These days, it seems like country superstar Blake Shelton is just about everywhere. He’s on commercials. He’s trading snarky one-liners with Maroon 5‘s Adam Levine on NBC’s popular singing competition The Voice. He’s on the cover of tabloid mags that speculate about his allegedly troubled marriage to fellow country singer Miranda Lambert. Recently he and his wife were even on The Ellen DeGeneres Show discussing the status of the couple’s plans for children. (She’s ready, he’s not.)
Amid all that high-profile flurry, it turns out Blake Shelton’s actually still making music, too.
If reasonably strong sales of his chart-topping ninth studio album, Bringing Back the Sunshine, are any indication, all publicity really is good publicity when it comes to this country boy from Ada, Okla. But is all country content good country content?
The title track tells of a man who just can’t wait to be reunited with the woman he loves (“Miss you more than words can say”) and driving to get to her (“Got my hands on the wheel and I’m flying/ … I’m bringing back the sunshine”). “Gonna” implies a twitterpated guy has marriage on his mind (“Gonna be your man/Gonna put a little rock steady on your hand”). Another proposal turns up near the end of “A Girl” (“How to hide a ring in your pocket for weeks/How to say them four words and make ’em sound so sweet”). “I Need My Girl” expresses exactly that thought, while simultaneously listing a number things Shelton says he doesn’t need, such as another drink or cigarette. He also confesses that he needs to apologize for some unstated offense (“I don’t need to let ‘I’m sorry’ not roll off my lips/And I don’t need to let my pride talk me out of this”).
“Anyone Else” asks a jealous friend, “Why can’t you be happy for me?” “Good Country Song” recalls the simple pleasure of a boy driving with his dad down a country road …
But that song also describes how young Blake Shelton’s country music tutors taught him, “A good country song/Makes you love, makes you leave/Raise some h—, or hit your knees.”
Early on “Neon Light” it seems a man is earnestly praying for God’s guidance after a breakup (“I prayed, prayed, prayed/For a sign, sign”). But the answer to that request is a neon sign pointing toward a bar: “Now there it is in the window/It’s about d–n time/ … It’s got me feeling all right, gonna make it a double.” A few shots later, he’s eyeing a blonde for a rebound hookup (“See if she wants to try and unbreak my heart, heart, heart”).
Then on “Just South of Heaven,” we hear that sex is as close to paradise as Shelton thinks he’s likely to get. He croons, “I might have lost my innocence/But she was saving my soul that summer/I don’t know much about eternity/Or where somebody like me’s gonna wind up going/All I know is that I have already been/Parked in a Chevy by the deep river rolling.” More mixups of sex and heaven follow, with booze getting ladled in as well.
“Lonely Tonight” is a desperate, wine-spiked “booty call” from a man who wants one more torrid night with a woman he’s apparently broken up with. “Gonna” gives way to a night of passion. “A Girl” recalls a teen stealing his dad’s car, throwing rocks at a window to prompt his girl to sneak out and getting “good stuff” from a “college kid” to drink with his gal. Shelton then says of those experiences, “These are just the things that you learn/When your heart just wants to burn, burn.” Later lessons include navigating menstrual cycles and a woman’s drunken rages. Wine and sensuality mingle yet again on “Sangria.” And “Buzzin'” tells a familiar country tale of a hard-working mechanic who lives for getting drunk and having sex on the weekend.
Album closer “Just Getting’ Started” offers a roadhouse-ready, party-all-night cocktail of dancing, drinking, toking, kissing and fighting. “We are the people of the midnight hour/Silver Bullet proof full of whiskey power/Gettin’ louder and louder as the night rolls on/And gettin’ drunk and stoned,” Shelton sings. “Liquored-up lovers and barroom fighters/And we ain’t slowin’ down/When the lightweight crowd goes home.”
Scattered moments of brightness break through the clouds on Bringing Back the Sunshine, especially a few tips of the cowboy hat to getting married and lifelong love. Much more often, though, Blake Shelton focuses less on a bliss-filled future with a spouse and more on living for the moment—which usually lasts “all night long.”
Whether it’s adolescents sneaking out of windows and then down country roads to get drunk and have sex in a Chevy, a dysfunctional couple unwisely engaging in one last wild fling or a heartbroken guy seeing a neon bar sign as a good old-fashioned answer to prayer, Shelton’s conception of sunshine often isn’t as light and lovely as that warm word suggests.
After serving as an associate editor at NavPress’ Discipleship Journal and consulting editor for Current Thoughts and Trends, Adam now oversees the editing and publishing of Plugged In’s reviews as the site’s director. He and his wife, Jennifer, have three children. In their free time, the Holzes enjoy playing games, a variety of musical instruments, swimming and … watching movies.