For those of us who didn’t grow up in hipster outposts like New York or Los Angeles, the populist music of groups like Bon Jovi or Def Leppard in the ’80s or Daughtry and Nickelback today provides a steady, comforting soundtrack. It was rock, but it was safe (the Ramones scared me when I was younger; luckily I made up for lost time after I moved to New York).
Critics like to dismiss such acts as “flyover favorites”-in other words, they’re big in the red states, but the blue states are way too cool for arena rock. Meanwhile, such bands are crying all the way to the bank.
The total disregard for trendiness and the pride in their “every man” status is one big reason why Daughtry, the band fronted by “American Idol” contestant Chris Daughtry, sold more than four million copies of its 2006 self-titled debut. The other reason is the band delivered strong, melodic hooks with relatable themes on such chart burners as “It’s Not Over” and “Home.”
On “Leave This Town,” Daughtry’s second album, the band delivers more of the same but steps it up a notch with smart songwriting by the band’s five members and some noteworthy guests, as well as graceful production by Howard Benson, who produced the debut.
First single, “No Surprise,”co-written with Nickelback’s Chad Kroeger, is a fine, if somewhat plodding, opening salvo that sets the tone for what follows: a collection of pleasing mainstream rock tunes that never veer far from the middle of the road and deliver a consistent, safe dose of what we’ve quickly come to expect from Daughtry. Thematically, many of the songs revolve around such universal themes of regret or learning from past mistakes.
Influences sink in, but none are too shocking. For example, on “You Don’t Belong,” the band goes all Evanescence (without the female vocals, of course) with overwrought, dramatic melodies as Daughtry wails “I think you lied to me.”
“Every Time You Turn Around” is nice and crunchy and would sound great coming out of radio speakers, same with bouncy rocker, “What I Meant to Say. ”
‘Life After You,” also co-written with Kroeger, is a mid-tempo charmer about realizing, a little too late, about how good you had it. You can practically see the cell phones waving in the air in unison in concert as fans sway back and forth.
One of the loveliest tunes is “Tennessee Line,” a country-tinged, stripped down, mid-tempo ballad the features background vocals by Vince Gill, who makes any song better.
Chris Daughtry has a pliant voice that serves the songs well. It’s not a particularly subtle one, but the songs demand a strong presence and he provides it. He’s particularly effective on “Open Up Your Eyes,” a song about death and those left behind. Daughtry channels Live’s Ed Kowalcyk here in both tone and subject matter, but still manages to make the song his own. (Oddly enough, it is that song, not “You Don’t Belong,” that was co-written with former Evanescence members David Hodges and Ben Moody).
I’m not sure “Leave This Town” will win Daughtry any more new fans, but with an existing fan base of more than four millions, the faithful will surely propel this album straight to the top of the chart.