In some ways, there’s no experience less satisfying than listening to song-snippet leaks from albums you’ve been anticipating for mini-eternities. (What? After an hour of smelling a chocolate cake baking in an oven, you’d be happy with a crumb?) But as someone who happened to be in a three-day corporate meeting last week when Italian Amazon leaked 30-second samples of the 13 songs from Kris Allen’s self-titled debut, I can attest that, in fact, I’d rather have had an all-too-brief musical tease than absolutely no music at all. And while our Music Mix blog has already run an item on the American Idol season 8 champ’s tracks, I figured that as EW’s resident Idoloonie, I had an obligation to weigh in on ‘em, too. (Don’t fret, Adam Lambert fans, I’ve got his 19 snippets on my to-do list, too! But that’s a lot o’ music to digest and dish!)
As for the man who wears a Henley like no other, I’m only going to dish the nine tracks I haven’t discussed publicly before. I’ve already betrayed a Fatal Attraction-level obsession with Kris’ debut single “Live Like We’re Dying” on two separate occasions, so I’ll refrain from boiling the bunny with a third go-’round, and last week, I dissected “Before We Come Undone,” “Can’t Stay Away,” and “Written All Over My Face” (loved all three of ‘em!) after Kris premiered them at a Miami Dolphins tailgate party. Now, while it’s not easy (and probably not fair) to judge songs on the basis of 30-second snapshots, I’m nonetheless going to tackle Kris’ snippets in descending order from least- to most-fave. Here we go!
“Heartless”: Not exactly sure what producer Salaam Remi was thinking, but the whole joy of Kris’ seminal Idol rendition was its simplicity, the way it deconstructed Kanye’s R&B jam and distilled its gorgeous melody, stuttery rhythms, and haunting lyrics into a sum that was even greater than its parts. Here, it sounds like Kris’ voice gets lost in the overly busy mix. WTF? (Why the face?)
“Alright With Me”: This jangly little ditty — co-written with the Fray’s Joe King — bops along pleasantly enough, but there’s a slightly vacant vibe to the melody and arrangement that make me worry it might sit well with the American Idol swaybots. (Sorry, after “All She Wants to Do Is Dance,” I should never again use that word in conjunction with our Pocket Idol.) Plus, lyrically — “I say to look, but you turn away/ I say we put our best foot forward” — this isn’t really speaking to me, either. If every second counts on the clock that’s ticking, I don’t think this is gonna be the Kris Allen track I play on repeat loop. Just sayin’.
“Lifetime”: It’s next to impossible for me to weigh in on this puppy, mostly because the half-minute sample doesn’t allow any windup going into the chorus, and therefore potentially robs it of maximum impact. But unlike “Before We Come Undone” (for example) this melody hasn’t instantaneously gotten stuck in my brain, or wormed its way into everyday conversation.* I sense possible album filler, but hope I’m proven wrong when I hear the whole enchilada.
“Let It Rain”: Now we’re gettin’ somewhere. A straight-up-the-middle pop track with a title that didn’t necessarily get my pulse pounding, but I have to say the piano line that arrives toward the end of the chorus is quite lovely, and leads into a slightly breathier version of Kris’ vocals than we’re used to hearing. As Frida declared in her post-ABBA smash, “I know there’s something going on.” And I am most curious to hear what exactly that something is.
“Red Guitar”: Also known as The One Kris Allen Wrote Before Idol. I suspect (or perhaps hope) Kris is speaking metaphorically when he declares his life was changed by the face of a red guitar, but then again, as a man whose equally adept strumming the strings as he is behind the keyboard, I won’t begrudge him a literal recitation of his passions, either. I mean, if I was a songwriter, you know I’d be jamming every other number about horse racing, my DVR, and the men’s clothing department at Target. Also: The melody here is super-pretty.
“Is It Over”: There’s a bluesy, later-Aerosmith vibe going on, and I mean that in a good way. It’s exciting to see that the most low-key of this season’s Idols isn’t afraid to stretch his musical boundaries, and from what I can tell, it’s gonna pay dividends on this track. Then again, long-standing Kris aficionados already knew our boy wasn’t afraid to color outside the lines, or throw the damn coloring book out the window altogether. (Sorry, methinks that metaphor went haywire, as metaphors often do when staring into the eye of the Idol.) Anyhoo, I’m diggin’ this half-minute sample like an old soul record.
“The Truth”: “Honesty is honestly the hardest thing for me right now,” Kris declares on a ballad (co-written by Train’s Pat Monahan) that sounds bigger and more ambitious than anything we heard during his season 8 run. And guess what? The champ’s muscular voice is more than up to the challenge. This one has the potential to be the best heartbreak ditty Grey’s Anatomy hasn’t used during a surgical/romantic struggle montage. J. Apostrophe. Effiing. Dore.
“I Need To Know”: Loving the rawness of Kris’ vocal on this one. It’s as if the stress and strain of every second of the Idol experience — the show, the tour, the insanely paced recording process — has taken its toll on our guy and on his voice in the most poetic way possible. All we get here lyrically are five repetitions of the song title (preceded by the line “Can you hear what I’m sayin’”) and yet so much more is conveyed. That’s no small task. To paraphrase Kiki Dee, I sense this one’s gonna go breakin’ my heart.
“Bring It Back”: Here we have a collaboration between Kris and London-based tunesmith Eg White (“Chasing Pavements”), and the melody is preposterously gorgeous. I particularly like the way Kris’ voice rises, then crumbles, on the unexpected denouement to the chorus (“what fate’s been telling me”). At once retro and totally current, it could be the perfect accompaniment for a fetching movie star as he/she races to the airport in the pouring rain, seeking one last chance at romantic redemption. Also: Could be a major radio smash. Make it happen, 19 peeps!
There’s my take on the Kris Allen song-snippet leaks, now what do you think? Are you in agreement with my ranking from best to worst? If not, how would you order the nine new tracks? Which one has the best shot at being a hit? Which one are you destined to play on repeat? Which one doesn’t belong here? Holla back in the comments section below!
* If one is having toast prepared by his spouse on a Saturday morning, for example, he might urge said spouse to “make it before, make it before, the show…comes back from the break…”).
UPDATE: 19 Recordings asked us to remove the YouTube clips from this post.
Photo Credit: Eric Ogden