Music Review: Allison Stewart on Daughtry's ‘Leave This Town'

Onetime "American Idol" finalist Chris Daughtry, performing in June, has a strong voice that helps mask his deficiencies as a rock star. (Jemal Countess - Getty Images for Songwriters Hall of Fame)
By Allison Stewart
Special to The Washington Post
Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Back in the fall of '06, when Chris Daughtry released his grunge-riffic debut, "Daughtry," most of the accompanying debate centered on whether the "American Idol" finalist would have any credibility as a rock singer. He didn't, as it turns out, but he didn't need it: "Daughtry," technically the product of a band for which Chris Daughtry serves as the singer, sold 4 million copies and birthed a follow-up, the far superior, marginally more rocking "Leave This Town."

Maybe it's a result of Daughtry's "Idol" training, which favored imitation over innovation, but it's hard to think of another act with such fidelity to the fist-pumping, power-chord-flogging rock star ideal. Daughtry isn't trying to be another Eddie Vedder, which would indeed have required authenticity beyond his reach. He's an imitator of the imitators, Vedder twice removed. He's Scott Stapp, or Chad Kroeger, or any other guy who ever starred in a music video wearing a plaid shirt and gesturing angrily while his girlfriend packs her suitcase and cries.

"Leave This Town" single-mindedly adheres to almost every post-grunge cliche, even the bad ones: the constant loud-soft repetition (an ominously quiet first verse followed by a louder chorus, usually with layered backing vocals), the peevishness, the growling. Daughtry has a colossus of a voice and a knack for using hard-rock melodies in almost the exact same way everybody else does, but just differently enough to make even the disc's lesser songs compelling.

His team of songwriters doubles as a roll call of representatives from virtually every act he has ever ripped off or considered ripping off or plans to rip off in the future: Nickelback, Evanescence, Lifehouse (on the first-rate bonus track "Long Way"). Every song, with few exceptions, represents the entire album in miniature -- if you've heard the first two tracks, you've heard the whole thing. "Leave This Town" is an example of the broadest possible formulas being put to their least imaginative uses. Entirely decent in its ham-handed way, it represents the triumph of brute force, of tuneful lunkheadedness. It doesn't have a clunker on it.

Some high/lowlights:

"No Surprise": The first single, and the best of all the songs that sound just like it. Continuing the album's theme of generalized rebellion, it's all about how you (the listener? His wife? Randy Jackson?) are not going to drag Daughtry down, or stop him from doing whatever that thing was that he was doing.

"Tennessee Line": An unforced collaboration with a muted Vince Gill, this amiable country ballad softens Daughtry (which is good), but distracts him from valuable glowering time (which is bad).

"Ghost of Me": "Don't look over your shoulder/'Cause that's just the ghost of me you're seein'," Daughtry warns his girl on the disc's most lackluster chest thumper. She shouldn't worry -- it's probably just the guy from 3 Doors Down.

"Open Up Your Eyes:" Earnest, grumpy and depressing, this one's about death, possibly because it was co-written by ex-Evanescence doom merchant Ben Moody. As he does throughout, Daughtry appears unfamiliar with concepts like irony, subtlety or moderation. Luckily, in his line of work, none is a job requirement.

DOWNLOAD THESE: "No Surprise," "Life After You"

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