Since his fourth-place finish on American Idol’s fifth season, Chris Daughtry has established that he can sing, whether he’s covering Bon Jovi, Stevie Wonder or Queen. What he has yet to do, though, is write an album that isn’t full of forgettable songs; songs that sound more like Daughtry emulating Nickelback than anything else. Daughtry has yet to define a sound that sets him apart from other rock artists, but on his band’s new album, Baptized, it is clear that he’s attempting to find that sweet spot. Instead of settling for one type of rock, Daughtry incorporates elements from electric dance music to folk to explore what works best for him. Though his blend of rock with the increasingly popular EDM is not quite ideal, the band shines on the album’s pop and folk-oriented songs.
The album’s title track opens with a fingerpicked banjo and simple percussion, developing into a Mumford & Sons-influenced rock ballad. “Baptized” is one of Daughtry’s most original songs on the album, but it still feels formulaic and overly radio-friendly, with a sing-a-long feel and repetitive lyrics. The track introduces a religious theme that will be more or less present throughout the album.
“Waiting For Superman,” the album’s first single, opens with a series of electronic blips that feels strangely reminiscent of Owl City’s “Fireflies.” The instrumentation quickly becomes more guitar-focused, but EDM influences are present throughout the song, with synths and the blips fading in and out over the song’s duration. The song about the helpless girl who’s looking for a savior is a pop-rock staple, but instead of placing himself in that savior role, Daughtry seems to be encouraging her to find salvation on her own. The implicit message here is that it’s through religion that she can be saved, with Daughtry repeatedly mentioning angels and “salvation.” It’s unclear exactly how intentional this is, because many of his seemingly religious lines are also somewhat cliche, but it’s worth thinking about.
The lowest point of this album is the attempted pop ballad titled “Battleships.” Where other songs are bland, this folk/rock/Katy Perry-like mash-up is just plain awful. When a songwriter searches his or her vocabulary for things to compare love to, battleships are not the thing to settle on. For one thing, it’s too similar to Jordin Sparks’ “Battlefield,” which has been popular for years, but the pairing of an awkward theme with production that could have been easily lifted from the latest Katy Perry album and a chorus that goes “boom, boom, boom” makes the song almost unlistenable.
The album’s highlight might be one of the corniest songs on it. “Long Live Rock and Roll” sees Daughtry once again emulating Mumford & Sons with a bit of fun. thrown in, but it works for him. The song covers the history of rock, from The Beatles to U2, evoking just enough nostalgia to save the song. Its chorus is easy to sing along to, with lines such as, “long live big guitars and music for the soul,” and, “long live crazy nights and records made of gold.” It’s a classic feel-good jam and avoids being overly sappy.
The following song, “The World We Knew,” is another high point of the album that sounds similar to “Baptized” and ”Long Live Rock and Roll”. The pop-folk-rock aesthetic really works for Daughtry, and this song also continues the religious theme of Baptized. He sings from the point of view of someone who is struggling with his faith, who wishes to return to the world he knew before even though he recognizes it as sinful. It’s a more relaxed song, but has a more original message than most of the other songs on the album.
Unfortunately for Daughtry, the rest of the album is more of the same bland, unoriginal material that makes up most of his catalog. They step into new places with more EDM-influenced songs such as “Wild Heart,” but most of the songs are so laden with pop and rock clichés that they fall flat. It would be impossible to record all of them, but a few stand out: the “I wish we were younger” feeling of “18 Years,” the “never coming down” line of “High Above the Ground” and basically all of “I’ll Fight.”
Chris Daughtry has to make a decision on what he wants his signature sound to be or he will fall into obscurity like most American Idol winners. Baptized explores new genres outside of his traditional rock focus, but mostly unsuccessfully. The best songs on this album (“Baptized,” “Long Live Rock and Roll”) still feel derivative, but they’re a step in the right direction. The religious themes are more original, but they’re only vaguely present at best. Daughtry has laid out a set of options for himself with this album, applying EDM, pop and folk to his rock roots. No matter which he chooses, the area that needs the most work is his lyrics. None of the songs on the album have the quotable lyrics that some other bands can boast, and the lines that should be quotable just feel repetitive. If he focuses on songwriting for his next album and finds a niche for the band as a pop/folk/rock group, the next Daughtry album might have the individuality he’s been searching for.
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