Ten Point Productions Inc / Warner Records Inc.
Release Date: May 21st 2021
Reviewed by: Joshua Andre
- Minimum Wage
- Body Language (feat. The Swon Brothers)
- Happy Anywhere (feat. Gwen Stefani)
- Now I Don’t
- Monday Mornin’ Missing You
- Makin’ It Up As You Go
- Whatcha Doin’ Tomorrow?
- The Girl Can’t Help It
- The Flow
- Neon Time
- Bible Verses
I’m not sure if any of you know this about me, but country music and myself originally didn’t get off to the best of starts. Same goes for Jon, I think. While you can read all of our country music reviews here (inclusive of albums from artists like Maddie & Tae, Keith Urban, Cassadee Pope, Carrie Underwood, Thomas Rhett, Jimmie Allen, Florida Georgia Line, Carly Pearce, Lauren Alaina, Lindsay Ell, Chris Stapleton, Gabby Barrett and Ingrid Andress to name a few); originally a few years ago, I used to think that songs about cars and girls and beer and trucks and the American way of life… would be songs that I would not connect with at all. However, as is the case with God working in mysterious ways, I have in fact found out that despite not being an American, the country genre is essentially one of the few genres outside of CCM that I have connected and resonated with… weirdly and strangely. However a deeper look reveals that it may not be that weird or strange after all- since country songs are all about storytelling and speaking about a way of life that is focused on your values, morals, ethics and your faith… that’s the kind of lifestyle and songs that I resonated with. Simple, yet effective story telling about the real issues of life. And with that broad approach of this ‘introduction’, let me venture out into a country album that I initially thought wasn’t for me… but then I later discovered that though it’s not as impacting as others, it does have its place in society.
Blake Shelton, a country singer for the past 20 years, has been an artist whom I’ve known to be around. I’ve heard a few of his songs, most notably the Dave Barnes cover “God Gave Me You”, the Michael Bublé cover “Home” and the semi-gospel worshipful and prayerful ballad “Savior’s Shadow”. But there hasn’t been anything really standing out for me and grabbing my attention as a ‘must-listen’ throughout the past few years. Blake’s last studio album of al-original music was in 2017, way before I started being heavily invested in country music… and so it never crossed my mind to listen to a Blake Shelton from start to finish. This year though, when Body Language was announced; I decided to take the plunge and to see whether a country guy of 20+ years tugged at my emotions and at my heart. I mean, the worst that would happen would be that I didn’t connect with the songs, am I right? And so… after listening to Body Language a few times through… do these songs impact and resonate deeply? The answer is… sort of. I’m not a fan of Blake’s yet… but this album is enjoyable to listen to. There may not be anything deep and meaningful to glean from here- it’s not like a John Mayer album or Andrew Peterson album or anything- but with the past couple of years that we’ve had of COVID-19… I reckon a simple, fun album like Body Language is what we need to hear right now.
Gwen and I wrote a song together about five years ago, I think, maybe six … called ‘Go Ahead and Break My Heart’, and it was on the ‘If I’m Honest’ album. And I remember at that time we were just starting to see each other and we were both going through horrible breakups, divorces, horrible in that it was just it was just sad. And there were times where Gwen and I would be like, “Are we rebounding here? Is that what we’re doing together? Because this makes no sense.” And so we would always have these conversations like, “Oh yeah, we’re just getting over our crap with each other.” And so that’s where that song was born out of, and it was interesting because all of a sudden there was this girl that I was just starting to see and spend time with and that I was obviously crazy about. As we wrote this song and we wrote it on voice notes or whatever, sending them back and forth with each other, and it was only then did it dawn on me, not that it dawned on me, but it really was a shocker to me that, “Oh my God, I’m writing a song with Gwen Stefani.” Only then did it hit me, she’s an incredible songwriter. These things she’s coming up with, and then her voice on the voice notes and the way she sounded just singing it like a little scratch vocal to show me what she was thinking.
I’m still more in blown away fan shocked mode when I actually work with her. And there’s been times where she comes out on stage, we’ll have a plan if she’s at one of my concerts and we always try to keep it on the down low, and then we’ll start ‘Nobody But You’ or ‘Go Ahead And Break My Heart’, and then I’ll be singing it. And here I am dying from the time I stand on stage, walk out on stage until that moment hits, because I know on that set list people are going to —- in their seats when Gwen Stefani walks out here. It’s like I’m a kid on Christmas morning. And so that’s what it’s like for me working with her. It’s just exciting, it really is.
While you all can check out Blake’s discography and the story of his life on Wikipedia here and here; let me tell you that the album starts off with a pulsating and joyous bang. The lead single “Minimum Wage” is as cheerful and energetic as any country song I’ve heard recently, and with Blake reiterating that his partner’s love for him (presumably Gwen Stefani’s love for him!) ‘…can make a six pack on the carpet taste like a million dollar bill, you can make a one bed room apartment feel like a house up on the hill, you can make my truck out in the driveway roll like a cleaned up Cadillac, girl, lookin’ at you lookin’ at me that way can make a man feel rich on minimum wage…’; we are presented with the notion that we don’t need to have all of the money and possessions in the world to feel rich. All we need is the love we have from our friends, family, our partner/spouse if we have one, and the love from God. All of that unconditional love can make us feel rich in other much more important ways- and “Minimum Wage” is a beautiful way to start an album full of positivity that brings things back to perspective. Which is important, otherwise we’ll feel down and miserable because of COVID-19.
The rest of the album, though not as potent and impactful as albums from Phil Wickham (Hymn Of Heaven), Mike Donehey (Flourish), Riley Clemmons (Godsend) and Delta Goodrem (Bridge Over Troubled Dreams); encourages us and inspires us to live our best life in spite of the ups and downs. The title track, with The Swon Brothers on guest vocals, is an energetic pop/rock/country fusion melody that speaks about two people in the act of physical intimacy (although the song is sung in a tasteful and PG-ish way!), and reminds us that we should only let our relationships go further to the next step if both parties want to; while “Happy Anywhere”, an album standout, is sung with Gwen Stefani, and speaks about Blake’s love for Gwen, so much so that he himself can be happy anywhere, that ‘…I’m running wide open, I was born with my feet in motion, but since I met you, I swear, I could be happy anywhere, any map dot location, you’re always my destination, you’re the only thing that I’m chained to, I could be happy anywhere…’. A track that is a love song at its purest and most vulnerable; “Happy Anywhere” reminds us all that an intense and passionate love is possible- and we just have to find the right person to share the rest of our lives with.
Blake Shelton isn’t much of a songwriter- he’s more-so predominately a singer that sings other people’s songs. In that sense, most songs on this album don’t have a common theme that permeates throughout the project, but that doesn’t mean the songs individually aren’t moving and impacting. “Now I Don’t”, a in-your-face hard-hitting break-up track, essentially speaks about the persona already being over his ex, and infers to all of us that time can heal all wounds, including messy breakups; while “Monday Mornin’ Missin’ You” is a track seeming to be the sequel to the previous track in theme- as the persona now becomes honest with themselves and shares that they still aren’t over their ex yet- even though they kid themselves and say they are. “Corn”, a nonsensical melody about how Blake loves his corn (is that an allegory for something else?), to me is the lowest point on the album; however the vibe and atmosphere of the album is saved by the moving and compelling “Makin’ It Up as You Go”. With the melody being about the end of a relationship and the persona trying to move on and making up how they handle the break up whilst in the break-up; Blake has delivered a highly relatable song about the stages of grief in any situation. And while not all of us are single and some of us are in happy and long-lasting relationships; Blake reminds us that grieving anything is a process- and we do often make things up as we go.
“Whatcha Doin’ Tomorrow” is a melody which is essentially a somewhat cringy pick-up line whereby the persona asks someone out on a date, for not now but in the future; and the song reminds us all that if we’re serious about someone, we need to act now because tomorrow could be too late. While “The Girl Can’t Help It”, a toe-tapping pop/country melody, has Blake championing Gwen and relaying that she’s perfect for him. A song of gratitude and thankfulness of his partner’s existence, Blake sings out that Gwen makes him the happiest person alive, and that ‘…she just smilin’ that smile that her momma gave her, swingin’ those hips she sure is makin’, those blue jeans talk and the boys all fight, the one you want with you on a Saturday night, bendin’ those words like the Mississippi river, wherever she’s goin’, man, I wanna go with her, shinin’ so bright, make the midnight stars jealous, heaven help us all, the girl can’t help it…’; while “The Flow” is just as cringy as “Corn”, and speaks about… going with the flow (how original!- note the sarcasm…) and about rolling with the punches (how original!- note the sarcasm once again…). But hey, at least the fiddle is present here to make things interesting, am I right?
“Neon Time”, a summery beach anthem, reminds me thematically and musically of songs from Brian Kelley’s Sunshine State Of Mind, and speaks about laying down in the sun, relaxing and having a good time. However the magnum opus (crowning achievement) of Body Language is the confronting and powerful confession-type song “Bible Verses”. As Blake becomes vulnerable and honest about his relationship with God, we do not know if this song is inspired by his own walk with God or not. Nonetheless, the emotional admission in this song that ‘…I keep praying for the day that I can open up that good book and Heaven don’t look like it’s out of reach, when it feels like those apostles are giving me the gospel and not the third degree, I just wanted to read like Bible verses and not the Biblе versus me…’; reminds us that we’re all works in progress and that no matter where we’re at in our walk with Jesus, we can indeed come to Him with all of our baggage and He will accept us and love us just as we are. We’re never too far from Jesus, and that’s the truth. Sometimes that feels hard to accept, but if “Bible Verses” is able to get us onto the path of at least pondering the real questions in life… well I guess then Blake’s doing something right, don’t you think?
The nuts and bolts reasons [for my hesitancy for even releasing Body Language] are that it seems like maybe we’re moving towards a single driven music format in general. The way you look at it from a boring industry point of view is well, this song is being consumed on streaming. You go through all these things and it creates a bottom line, and it feels like albums are pushed over into a different place in the industry. At least for me it’s become that way. I don’t want to speak for everybody. I don’t want to let songs be on albums and then just be buried in the pile because they’re not the featured piece of music. A lot of times, if I cut a song that somebody else wrote, and I put it on the album, and it’s never a single, sometimes that’s almost like just burying it alive when maybe it could have had a life somewhere else. Who knows how some of those things could shake out.
The other thing is I’m about to turn 45 and sometimes it’s harder for me to just go, “Well, what is it that I felt like saying at this point in my life?” The truth is, if we’re just being honest here talking, I just like great songs. At this point in my life, I’m not trying to prove anything or make sure that people are receiving this special message that I’m trying to send them through my music.
I was so afraid it was just going to be a flash-in-the-pan moment. But, it wasn’t my greatest fear. My greatest fear was to never have a hit to begin with. Looking back, I think that really lit a fire under me. Maybe that’s part of the reason I’m still here. I just want to record the best songs I can. When Gwen makes an album, there’s always an underlying message in there. I’m not like that. I want to be like Conway Twitty. I just want to have a long list of songs that people remember.
Let me get one thing straight. Blake Shelton’s Body Language isn’t the flashiest album. It isn’t the greatest album. It isn’t the most memorable album. Songs like “Corn”, “Neon Time” and “The Flow” are as superficial as any song in recent memory. But there’s something about the album as a whole that just works. With such a superficial album that draws you into another world and makes you forget your troubles and your worries, even just for a second… well we need albums like that. Especially with the world the way it is now; albums like Body Language are needed. It’s soothing, it’s laid back, and though Blake doesn’t deliver some big, epic, profound truth aside from in “Bible Verses”; this album is solid and enjoyable to listen to. You wouldn’t want to listen to the project again any time soon. But if it’s on in the background, don’t turn it off. There are worse things to listen to at the moment… I’m looking at you Florida Georgia Line. I’m also looking at you Lincoln Brewster!
3 songs to listen to: Minimum Wage, Happy Anywhere, Bible Verses
RIYL: Miranda Lambert, Luke Bryan, Brad Paisley, Tim McGraw, Kelly Clarkson