With If I’m Honest being seasoned country star Blake Shelton’s tenth studio album, he describes the experience of creating this album as being, “Maybe the first damn time I’ve made a record for the right reason”. Between Blake’s divorce with ex-wife Miranda Lambert, and the blossoming public relationship he now shares with fellow voice coach and Go Ahead And Break My Heart collaborator Gwen Stefani, you’d definitely expect an autobiographical breakup album worthy of the claim.
While the album attempts to explore both the heartbreak and eventual self-rejuvenation of the bookend of a relationship and the chapter of a new one, it falls short at times with too many filler songs. The album contains a whole lot of writers for an album that is described as autobiographical, which means that disappointingly there is a whole lot of biographical and little auto.
The fact that the album starts off with the rough housing Straight Outta Cold Beer, an apparent nod to his younger days as a rowdy country boy living it up according to Blake himself, who has referred to the content of the song itself with the quote, “I can’t honestly sit here and say that I do it much anymore” doesn’t inspire much confidence at the very start of the album, which is where you usually need the most convincing to continue listening, especially on an album that prides itself on uninhibited honesty. Why start an album about honesty with a song that doesn’t currently represent that?
If I’m Honest does come with it’s share of conflicting emotions that come with the demise of a relationship, with the cooingly nostalgic Every Time I Hear That Song and the biting and witty She’s Got A Way With Words, but those play out the beginning of the album, which contains the most believable and ear-catching tracks of the album.
As one segues into the second half of the album, an obvious change occurs. Things become more breezy and sugar coated. Life is becoming good again but somehow the music doesn’t. The vocal performance feels as if it’s lacking and complacent. Things feel too comfortable and repetitive mid-album, likely due to the albums length of 15 tracks.
It comes to a point where there is just something that feels too safe, too forced, too lyrically weak in certain songs such as A Guy With A Girl and One Night Girl. A lot of superficial fawning with little depth or reflection.
The Go Ahead And Break My Heart duet between his current love Gwen Stefani and himself while an obvious track choice for the album, proves to also be quite captivating as they both play off each others own experiences. The focus is on the vocal delivery which resonates and rings with its big room sound, which makes it easy to hear the timbre’ and distinction between certain lyrics.
Nearing the end, the album comes back into swing and ends on a surprisingly religious note with the string lined hymn Saviors Shadow, whereas which its first verse was literally dreamt up by Blake himself, during a difficult time, and then completed with co-writers after his divorce. It was a premonition and self-encouragement of sorts for Blake who has said that singing it would “make him feel better” during the rough times. It almost feels like a bit of a rip-off, ending on such a poignant song after recently just getting off the cowboy train romp of Doing It To Country Songs (which features The Oak Ridge Boys) with its obvious double-edged sword of innuendo, baritone background vocal, and lazy guitar riffs. It feels like time is wasted on material which he has already covered on his previous albums, especially when there is much more personal ground to cover on this one. Why revisit it now? Putting such a personal track as Saviors Shadow at the very end of the album, just highlighted the mid-album lull.
Altogether something just feels slightly disjointed about the structure of the track listing. While it does follow a specific timeline of mourning an old lost love to stumbling across a new one, with a few country boys will be country boys tunes thrown in, it still manages to feel almost like a filtered version of reality, a little surface honesty and emotion mixed with a lot of pull back on the depth of it. If I’m Honest, unfortunately, doesn’t ever quite feel as honest as it could have been.