July 25, 2011
This is one of those times when Reba really needs to start acting her age.
She’s fifty-six years old. She’s lived. She’s been married, and she’s been divorced. She’s become a mother, and watched her child grow to adulthood. She’s risen to superstardom in a male-dominated genre format. She has an added level of age and experience to bring to the table, which should be especially evident when she puts pen to paper to offer a lyrical composition of her own.
“Somebody’s Chelsea” is a story-song in which the female narrator meets an elderly gentleman on a plane, and listens to him reminisce over sixty years of happy marriage to his late wife Chelsea. What profound insights does this middle-aged woman bring to this conversation?
“I wanna be somebody’s Chelsea
Somebody’s day and night
One and only girl….”
That’s it? All she can do is spit out a few clichés? The story almost had me interested at first, but the narrator’s conclusion offers a weak listener payoff that rings hollow and insubstantial.
Unfortunately, “Somebody’s Chelsea” sums up to a great extent what’s wrong with Reba’s All the Women I Am album as a whole. In her constant struggle to maintain commercial viability in a youth-obsessed market, she’s become so preoccupied with chasing current trends that she’s lost the heart, authenticity, and artistic focus that shines through in all her best work.
On the occasions when Reba has sung from her full-grown woman perspective, magic happens. Look at past classics like “The Fear of Being Alone,” or even more recent cuts like “When You Have a Child.” The former finds Reba feeling out a new romance with caution, warning herself not mistake fear of loneliness for love. With the latter, she puts into song the conflicting emotions that a mother experiences in having a child, and watching the child grow up and leave home.
Could Carrie Underwood pull off either of those songs? How about Taylor Swift? No, of course not. But Reba can because she has the life experience that allows her to deliver such sentiments with authority.
Truth be told, this song still wouldn’t be very interesting even if it were coming from a younger artist. It sets the listener up to expect something profound, but it never fully developes its concept, instead regressing into superficiality. Still, it’s a particularly disappointing entry coming from a seasoned legend who should have so much more to say.
This newly-inducted Country Music Hall of Famer is not helping her artistic legacy with these late-term single releases. Her efforts at downplaying her age may prolong her hitmaking streak, but there’s no way around the fact that the quality of her music has suffered as a result.
Written by Reba McEntire, Liz Hengber, and Will Robinson
Listen: Somebody’s Chelsea