Wednesday, November 19, 2008

David Cook Rocks My World (Again!)

David Cook, DAVID COOK
RCA/Sony BMG/19 Entertainment

I don’t normally review music on this blog, for two main reasons. First, I simply don’t possess the depth or breadth of knowledge to give a meaningful evaluation of any genre of music, even popular music. Second and more importantly, music is the one form of art that I have little, if any, desire to dissect and analyze. I've always listened to it and played it from the gut. I leave the appreciation of the form and structure to others.

However, since I’ve invested a rather absurd amount of interest in the career of this year’s American Idol, David Cook (see all blog entries for the months of April and May), I feel compelled to offer my two cents on his first post-Idol album. If you’re rolling your eyes already, rest assured that this is not going to be a puff piece or a squeefest about how dreamy David Cook is. Attractive as I find him, I’m not thinking about that when I’m listening to his record. I'm thinking about the record.

And you know what? I like what I’m hearing—nothing groundbreaking here, but this is solid stuff, well crafted and easy on the ears, with some standout songs. It’s a particularly impressive accomplishment considering the compressed time frame within which Cook had to complete recording while juggling a 50-city summer Idol concert tour and all the required post-Idol P.R. Even though the first impression David Cook leaves is that it’s clearly crafted for maximum commercial appeal, a second, more careful listen highlights both Cook’s emotive abilities and the versatility that served him so well on Idol. It also shows the expert hand of producer Rob Cavallo, who also produced Green Day’s American Idiot and My Chemical Romance’s Black Parade, and who introduces here some arresting sonic textures and layers without overprocessing Cook’s vocals.

As a songwriter, Cook’s own natural inclinations tend towards a ’90s alt-rock sensibility, which not surprisingly comes through most strongly on the songs he co-wrote with Our Lady Peace frontman Raine Maida and the Goo Goo Dolls’ Johnny Rzeznik. (This is far from a bad thing, especially if you, like me, are prone to late Gen X longings for the days when boys wore flannel and girls flocked to worship the great ladies of Lilith Fair.) Some tracks, however, have a more retro, almost ‘80s feel—such as the current radio single, “Light On”—while still others have a more contemporary, if somewhat generic, pop-rock sound. The latter was most likely a necessary concession to the record label, which would no doubt like to see Cook become the next Daughtry.

The first half of the album features more uptempo numbers, among which the gritty yet catchy “Bar-ba-sol” stands out as the closest an Idol alum has probably ever gotten to being edgy. The second half slows down quite a bit—some would say it drags, and it does run to one too many power ballads with heart-on-sleeve lyrics and soaring choruses. Yet this is the part of the album that really showcases the beauty and expressiveness of Cook’s voice, which in my opinion was always underrated by “Idol” viewers who tended to see him as more as a clever performer and arranger and less as a pure singer. Nowhere is his musicality on more effective display than the poignant “Lie” or the meltingly tender “Avalanche.”

However, the two tracks that come the closest to capturing the essence of Cook—i.e, that bear the most resemblance to his pre-Idol, independently released work—are “Mr. Sensitive” (one of the Raine Maida collaborations) and “A Daily AntheM,” which Cook wrote before he tried out for American Idol. Not coincidentally, they're also two of the most interesting songs on the record, both melodically and lyrically, as well as two of the most personal. (The idiosyncratic capitalization of “A Daily AntheM” is a nod to David’s older brother, who has brain cancer, and it isn’t the only such tribute – “Permanent,” easily the most nakedly emotional song on the album, is another.) As such, they can't help but make me yearn for future albums that are bound to be more David Cook than, well, David Cook. Still, as an introduction of his talents to the general public, this post-Idol debut gets the job done and offers a promising glimpse of things to come.



If you like melodic post-grunge rock along the lines of Lifehouse and/or Goo Goo Dolls: “Lie,” “Avalanche” (the latter should also appeal to country music listeners - it has something of that vibe)

If you like harder, crunchier rock: “Bar-ba-sol,” "Mr. Sensitive"

If you like the ’80s: “Light On,” “Come Back to Me”; also “Permanent,” on which Cook seems to be channeling Journey’s Steve Perry

If you want a less filtered taste of Cook’s pre-Idol writing style: “A Daily AntheM” (psst: it has a 15-minute length because there’s a hidden track at the end that shows a peek of Cook’s pre-Idol bad boy-rocker side. More, please!)

My current favorite: "A Daily AntheM" (+ hidden track), though "Lie" is very seductive and, I think, a potentially big radio hit


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