By Craig Havighurst
February 06, 2004 at 05:00 AM EST
Kenny Chesney: Peter Nash

Tan and tank-topped Kenny Chesney may go down in history as the guy who invented spring-break country music. And while many rue country’s evolution from ”true-life blues” to ”life’s a beach,” Chesney’s breezy-listening 2002 album, ”No Shirt No Shoes No Problems,” validated his long rise to stardom with some begrudging critical acceptance.

But instead of venturing beyond that project, Chesney coasts close to the shore on his ninth release, When the Sun Goes Down. Songs about island escapes and carefree postadolescence abound. ”Keg in the Closet” is ”Young,” Chesney’s nostalgic hit of last year, set in a frat house. The title cut, with Uncle Kracker, is awash in ”Margaritaville” cliches.

Chesney’s ”issue” songs produce mixed results too. ”There Goes My Life” pushes the weepy buttons. And ”Some People Change” depicts a reformed racist and a recovered alcoholic in a verse apiece, flattening the characters beyond credulity.

Stronger are ”When I Think About Leaving,” a picture of moral/emotional calculation, and a waltz called ”Being Drunk’s a Lot Like Loving You” that at last achieves true country pathos. But not enough to give this CD an anchor.

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