On his previous outing Based on a True Story, Blake Shelton delivered a polished slab of “bro country” that celebrated what it was, and sounded far more appealing because it did. Country purists can argue for days over what is or isn’t real country music. Based on a True Story was refreshing because Shelton knew exactly what he was doing and never pretended to be singing anything but that certain flavor of country that is very much in vogue right now. It was the sound of someone thoroughly comfortable tapping into that pop/rock and roll crossover brew that informs much of modern country artists’ output.
This knowing quality isn’t lacking on Bringing Back the Sunshine, but on the second time around, it isn’t enough to save the album. Almost every song here comes off like a pale imitation of something he’s done before. Here we have “Good Country Song”, which has a vibe phoned in straight from “Country on the Radio”. That track was a catchy, defiant kiss-off to detractors who complain about how country music lyrics are over-stuffed with beer, cutoff jeans, trucks and “hey girl” machismo. The follow-up comes off like a pale imitation of the same thing. And speaking of “hey girl” machismo, Shelton channels Nickelback-level butt-rock sexism on the borderline creepy “Gonna”. It’s a track that hardly sounds like the same man who sang the wistful, lovelorn “Sure Be Cool If You Did”. It is missing the warmth that Shelton brings to most of his music, making this track feel a bit out of place.
With “Buzzin”, Shelton rolls out a de facto sequel to “Boys ‘round Here”, and while it’s pleasant and catchy in all the right places for maximum effect, it comes off sounding far too calculated. If someone ever said there’s a reason why country music is maligned at times for its (supposedly) limited subject matter, retreads like “Buzzin” would provide a prime example for anyone trying to make that argument.
What saves the album from being a complete loss are languid, relaxed tunes like “Sangria”. Even if it does play a bit like “Blake Shelton trying on his Kenny Chesney hat”, it’s still one of the bright spots on this album. The “Kenny Chesney hat” is one he wears well, and the track plays a far bit less forced and sheen-coated than most of this album’s tracks do. He tries this hat on again for the equally languid sun-baked sleeper “South of Heaven”. This and the more relaxed tracks on the album are sure proof that while Shelton may enjoy kicking back a cold one with the “boys ‘round here”, his voice is better suited to slow-burning ballads. They may still be buffed to a fine country-pop sheen, but each of these ballads are far less busy than the peppier numbers, which gives a little more breathing room than most of his output does. That said, this album is sorely missing a track with some of the sly humor that infused tracks like “I Still Got a Finger”. Not that this album is devoid of sly touches like that, but it could use more of them to give it some badly needed balance.
Bottom line, Bringing Back the Sunshine is competent, but its sheer lack of variety, and over-reliance on trying to recapture the vibe of his previous effort sinks the album in a hurry. Best to label this one for die-hards only.