Let It Shine
t's this indie guys major label debut, and it's not very good. The writing is decent, and he has one of those "I cant sing, but I'm humble about it voices," and there is enough spurious queer or Jesus content so that it can work at any United Church Pot Luck. He seems nice enough too, and not very offensive—with a best-of list of hippie instrumentals, but he actually has a certain amount of talent. It’s just that his quest for authenticity turns it into a sort of dyke folk for frat boys. While thinking about this, iTunes shuffled to Kenny Chesney, and comparing them allowed for five lessons to be learnt.
Nostalgia sounds better when melancholy isn’t involved.
Compare Fisher's “High School” to Chesney's “Keg in The Closet.” They are about growing up, moving away from excessive drinking, the casual sex that comes out of boredom, and both feature a similar timeline (Fisher in the early 90s, and Chesney in 1989). Chesney's narrator's life was contained in a less abstracted first person pleasure. Fisher sings in third person: Instead of beer it's rum and coke stolen from the parents stash. The other thing, Fisher talks about maybe being gay but then getting married and having kids. Chesney talks more fondly about his frat boy brothers, then the spring break blondes in south Florida—both match sexual narrative to audience, Chesney's is less offensive, though.
Stop moping, you indie fux.
The first line (sung after an adagio of overly sentimental cocktail piano) in Fisher's “On Par” runs "I count my blessings / The same way I count the stars / When I look up / I wonder how many there are"—lyrically connecting itself to Chesney's “The Good Stuff,” which starts with an anecdote but ends with a lesson. Both are sort of melancholy, but the listener knows what is going on with Chesney, and the lesson he ends with is—"Welcome what has happened. Love your wife and your children. Carpe diem." After getting through the overwrought lyrics, what one gets from Fisher is "Shit happens. Mope about it. Everyone else does."
If you make a song about oral sex and pastries, make it sound like someone is having a good time.
“Key Lime Pie” has Chesney metaphorically licking pussy like a real man. It’s a metaphor that fell apart into something really generous and sweet. In “Lemon Meringue Pie,” though, there are three people, so it would seem to be more difficult to make it metaphorical, and it starts with a line about "Singing Spanish songs at the top of my lungs"—which is about as pretentious as Dylan singing about a "book of Italian poems from the 13th century." The song finally gets to the pastry when Fisher sings about how "we ate yr lemon meringue pie / It's the only reason why / I came by tonight," which is followed by a line about the meringue seeping down a long necked bottle of beer. A line that’d be dirty if the song wasn't jam-packed with a throwaway Johnny Mercer quote, some random talking about reading lists, a mention about some dude who might or might be involved, and some nonsense about how much she is like the ingredients on a package of readymade filling. Fisher is proving how smart he is and not how much he likes the "baked goods" in question.
Complicated ideas are better expressed in simple words. The opposite is not true.
Fisher’s “Standing on the Corner” takes a simple idea and builds it into an excruciating narrative, mentioning every possible emotional and physical consequence, for no particular payoff. In “Anything But Mine,” Chesney expresses a very complicated idea: how the isolation of a young love is a symbiotic unit, away from time or geography which falls apart quickly and only memory remains, in one chorus: "Mary is wrapping her arms around me / And I can feel the sting of summer on her skin / In the mists of the music / I tell her I love her / We both laugh because we know it isn't true." One attempts to be Raymond Carver. One is.
Be aware of your voice.
Chesney's sun-worn baritone matches his narrative. He grows older, the work becomes better suited to his life experience. This is the third album by Fisher. He hardly knows where he is going, he sounds sometimes like Lyle Lovett, sometimes like Ani DiFranco, sometimes like Dylan. Fisher's narratives match short stories better then songs—and short stories that sound like they have been work shopped at a second rate writers retreat. It’s as if he’s following what is expected of him, and any of the confessional stuff manages to avoid being as moving as any of half a dozen Chesney songs—including the infinitely cheesy "You Had Me From Hello."
I have hope that Fisher will grow as an artist, there are moments that are clever, beautiful, and almost transcendent, and “High School” is catchy enough that I find myself humming the odd line here and there, but the whole album is a badly crafted inauthentic mess. Buy the last few Chesney albums if you haven’t—and wait for Mr. Fisher to grow up.
Reviewed by: Anthony Easton
Reviewed on: 2005-07-06