19/RCA Records [Release Date 17.02.14]
It may surprise those of us on this side of the pond, but the USA’s X Factor equivalent American Idol does occasionally spawn credible rock acts among the manufactured pop dross. One alumnus from the series, Chris Daughtry, spectacularly broke out of the talent show mould to form an eponymous band whose first three releases went multi platinum. With a sound mixing the big guitars and choruses of Nickelback with the melodic sensibilities of a Bon Jovi, it is not hard to divine the secret of their success.
Top bands, particularly if stuck in mainstream musical genres, need to grow and explore new sounds but this, their fourth release, is a stylistic shift too far. Gone are the big guitars, replaced by a shiny modern pop feel, and it is as if they have viewed the success of the likes of Train with a lighter sound as a template to follow.
Howard Benson, the go-to producer for modern American rock bands seeking a big sound, has been succeeded by a team of pop producers and songwriters. In giving them free rein to use all the production tricks and electronic effects in the book, surely Daughtry are embracing the very devil of manufactured pop they were fighting in the first place.
To give them their due, at times the quality of the songwriting shines through – ‘Waiting For Superman’ is superbly constructed and ’18 Years’ matches Bon Jovi style lyrics of a nostalgic youth with a U2 like majesty. ‘I’ll Fight, The World We Knew’ and ‘Wild Heart’ are good songs albeit smothered in over production.
But drum loops, melodramatic overuse of falsetto singing, notably on ‘High Above The Ground’, and excessive use of vocal tricks, such as the boom-boom-boom on ‘Battleships’ swiftly become irritating and it is if an evil Frankenstein has invaded their soul to create a pop monster.
The most controversial experiment of all must be ‘Long Live Rock n Roll’, which manages to combine cleverly constructed lyrics name checking the classic rock bands they grew up on with a danceable pop groove with guitars and real drums almost absent. Ronnie James Dio would spin in his grave were he to hear it.
To cap it all, as the album wears on, the lyrics are nursery rhyme embarrassing –the title of ‘Traitor’ rhymes repetitively with hater to an industrial-lite backing and by the time ‘Cinderella’ (one of the three bonus tracks for the UK reissue) manages to rhyme acapella and umbrella I was reminded of the old John Junor catchphrase in his Sunday Express columns – ‘pass the sick bag Alice’.
It’s a shame that just as they seem to be making a big push at the UK market, Daughtry have taken this stylistic u-turn. I hope that having got this diversion out of their system, Daughtry will revert to their big rock anthems. But if the new direction pays off, far from ‘Long Live Rock n Roll’, it will be another nail in rock’s coffin. ** 1/2
Review by Andy Nathan
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