Kris Allen: A track-by-track analysis of his self-titled debut album
My colleague Whitney Pastorek recently reviewed Kris Allen’s self-titled debut (out today) — check out her thoughts, and her grade here — but as EW’s resident Idoloonie, I couldn’t let today’s momentous release go by without a borderline crazy analysis of every track on the record. Yeah, I know, I already went overboard on lead single “Live Like We’re Dying” (as a snippet, a full song, and a video), and I previously weighed in on 30-second leaks and/or live Miami performances of the American Idol season 8 champ’s remaining dozen tracks. But for those of you who’ve either declared Nov. 17 as Kris Allen Day or who don’t understand the meaning of an Idol off-season, the following deep dive is for you. Let’s get the party started, in chronological order, after the jump!“Live Like We’re Dying”: (Written by Steve Kipner, Andrew Frampton, Danny O’Donoghue, Mark Sheehan; produced by Andrew Frampton & Steve Kipner) Back on Sept. 21, I declared my love for this single with such enthusiasm, it’s a wonder the song didn’t march down to the courthouse and score itself a restraining order. I’ll say no more, but give you the link to my loony moonings the full enchilada. One question, though: How come this isn’t already a top 10 hit on Billboard??? (In other words, W? T? F?)
“Before We Come Undone”: (Written by Kris Allen, Lindy Robbins, Greg Kurstin; produced by Greg Kurstin for SK1 Productions) The first of five tracks on the album that grapples with the struggle to salvage a troubled relationship is one of my two favorites, and perhaps the most obvious choice for followup single to the jaunty “Live Like We’re Dying.” There’s an urgency to the music that never lets up, and it parallels the frantic lyrics, with Kris realizing that “before the sun breaks another day” he’ll be getting answers to the difficult questions about whether he and his lover will survive whatever’s ailing them, be it infidelity (“I wait till you say I’m the only one”), stubborn pride (“Could be both forgive somehow?”) or perhaps the sometimes inevitable fate of growing in different directions (“I’m just trying to understand/ Who I was and who I am”). Still, for all the angst in Kris’ voice, there’s an underlying optimism to the track. That “make it before…make it before” refrain has so much conviction behind it, you somehow feel like these crazy kids are gonna get their happily ever after. Or maybe that’s just the insane product of having listened to the song 17 times in a row and eating cold pizza for lunch.
“Can’t Stay Away”: (Written by Kris Allen, Lindy Robbins, Mike Elizondo; produced by Mike Elizondo) Who says Kris Allen don’t got swagger? Proving Simon Cowell wrong (again!) Kris gets his sexy on as he ponders the advances of a purdy lady who he knows is gonna be all kinds of wrong. There’s a hint of Gavin DeGraw’s “I Don’t Want to Be” on the jangly guitar line, but my favorite part has to be when Kris’ voice hits that crackly falsetto at the on the “Iiii don’t know what you did to me/ And Iiiii don’t care what the doctors say.” Three songs in, and three radio-ready ditties? Thank you, 19 execs, for not skimping/second-guessing/making thinks muckity.
“The Truth”: (Written by Pat Monahan, Toby Gad; produced by Toby Gad) The second-saddest song on the record (and my co-third fave) conjures up the image of our Pocket Idol struggling to be a good spouse and hold up his metaphorical house as it crumbles down around him. Those audible intakes of breath before the “Yeahs” on the chorus lend an additional intimacy to the proceedings, and the overarching theme of “good folks, bad relationship” is one that doesn’t get explored nearly as often as it should. Moreso than any other part, it’s this couplet that’s killing me: “Tryin to be perfect, tryin’ not to let you down/ Honesty is honestly the hardest thing for me right now”
“Written All Over My Face”: (Written by Steve Kipner, Andrew Frampton, Danny O’Donoghue, Mark Sheehan; produced by Andrew Frampton & Steve Kipner) As I noted back when I reviewed Kris’ Dolphins Tailgate performance of this ditty, it’s a wordy jam that finds our protagonist taking sides in that age-old “Men Are From Mars” debate between showing emotions and talking ’em to death. Y chromosome-holders will nod their heads at this bit — “There’s nothin’ wrong but communication/It’s just a problem of our own creation” — while those without ’em are gonna shake their heads when Kris explains, “I’m not one of your girlfriends/ Who’s gonna see it from your side.” Our Idol is such a boy. Still, while I dig this ditty well enough, I’m a little concerned that the postscript ad for the album that ran on PopEater after Kris’ recent video premiere mentioned only two other song titles — “Written All Over My Face” and “The Truth.” For starters, “Written” is far from the strongest track on the record, and what’s more, I think Kris absolutely needs to have one of his co-writes released as a sophomore single. Why would 19/Jive even consider a second composition penned by members of the Script (who also created “LLWD”)? You’ve got to tread carefully when you’re dealing with the reputation of a brand new artist. Please!
“Bring It Back”: (Written by Kris Allen, Francis White; produced by Eg White for Spilt Milk Management) Speaking of potential singles, this one is tied with “The Truth” as my co-third-favorite track, proving my clear preference for broken-hearted Kris above all other versions of the season 8 champ. Those opening piano flourishes will have you reaching for the Kleenex before Kris sings a note of the mournful melody, and again, this is another track where the beauty of the vocal is in its little flaws — the hitch in Kris’ voice on that soaring bridge, the occasional reverb from Kris’ proximity to the mic as he’s spitting a particularly heartfelt lyric (“thhhink before you leave”), the inhalations that come thisclose to muffled sobs. Plus, you can hear hints of “Chasing Pavements” (another Eg White jam) by way of the sweeping strings that lift the chorus. And there’s nothin’ wrong with that!
“Red Guitar”: (Written by Kris Allen; produced by Mike Flynn & Warren Huart) Solo writing credit! Solo writing credit! Okay, now that the fanboy has left the room, let’s dish this sweetly sentimental song Kris wrote before he ever took the Idol stage. Some have speculated Kris is making a metaphor about wife Katy’s heart, although I can’t shake the idea that there are images plucked from that (unconfirmed?) story about Kris giving his brand-new guitar to a young refugee musician while doing missionary work in Thailand during his pre-Idol days. I particularly enjoy the amped-up barrage of drums and piano over the final 30 seconds of this one, so much so that I wish that drama had arrived just a wee bit sooner.
“Is It Over”: (Written by Kris Allen, Cale Mills, Mike Elizondo; produced by Mike Elizondo) I stand by my earlier contention that this bluesy ballad is a close cousin of later-Aerosmith tracks like “Cryin'” and “Crazy,” and I certainly wouldn’t mind if Kris explored this direction a little more thoroughly on his sophomore disc. (Look at greedy me already thinking ahead to 2011.) That unexpected falsetto on “Taaaake your time” shows a more vocally confident Kris than we saw during his season 8 run, and it doesn’t hurt that I can already picture the video in my head as I’m listening. Something with Alicia Silverstone playing pool at a dive bar, flirting up a storm in an effort to push the buttons of our hero (Kris, obvs) and force a dramatic, final-act reconciliation. Who’s with me?
“Let It Rain”: (Written by Kris Allen, Tobias Karlsson; produced by Tobias Karlsson) I’m going to admit that the opening strains sound a wee bit “demo from a home studio,” and that the title itself — paired with any other artist — would probably result in a side eye and a quip about done-to-death, cheese-pop metaphors. But I dunno. By the time the drums and synths kick into overdrive at the 2:17 mark, I’m swaying to the beat and singing along: “Maybe I’m crazy/ Maybe it’s too late/ But I’ m gonna make it/ Don’t care what the skies say/ So oh let it rain, let it rain…” As manipulative as a confetti shower at the Kodak in May? Perhaps. But heck, I’ve never skipped any of those, either. Plus, I love it when Kris strains and stretches for those high notes. Good times.
“Alright With Me” (Written by Kris Allen, Joe King; produced by Mike Flynn & Joe King) To the chagrin of many message-board commenters, I declared this my second-least favorite track when 30-second snippets of Kris’ record leaked a few weeks back, perhaps because its echo-y handclaps and follow-the-bouncing-ball enthusiasm seemed at odds with the more somber tone of the bulk of the album’s material. But proving you can’t judge a song by its leak, the full 3:08 version has grown on me tremendously. (It’s now at No. 6 with a bullet on my Kris List.) The party horns that percolate behind the chorus are a jaunty little treat, and inexplicably, every third or fourth listen, I can imagine Beyoncé Knowles declaring “if ya like it then you shoulda put a ring on it” atop Mr. Allen’s chorus. (If you’re technically savvy enough to mash ’em up and put the results on YouTube, be sure to let me know via Twitter @EWMichaelSlezak.)
“Lifetime” (Written by Kris Allen, Jon Foreman, Mike Elizondo; produced by Mike Elizondo) Well, they can’t all be winners, but there’s something to be said about a modern-day record that takes 11 tracks to stumble on anything closely resembling filler. “Lifetime” is hardly a total disaster, but the melody on this mid-tempo rocker never really goes anywhere, and if I’m being honest, this lyric made me cringe a little: “It takes a lifetime to learn how to sing/ To find my place in the world’s symphony.”
“I Need To Know” (Written by Kris Allen, Lindy Robbins, Toby Gad; produced by Toby Gad) This one finishes in a dead-heat with “Before We Come Undone” as my favorite track on the album. It’s a sparse, piano-driven ballad that’s easy on the ears if a little brual on the soul. Our broken and weary Idol (fun fact: Kris told me in our interview yesterday — video will be up later this week — that he recorded the vocal lying flat on his back on the floor) sounds like he barely has the will to ask if the relationship he’s in has a future. “Are you leaving me?/ Or are you leading the way?/ Can you hear what I’m saying?” Kris asks, his voice little more than a gravelly shadow of its usual self. That might not sound like high praise, but it is. There’s beauty in the agony, and in a chorus that’s no more and no less than a repetition of the pleading song title. I’m not sure radio’s adventurous enough for something this stripped-down and bleak, but it’s rapidly moving up the “Most Played” list on my iPod. I need to know there are others out there who have played this song more than 20 times today. (Reveal yourselves!)
“Heartless”: Eh, I’d rather listen to the acoustically delicious live version I downloaded after Kris nailed it during season 8’s top-three week. Anyone else with me?
Okay, so we’ve covered the whole kit and kaboodle! (For those of you who haven’t downloaded the album, it’s streaming at AOL Music.) What do you think of Kris Allen’s Kris Allen? Does it exceed your expectations, or fail to live up to ’em? What are your favorite and least favorite tracks? Share your reviews in the comments section below, an for all my Idol-related updates, follow me on Twitter @EWMichaelSlezak. Plus, if you love music (and what Idoloonie doesn’t?) then get hip to our Music Mix blog @EWMusicMix!
Image Credit: Albert L. Ortega/PR Photos