I had never watched American Idol before last year. One reason was that I did not have a television. The other reason was I just wasn't very interested. But strangely enough, when I moved to Cambodia, my wife got me interested in it. She had been a fan for a few years. She got me to start watching it about the time that they were at 'The Final 13'.
It was obvious that Adam Lambert was a vocal powerhouse. As much as some people thought his 'Ring of Fire' performance was tasteless, I thought that it was amazing. It showed me that he had unbelievable voice control and range. I was impressed by his singing, as were most Americans who watched.
That being said, I began to get intrigued with Kris Allen. I loved his acoustic version of 'She Works Hard for the Money', the simple keyboard/strings version of 'Ain't No Sunshine', and I really thought that his version of The Beatles 'Come Together' was much more respectable than Simon's comment about it tasting like 'crushed ice.'
Even though I became more of a Kris fan with each passing week, when he won American Idol, I thought… nope, that isn't right. Lambert is so much more of a vocal giant, but Kris got the votes, and that is how the show works… as many others have said, Kris needed to win much more than Adam did. Adam will obviously be able to sustain a career based on sheer vocal ability more easily than Kris will without winning.
Nevertheless, I looked forward to when his first CD 'dropped'. When I heard the first single 'Live Like We're Dying' on iTunes, I thought it was catchy, and I even liked the rap-like chorus. It was a distinctly 'Kris' song, which I thought was good. So… I bought the whole album. Here are some pros and cons…
Call it naiveté, but I was disappointed at how 'pop' sounding the whole album is. I know, I know… connect the dots… American Idol, winner, American music, 19 Productions, a young star… adds up to pop. The thing that endeared me to Kris's music to me during American Idol was the acoustic/indie flavor. That is sorely missing on this album. Nevertheless, there are some good songs for a first album. The highlight songs for me are 'Live Like We're Dying', 'Can't Stay Away', 'Red Guitar' (a song written for his wife that he has solo writing credit for), and the fun 'Alright With Me.' For a first album, these are some songs that he can use in concert for many years, and fans will always be glad to hear.
It is obvious that Kris's voice is much stronger than it was during American Idol. He got some voice lessons, and I am sure that the summer concerts helped as well. Actually there is one moment in the album version of 'Heartless' that I was taken aback by. It showed more vocal agility than he had during the show. Kris's voice is very distinct, and that will really help him as he pursues his career. There may not be any greater gift to an artist than when people listen to his music, and someone says, "Yep, that's Bob Dylan. Yep, that's Adam Lambert. 'Yep, that is Kris Allen.'
On the con side… Honestly, the rest of the album just lacks some punch. Maybe it is my inability to suck down lots and lots of pop songs and not come out feeling sugary. But I think that for a first album, it is a great start. My major criticisms are that 1) it was not acoustic enough for my expectations. 2) some of the songs just don't ring true with the Kris Allen that many of us were drawn to during the show. I never thought of him as a teen pop star, and I am not sure that is his ambition, but I guess that you have to start somewhere. Sometimes the songs come across as someone singing to teenagers, which may be what it is. I assume that the target audience for his music is teenagers and early twenties young adults… a few of the songs are about boys and girls and love relationships, and we all know that he is married… it just doesn't work for me.
One last note... As many other others have said, his performance of Kanye West's 'Heartless' was the turning point for Kris during the season, and maybe the highlight performance of the year for the show. After listening to the album version, I am glad that I bought the video of Kris's live acoustic version. The album version is supposed to be a version reminiscent of Phil Collin's 'In the Air Tonight'. Even though I have been able to listen to it many times, it just doesn't really work for me. (Kris says he doesn't like it much either.) Frankly, I am a little surprised that the producers have not had problems with Collins over this, because it sounds almost TOO much like Phil's classic.
So, even though my gut gives this album 2 ½ stars out of 5, I am going to round up to 3 because this is his first stab at a music world that I know nothing about. And yes, I will be wiser when it comes to buying his next album, but I do hope that it bends back toward the styles that made us all like him so much during the season.