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Snap Judgment: New Taylor Hicks tracks

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91811__taylor_lIt’s the question that music fans have been asking since May: Will quirky, soulful Taylor Hicks — arguably the hardest-to-categorize American Idol champ in the show’s five-season history — maintain the platinum debut-disc sales streak that’s been upheld by the show’s four previous winners, particularly in today’s loves-to-categorize music scene?

Well, the time for answers draws near. Hicks’ full-length CD is due in stores Dec. 12, and now, the folks at the GrayCharles blog have an almost-completed version of a song called “The Runaround” and a snippet of “Dream Myself Awake” streaming at their site. (The tracks also debuted on Hicks’ MySpace page today.)

Of the two at GrayCharles, I far prefer “The Runaround”; with itspeppy, mid-’80s horns and restless drumbeat, it sounds like thelovechild of “Sussudio” and “Head Over Heels.” And while the lyrics –“I’m getting an A in broken hearts/I got my degree in crying” — mightbe a little too cheesy for the hipster crowd, I’m totally ready to singalong after three listens. Perhaps most importantly, though, thisloose, jaunty track doesn’t sound like it was manufactured in the DianeWarren Instamatic Hitmaker 6.0, a problem that’s plagued many an Idolalum (and has inspired this Weird Al parody). Even if you’re one of those folks who’ll cringe imaging Hicks dohis white-boy shuffle performing “Runaround” live, you’ve got to admit,it’s not half-bad.

“Dream Myself Awake,” meanwhile, is a lot more contemporary, butdoesn’t do nearly as good a job showcasing Hicks’s personality. I hateto sound like Randy Jackson, but it’s just aiight for me, althoughTaylor definitely did his thing, Dawg, and… yeesh, I just totally gavemyself the creeps.

Anyway, PopWatchers, take a listen to “The Runaround” and “Dream Myself Awake“for yourselves, and tell me: Is Taylor the next Kelly Clarkson orJustin Guarini — commercially speaking, of course? Holla back!