't Kenny Chesney's breakthrough album (that was 1998's Everywhere We Go) or even necessarily my personal favorite (that might be 2005's Be as You Are: Songs from an Old Blue Chair). I can't even say that this album established the paradigm for his discography; that was done in his previous album, 2002's No Shoes, No Shirt, No Problems. Yet it's When the Sun Goes Down that perhaps best represents not just his music, but that phase in my own life.

"I Go Back", one of two songs penned solo by Chesney, is the album's thesis, which I'm not entirely sure registered with me at the time. I was 25 years old when this album dropped. I was then in the prime age demographic for mainstream country radio. These songs were written and recorded with me at least partly in mind. They addressed me, just as today's radio addresses today's 25 year old listeners. Chesney is known for Caribbean aesthetics, but also for introspective, reflective songs. I was still in the early part of forming the kinds of life experiences referenced throughout this album when it came out.

Despite being a commuter student who never partied a single night inside a college dorm room, I identified with "Keg in the Closet" (co-written by Chesney and Brett James). The title track and "Old Blue Chair" both took me back to my two weeks in Barbados in 2000. "Some People Change" (Michael Dulaney, Jason Sellers, Neil Thrasher)- later covered and released as a single by Montgomery Gentry - hit home for me, growing up in an area where prejudice even today sometimes doesn't bother to hide itself. "Outta Here" (Josh Leo) was an album cut that really caught my ear because in those days, I was taking a road trip each year, and the sporadic overnight/out-of-town getaway, too.

"Being Drunk's a Lot Like Loving You" (Chesney and Skip Ewing) was an instant favorite. I think the song is absolutely brilliant. I feel like I could live in "Anything but Mine" (Scooter Carusoe). I love the dichotomy of this guy acting like Mary should somehow be committed to him, despite his own confession that they both know it's not true when he said "I love you". Just reading the lyrics would make this guy seem like a total jerk, yet somehow Chesney's inflections tell us that it's more a matter of this guy romanticizing this obviously doomed summertime fling. He knows she's not his and that she'll move on with her life, just as he will. She's free to define it for herself however she wants, too, of course. It's not easy to be vulnerable and exposed while also being egocentric, but this song comes as close to nailing it as any I've ever heard.

There was a deluxe edition of this album that included three live recordings ("Live Those Songs", "What I Need to Do" and a cover of "Please Come to Boston"), but Target had an exclusive edition that added a second disc of five studio covers ("Marina Del Rey", "Come Monday", "I Wonder Do You Think of Me?", "I'm on Fire", and "I Always Get Lucky with You"). I've always accepted that the album proper ends with "Old Blue Chair", but I view these additional eight tracks as a hell of an encore.

For that reason, it actually kinda works that the live tracks come between the album proper and the Target bonus disc. (I know I could re-sequence the tracks in iTunes and move the live tracks to the end, but that doesn't feel right to me.) It feels like Chesney threw up his hands and said, "Alright, so that stuff will pay the bills. Here's what I wanna play now." I love that kind of thing in concert and it plays well here. Of the covers, my faves were always the live acoustic performance of Dave Loggins's "Please Come to Boston", Jimmy Buffett's "Come Monday" and Bruce Springsteen's "I'm on Fire". In truth, there are times when I prefer the "encore" eight to the album itself, though I dig the whole thing.

Ten years later, I find myself a bit wistful for that time in my life, but without the mess of wanting to relive it or fixating on it. It was a good time for me. I had a ball, even while Crohn's was beginning to manifest itself and went misdiagnosed until 2005. I don't need to be 25 again, though, and that's what makes When the Sun Goes Down a brilliant album for reflecting on that phase in my life: it was recorded by a guy who, himself, was reflecting on being that age. There's a perspective of hindsight to just about every song here that addresses me at this point in my life just as clearly as the activities described reflected where I was when it was released. I understood that duality existed in 2004, but as I listen to the album again tonight in 2014, I find myself appreciating it.

My favorite music video from the album remains "Anything but Mine":