Friday, September 21, 2012

And Then There Was Christian Rock That . . . Rocked. (Daughtry’s Daughtry)

The Good: Decent voice, Generally good - if standard - sound
The Bad: Lyrics are almost the death of the album
The Basics: With one of my weakest recommendations ever, Daughtry makes an effective Christian Rock crossover that is worth listening to, even if you just get it out of the library.

Last weekend, I was sitting in a hotel room at a convention, watching music videos - which is my want when traveling - and on came the video for "It's Not Over," by Daughtry. Instantly, my mother - who was along for the ride - began to expound upon how Daughtry had deserved to be last year's winner of American Idol, but he wouldn't work with the program. I had an instant respect for that sense of fighting the power. Not all singers do Barry Manilow. I can respect seeing a rocker on American Idol illustrating more of the true variety of the current Top 40. As I watched the video, something caught me about the images and lyrics and I asked, "Is this guy a Christian Rock star?" My mother shook her head and said he was an American Idol star. As if the two, especially considering Idol is on Fox, were mutually exclusive!

So, I picked up Daughtry, the post-American Idol debut of Chris Daughtry. And there were two things that immediately came into conflict with one another; the album rocked and the lyrics were pretty standard, exhibiting the strength of the modern Christian Rock movement. Allow me to explain.

Daughtry is a performer and artist in the sense that he is the poet who wrote or co-wrote ten of the twelve songs on Daughtry. He gets points for that. Especially considering that most of the songs he wrote are right up front. Daughtry is an artist selling himself. He's adequately putting forth a representation of himself and his work, not merely performing another's prefab lyrics.

And to be fair, Daughtry has a decent voice. On "Crashed," where Daughtry is backed by seriously heavy guitars, Daughtry is articulate and engineered so his voice dominates the backing, which is how it ought to be. Despite the fact that Daughtry does not play any of the instruments, the album makes a decent sound using the usual guitar, bass, occasionally keyboard, and drums combination. This sounds like exactly what one expects when one hears the words "rock and roll" or (to a lesser extent) "metal" (except that the lyrics are all comprehensible). Daughtry's singing is clearly one of his strengths and anyone who likes a strong male vocal performance is likely to enjoy Daughtry.

As for his writing, it's nearly the death of the album. Opening the album with the lame, predictable rhyme combination of "I was blown away / What could I say . . ." and then using "away" again within the next two lines made me shudder. The rhymes are almost always predictable, save on "What I Want," which was probably the most lyrically surprising track on the album. It's also one of the hardest rocking tracks, sounding like it could be fresh off Guns 'N' Roses, which seems appropriate as Slash is the guest guitarist for the track.

But there comes the two things that baffle me about the lyrics. The first is, in the liner notes, Daughtry puts each title in caps when it comes up in the song lyrics. Every song, when the title actually appears in the lyrics, is highlighted in this fashion and I have to wonder, is it so critical that everyone know each song's proper title? As a writer, my answer is "yes." As a reviewer, am I so wrong to want artists to either have memorable/appropriate titles or a fan base intelligent enough to remember what the titles to the songs they wish to speak about are? If one cares about an artist, one ought to know what they're talking about (the hyperbole of the offense to the artist in this regard comes in the titles to Friends episodes where the writers wisely named them "The One With . . .") and that means having some basic appreciation between the title and the poem in the case of music. I suppose Daughtry is saying something by trying to pound the listener with the proper title in the liner notes.

And that brings us to the lyrics. There was a time when Christian Rock was Christian Rock . . . and I had pretty much never heard of it. In fact, I remember when I did hear about it. After I became hooked on Amy Grant's Heart In Motion, an artist affiliated with her, Michael J. (or is it W.?) Smith, released a solo album that was Christian Rock-Gospel and a friend clued me into the fact that Amy Grant was huge in the Gospel sector. I didn't even know the market existed. After Grant's successful crossover to pop-rock, other artists have tried to make mainstream careers out of Christian Rock. Bands like Lifehouse, Jars of Clay and others have tried to make mainstream pop-rock careers out of their Christian Rock.

Now, here's my thing, I can respect wanting to make it big. I can respect wanting a wider audience than the Christian Rock circuit - ample as people like Ralph Reed insist it truly is. What I don't respect is the way that crossover Christian Rock artists attempt to camouflage their art and intent to make the crossover. It's like liberals who won't admit their liberals or Nazis who won't admit their antisemetic. If you're going to stand for something, you might as well stand for it. Lifehouse's mainstream knockout hits have all been the singles on their albums that least exemplify Christian Rock. Daughtry, in releasing "It's Not Over" as the first single off Daughtry is clearly trying to capitalize on his mainstream appeal as opposed to his Christian Rock roots.

In addition to the overt concepts of being a Christian Rocker, Daughtry thanks God and Jesus Christ first in his liner notes, Christian Rock albums usually contain songs that involve the concepts of family and faith ("All These Lives"), unquestioning love - presumably from god ("What About Now"), and overt cries to god ("What I Want"). But more disturbingly, there's almost always a sense of being out of control, of being manipulated by a god force. Choice (free will) is always painted as a negative consequence of existence. So, for example, on "Home," Daughtry sings "I don't regret this life I chose for me . . ." but the song is about leaving that life out in the world and returning to the safety of home. Hmm . . . no subtle Christian undertones there!

My point here is that I think an educated populace makes the best decisions. If an artist were selling c.d.s with a pro-Scientology message on their tracks outside the two charting singles, it might take some digging to reveal that one is supporting the Scientology movement and being subtly indoctrinated with Scientology ideas. I begrudge Christian Rock the deceptive advertising factor - it is only on the inside of the c.d. notes, for example, that Daughtry's cross is evident (not in either of the photos on the front or back of the disc). Daughtry is a Christian rocker and he's talented, but he's selling a message.

Who will enjoy Daughtry? Christian rock fans. Actually, most pop-rock fans will enjoy it. The subtlety of most of the lyrics is likely to go over the head of most young people, so if you're not Christian and your kid is into Daughtry you could pick up the c.d. without a real chance of conversion - just don't send the kid to a concert! :) People looking for well-lyriced rock and roll with a unique sound, though, will find Daughtry to be a bit of a letdown.

Ultimately, my recommending this album is basically the concept that Daughtry might well be the top of the Christian Rock spectrum now and the desire not to punish an artist for their genre, despite my fervent desire that they simply be direct about who and what they are (take a direction from Boy George!). My hope is that on future albums, Daughtry will choose a direction and be overt about it either way. The best song is "Breakdown" - yes, there is irony in my liking that track best - and the worst is "There And Back Again." (For the ultimate litmus test on recommending, though, it ought to be noted that I am not adding Daughtry to my permanent collection.)

For other Christian rock albums, be sure to visit my reviews of:
Flyleaf - Flyleaf
Addison Road - Addison Road
No Name Face - Lifehouse


For other music reviews, be sure to visit my Music Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2012, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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