Monday, November 21, 2011

Break the Spell (2 of 2)

Posted by Kurt

I started my review of Daughtry's new album, Break the Spell, here.  This is the rest of the review, starting with the most embarrassing track on the album.

8 - Gone Too Soon.  I’m not even making this up.  This is a tender but hard-rocking song mourning a miscarriage (or a stillbirth, perhaps) as the loss of a life gone too soon.  I need to get this out of the way first - I have very close friends who have suffered through miscarriages, and it’s a level of pain that I don’t think anyone can really understand who hasn’t been there.  The credits in the liner notes indicate that Daughtry is a co-writer on this one, and if either he or the other person has actually endured a miscarriage or a stillbirth, then I completely respect the emotion he presents in this completely earnest song.  This kind of a tragedy is an overwhelming one, where unlimited potential is lost and there often is no one to blame.  The little details of the song, like the singer wondering if the child would have had his smile or his wife’s eyes, are potentially heartbreaking.
Still, though, this is not a sentiment that should be on a rock album.  It’s a deeply personal and intimate pain, and on a commercial album, especially an album that is so clearly produced for mass consumption, it feels completely manipulative.  I hope that it provides comfort to those who are mourning similar losses, absolutely, but as the middle song on a major album.. my first thought upon realizing the point of the song was, “Wow, this is going to sell like gangbusters at Wal-Mart.”  Yes, at this point you can dismiss me as a kind of asshole worse than I described in the Crazy section of this review.  I’m a terrible person.  But taking this kind of truth, this kind of pain, and putting it on the same album as a catchy and shallow “can’t get you outta my head” kind of song (really, as more than one of that kind of song), feels inescapably crass.  It’s cheap and inappropriate, much like All These Lives on the debut album, which I first thought was metaphorical in its comparison of something like cancer or divorce to the nightmarish scenario of a stranger breaking into a house to steal and/or kill a child, but then realized was just a dumb song about how, in the controversy of whether or not it’s OK to break into a house to steal and/or kill a child, Daughtry is firmly against.  
If Daughtry were capable of releasing a truly creative and honest and therapeutic album, then this song might be fine.  It’s not that I don’t believe that the writer really has felt this pain.  But that’s not the album that Daughtry ever makes.  Daughtry performs for arena rock crowds, people who miss Journey and probably pretend they don’t miss Creed.  These albums are catchy and contemporary and energetic, and I really enjoy them.  But I certainly don’t enjoy them for some kind of emotional authenticity, and a purely emotionally authentic setting is the only one where this tender but hard-rocking grief song belongs.  I feel a great deal of pity for Chris Daughtry, as I suspect that he yearns to write the kind of album where this song belongs, but he knows that his fans wouldn’t follow him to that kind of place (Honestly, I wouldn’t follow him there, and I love the guy).  So he gets these deep feelings and finds himself on the horns of a dilemma: save them for himself and release an album that doesn’t even try to be honest, or slip them into a standard mainstream rock album and risk them coming across as something between tacky and offensive.  I don’t envy him his struggle.  
All the same, though, the song’s presence here is gross.  I think a lot of people are going to buy the album and disagree with me and love this song, but I don’t think that’s because I’m wrong here.  Hate me if you want, but I’m not backing down on this one.
9 - Losing My Mind.  This bland little song is about a singer in the throes of the initial intoxicating attraction that makes him feel like he’s losing his mind when the object of his affection is around.  It’s not exactly new ground for Daughtry in general, or even new ground for this particular album, but it is notable for a particularly false intro about riding a train and falling for the girl in the next seat (doesn’t Daughtry present itself as a band that drives old trucks?  Public transportation like this seems a little Socialist for these guys) and a generous helping of Chris Daughtry’s falsetto (I appreciate that he has a range, but I wish he wouldn’t use it) (I also wish he wouldn’t insist that she makes him feel like he’s trippin’.  It sounds like the dad driving the carpool and trying to sound cool to the adolescents crammed into the back seats.)
10 - Rescue Me.  There is a special place in Hell where sinners are tormented by slow weepy Daughtry songs.  This song seems destined for that place, but it barely slips out of that category with a little growly shouting at the very end of the first chorus, raising the energy for the rest of the song.  It’s barely enough, and the lyrics are lame, with the singer comparing himself to someone in a storm at sea who needs to be rescued by his lover, but I want to like it and it gives me just enough to justify my opinion.
11 - Louder Than Ever.  This is a theme song for an 80s teen movie, and I love it.  It celebrates teenagers driving on the highway at night, listening to loud music and singing along.  The singer is a bit removed from the actual experience, but he hears a random song on the radio that takes him back, and this song is a brief but joyful affirmation of youthful hope.  For a song that evokes a materialistic era, this is surprisingly genuine, a touch bittersweet and mature, experiencing the old emotions with a filter that makes them a bit more complicated but no less true.  I may be a little biased because youthful hope is one of my favorite emotions that music can express, but I love this song.  When those damn Glee kids have their big competitions and they sing their silly songs that they can’t help but believe, and they don’t know that this kind of joy isn’t going to exist once they graduate, I can’t help but cry.  Just because I know that feeling isn’t going to match their future life experiences, it doesn’t mean that in the moment it isn’t one of the most important things in the whole world.  Louder Than Ever is maybe as close as I can get, as a grown-up, to revisiting that old optimism in a responsible way.
12 - Spaceship.  This is cheesy and awesome.  It’s about driving at night and looking up at the stars and feeling a little lonely and asking for a sign.  I think Daughtry is saying that he believes in aliens, or God, or maybe both.  The chorus is kind of a science textbook, about shooting stars and hypothetical life on Mars and potentially encountering extraterrestrials in a spaceship, but the verses are grounded, power guitars driving musings about general loneliness.  Again, this could be in an 80s movie, and I shouldn’t love it, but I do.
13 - Who’s They.  This track starts with a grammatically provocative title and kinda goes downhill from there.  I think it’s about not listening to anonymous critics, some kind of encouragement for fellow victims of public judgment, but the vocals are mostly low and moany, and the instruments are kind of “80s VH1 sexy” and I really don’t want to listen.  
14 - Maybe We’re Already Gone.  The verses in this song have a rhythm eerily similar to that Carrie Underwood song about getting drunk and marrying a stranger, which is a nice surprise, really.  The chorus is kind of interchangeable with just about any other generic Daughtry chorus, something about “I’m a maverick, and you can’t judge me,” maybe with a blend of, “Perhaps we’ve made a huge mistake,” but those verses hold my interest.  
15 - Everything But Me.  This is another heartfelt “I want to be with you, even when we’re apart” Daughtry song.  I think every songwriter who has ever embarked a long tour has probably written a version of this song, and it doesn’t make it less true, but it does make it less interesting.  Do you like songs about “I miss you” that you can illegally burn onto a mix CD for your significant other before you leave for summer camp?  Then you will like this song.
(and for the record, I hate when people illegally burn mix CDs.  I’m a lawyer, and maybe copyright laws should change, but as they stand, this kind of copying is illegal and steals from the artists that you claim to like.  Plus, with music so cheap on iTunes, an illegal mix CD says you’re creative enough to make a good playlist but too cheap to plunk down the ten or twelve bucks to just send it to your beloved as a gift. Jerk.)
16 - Lullaby.  (Seriously, the deluxe version of this album has sixteen tracks.  It may not win a lot of awards for quality, but in terms of quantity there’s a lot of bang for your buck.)  This track is a sweet, soft and short song about “Daddy misses you, little ones,” which we see in Marc Broussard’s Gavin’s Song, and the Rob Thomas lullaby Cradlesong.  It’s a perfectly nice way to end the album, especially when you’re the Family Values candidate, and I think it will go over very well in live shows.

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