Everything that made Chris Daughtry insufferable as a contestant on American Idol -- his utter lack of humor, his oppressive earnestness, his desire to sing every song in the same gut-wrenching fashion, a style that only suited the post-grunge brooding that is his chosen specialty -- work for him on his post-Idol debut album, Daughtry. Technically ...
Everything that made Chris Daughtry insufferable as a contestant on American Idol -- his utter lack of humor, his oppressive earnestness, his desire to sing every song in the same gut-wrenching fashion, a style that only suited the post-grunge brooding that is his chosen specialty -- work for him on his post-Idol debut album, Daughtry. Technically, this is not a solo album, it's the debut of a band called Daughtry, which is actually spelled all in capital letters, which could be seen as a sign that Chris Daughtry might have a bit of a credibility complex. It certainly seems as if he thinks he'll only be taken seriously as part of a band that, like lots of bands from the grunge revolution, is spelled in a specific, exacting way, even if it means that by the rules of the internet he is, quite literally, shouting at us -- which is only appropriate for a singer who is fueled by Fuel and lives by Live. And, let's face facts, Daughtry was formed by Daughtry not only after his run on American Idol, but after he recorded this debut album: the band is for show, to prove that he's the real deal, baby, not some pansy TV singer. It's a posture that's not only just a teeny bit defensive, but one that's utterly unnecessary because the album Daughtry is actually very good, whether it's judged by the standards of American Idol or by the standards of Fuel or Nickelback. Compared to Fuel -- the band that invited Daughtry to be their frontman after he was voted off Idol -- Daughtry has a lighter touch not just in his delivery but also in his songs, which are far hookier than most post-grunge; and if he's compared to Nickelback, he's a far more appealing frontman than that lunkhead Chad Kroeger, with a greater vocal range and far more sensitivity in his singing. Daughtry's way with a hook and empathetic emoting are placed far up in the unapologetically professional mix on Daughtry, which is designed to cross over not to the pop market -- everybody involved knew that Daughtry had that anyway thanks to Daughtry's TV celebrity -- but to the rock market, so everybody involved made sure not to temper the guitars with layers of synths or even to indulge in too many power ballads. The resulting album may play strictly by the rules of mainstream post-grunge and it may never achieve the sweat and grit that real rock bands do even after they've been cleaned up in the studio, but it follows the modern rock blueprint exceedingly well, creating drama even in its pedestrian moments. It also helps that the songs are sturdier than most post-grunge, with big, anthemic hooks on the choruses and verses that are lively enough not to bore. In short, it sounds like the work of a bunch of professionals, which is true to a certain extent: it was produced by Howard Benson, best-known for LPs by My Chemical Romance and All-American Rejects, but Benson and Daughtry didn't draft in a bunch of pros to write the songs -- each tune bears a writing credit by Daughtry, and most of them are solo credits. Listening to these songs, it would be easy to mistake them for the work of seasoned pros: they not only follow the template of post-grunge well, they do it with better hooks and a commercial flair lacking from bands like Fuel and Shinedown, bands that have inspired Daughtry but who he betters here. To put it mildly, that's a surprise -- not just that Daughtry pulled off the tricky move of being pop enough for his Idol fans and rock enough for post-grungers, but that he pulled it off on the strength of his own work. While he hasn't shaken off all the problems that plagued him on the show -- he still could learn that a sense of humor helps add depth to his music, or at least he could realize that rock & roll should be fun at least some of the time -- but he's made those qualities work on a debut that's not only a lot more credible than any American Idol-affiliated rock album should be, but it's a lot easier to digest than most of its ilk. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine,...
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