If I’m Honest
As ambivalence-inspiring pop country goes, this would be a strong contender for album of the quarter; some bad choices, like running overlong, keep it from that crown.
It seems nearly impossible to point to any one thing about Blake Shelton’s If I’m Honest that justifies just how endearing I find this album. The honky tonk opener “Straight Outta Cold Beer” is fun but isn’t great; the follow up, “She’s Got a Way With Words” is a little over-enamoured with itself. The same goes for “Doing it to Country Songs” and “Green,” which might also be a perfect case study in why you never attempt to make structural change with the help of advertisers and markets.
Even the best songs, like “Every Time I Hear That Song,” fall into some weird void where they’re personal in a way that doesn’t feel geared toward the universal, and so are hard to read as either narrative or purely relatable. It’s a record saturated with breakup and meet cute songs that also has a feature from Shelton’s wife, which doesn’t break the fiction but certainly confuses it. And it closes out with “Savior’s Shadow,” a fucking hymn that’s kind of more of an earworm than the fourteen pop songs that preceded it.
Also, Shelton’s wife is Gwen Stefani, whose appearance is fantastic. I suppose it is worth mentioning that I’m primarily a fan of her solo stuff, with the song “Cool” being particularly important to me. It’s very much in that style that she sings. That it’s followed up by the theme song for the Angry Birds movie, which is truly a bad song, is a bit of a shame.
This far in, it seems a bit redundant to say that this confusion, or contradictory feelings, about If I’m Honest is in part something I ultimately end up feeling more positive about than anything. Part of that is because even the shittier songs are just good pop songs, but part of it is because, and again, you might be able to guess this, that it is because that ambivalence is a much more exciting space to end up in for me personally than something that is more straightforward enjoyment. But I’m probably overstating that: Shelton comes at this record with really good pop songs.
Probably the biggest issue with If I’m Honest, in the sense of something that doesn’t even really have a positive spin, is its length. At just over fifty minutes, it feels like a handful of the breakup songs could have been cut to make a much stronger album. Which is a shame, because as ambivalence-inspiring pop country goes, this would be a strong contender for album of the quarter.