Blake Shelton’s Body Language is more than just the 12th studio album of the superstar’s career: It also arrives just as Shelton is celebrating the 20th anniversary since releasing his debut country single, “Austin.”
Much has changed in Shelton’s career since that release: He’s gone from a hot-shot up-and-comer to one of the country genre’s most consistent hitmakers, he’s branched out from Nashville to L.A. as the longest-running coach on NBC televised singing competition The Voice, and he’s even become a bar-owner with his own chain of hot spots, called Ole Red. Most recently, the singer has even become one half of a bona fide Hollywood power couple, together with his fiancée, pop superstar Gwen Stefani.
As diverse and cosmopolitan as Shelton’s life has become, he still leaves a little country on everything he touches, and that’s as true in his new musical collection as it is anywhere else. Whether that means putting out the same twangy barn-burners fans have loved him for for two decades, digging into storytelling lyrics more intimately than ever before or even transposing his traditionalist roots into a brand-new kind of country song, Shelton delivers country gold in a whole host of ways on Body Language. Here are five songs that prove it:
1. “Minimum Wage”
Shelton faced some conflicting opinions from fans after he released his current single, with some arguing that lyrics like “Girl, lookin’ at you looking at me that way / Could make a man feel rich on minimum wage” were insensitive after a year like 2020, where many lost their jobs or faced income shortages due to the global health crisis.
Whether or not you believe that Shelton’s release was tone-deaf in context, it’s undeniable that the storyline of “Minimum Wage” is a tried-and-true, time-tested country music trope. For decades, country stars have been writing hit songs about couples who are rich in love, but not money. Consider Phil Vassar’s “Just Another Day in Paradise,” Clay Walker’s “If I Could Make a Living” and Dolly Parton’s “Coat of Many Colors,” to name just a few examples.
“Minimum Wage” is also the first track on Body Language, opening up the album with the line, “I met you ‘fore anybody knew my name / Playing for pennies on the dive bar stage.” Immediately, the song transports listeners back to Shelton’s early days in country music, keeping in mind the kind of artist he was when he first came to Nashville — the same artist that, in many ways, he still is today.
Throughout Shelton’s career, he’s typically thrown at least one fun-loving, quirky, comedic and country-as-heck track onto each of his records. Body Language is no exception, and that song is “Corn,” a twangy ode to its titular grain.
“Yeah, you and your friends, ten years old / Sneakin’ Beech-Nut on back in the rows,” he sings in the first verse, going on to name all the ways in which corn plays a part in any country kid’s childhood. “Sell it at the market on Saturdays / Halloween, gettin’ lost with a girl in the maze…”
In terms of quirky, light-hearted fun, the song could be a younger sibling to Shelton’s 2013 hit, “Boys ‘Round Here.” In terms of lyrical specificity, it’s got plenty in common with “I Lived It,” another song celebrating the day-to-day of rural life in vivid detail. Authenticity is a primary ingredient in a song like “Corn,” and for Shelton, that means Oklahoma roots, a hearty drawl and — in this case — a first-hand knowledge of the crop of question.
3. “Bible Verses”
“Bible Verses” is another track on Body Language that stands out for its authenticity, even though stylistically, it’s a very different kind of song than “Corn.” Backed only by an acoustic guitar, this ballad puts a harsh spotlight on the singer’s flaws and self-doubt, especially when it comes to his relationship with his faith.
“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,” Shelton sings in the song’s emotional chorus. “I just want it to read like Bible verses / And not the Bible versus me.”
While country music has plenty of songs celebrating Christian faith or telling stories about finding solace in religion, Shelton tackles an equally important aspect of the topic: Moments of struggle, where faith and self-reflection result not in clarity but in confusion. In “Bible Verses,” Shelton applies a simple, three-chords-and-the-truth approach to a difficult topic, and the result is pure country.
4. “Happy Anywhere” (feat. Gwen Stefani)
Released in July 2020, “Happy Anywhere” was the second of two No. 1 hit duets for Shelton and his musical fiancée, Gwen Stefani, following their January release of that same year, “Nobody But You.” When they first put out the song, it seemed, for quite a while, like a stand-alone single, and fans weren’t sure whether it would ultimately land on an album project.
On Body Language, “Happy Anywhere” fits right in alongside hardcore country tracks like “Bible Verses” and “Corn,” even with its more pop-leaning style. The song exemplifies the fact that Shelton brings country wherever he goes. Even after spending time in L.A. and joining forces, both personally and professionally, with one of the pop genre’s most iconic singers, Shelton can’t help but make “Happy Anywhere” country.
5. “Neon Time”
For decades, country artists have taken advantage of how easily the steel guitar — a Hawaiian instrument — can convey beachy, tropical vibes to write carefree vacation songs. Zac Brown Band’s “Toes,” Kenny Chesney’s “No Shoes, No Shirt, No Problems” and Shelton’s own 2004 release, “Some Beach,” are prime examples.
“Neon Time” expertly conjures up those same breezy vibes, telling a story of kicking back and enjoying a long weekend away from reality. Listening to it, you can almost taste the piña colada and smell the salty spray of ocean waves crashing against the sand.
In addition to being an excellent addition to any country playlist for a beach day, “Neon Time” also points to Shelton’s goal of amassing a strong collection of diverse songs — and not necessarily producing a themed project — on his album. He’s often pointed to the fact that he takes inspiration from country’s most robust radio hit-makers — George Strait, for example — when thinking about how to structure his own career, and in a recent interview with USA Today, Shelton further explains that assembling Body Language’s track list was more about amassing the strongest-possible group of songs that sticking to a cohesive theme.
“I just want to record the best songs I can,” he explained. “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.”