Winning American Idol over the past several seasons has been a mixed bag. People like Scotty McCreery have shown that a Southern draw does translate to sales, even if a bland stage presence accompanies it. You have the Carrie Underwood’s and the Kelly Clarkson’s who continue to dominate their specific genres as well. And then there are the Ruben Studdard and Taylor Hicks’s of the world. For one reason or another, they never were able to garner that fan support, despite winning the decade long hit TV show competition. And that brings us to the newest winner of American Idol, Phillip Phillips, whose first full-length studio album, The World From The Side Of The Moon, is out now. Can it follow the trend of his hit single, “Home,” which became the anthem for the US Women’s Gymnastics team this past summer, or will it fall short like the Russians? Read on to find out!!!
What better way to start off an album review then by taking a look at the first track? Yeah, we think that’s a smart bet too. “Man On The Moon” starts off with a bluegrassy acoustic guitar arpeggio that entices the eardrums from the get-go. And then the drums kick in, followed with what sounds exactly like Dave Matthews scat singing. Is this the right CD, you think to yourself? You check your computer screen and highlighted is the artist name, Phillip Phillips. Talk about a curveball.
The melody is something that you would expect from Matthews himself and the background banjo accompaniment adds a subtle yet overarching sound to the chorus. Lyrically, the writing is there, but that is besides the point. There is nothing new and fresh here like there was in “Home.” That said, it’s sounds great, even if you feel like Dave Matthews 2.0 is what you are getting. Surely, this can’t be said for the entirety of the album, right?
Going down the track list the signals are clear—stoners all around may have found their new summer concert Messiah in the form of Phillip Phillips. “Tell Me A Story” is a beautiful track that centers on the poignancy of love and life and how delicate it all is in the grand scheme of things. There is a beautiful optimism that flourishes here, despite sounding exactly like something that DMB would write, both melodically and lyrically. This is definitely the song to play for when you are feeling a little more overdramatic than usual.
“Wanted Is Love” continues this trend, but is such a massive song, not necessarily in terms of possible radio airplay, but in overall quality. A tranquil string section starts things off on the right note (no pun intended). Followed by this is what can be described as a soft and gentle piano sound. It’s almost as if you’re ready to hear 2Pac start rapping the first verse from “Changes,” but I digress.
There is a seductiveness in this song that helps add some more depth to Phillips’s sound. In the hook, he sings, “Wanted is love, now go and sing/You know you gotta hold on to what you love before it’s gone away” --indicative of the building anticipation that he sings with. Rather than stay in the same register, Phillips mixes in some falsetto to shake things up a bit. His voice is like smooth sand paper, if that were such a thing. The coarseness of it is what makes it pleasant, yet when he really belts out it goes away, resulting in a much more clean sound. This begs the question: Is he sounding more Dave Matthews on purpose?
Without a doubt, the best track on the entire album, aside from “Home,” is “So Easy.” It may be because of the fact that it is something that sounds entirely his own. There are no real overt comparisons that can be made. The hook is simple, getting you in the frame of mind to want to blast this on a summer’s day. It’s a happy-go-lucky pop song about love that just works. The lyrics are also strong, thanks to up and comer writer/artist, Wrabel: “Like the ocean pulls the tide in just to hold it close/like a rain pour in a rainstorm makes the flowers grow/You’re the reason I believe in something I don’t know.” A true master of his craft, Wrabel helps Phillips paint the perfect picture in his listener’s mind. It’s too bad more of this prowess doesn’t lend itself throughout.
In the end, The World From The Side Of The Moon is a great first album effort. There is no dross. It just sounds a lot like Dave Matthews. But this comparison raises an important question: Does it even matter? Sure, originality is key and Phillips will continue to develop as an artist, but does this take away from having an album that plain sounds great? You be the judge. Until then Druggernauts!!!