Monday, 16 November 2009

Kris Allen - Kris Allen *Introduction and Review*



Mysterious are the ways of God.

This time last year my only experience with Reality TV Shows and singing competitions were the first Czech Pop Idol (or Superstar as we called it here) - a competition that gave us Czechs a beautiful person with an equaly beautiful voice & an artist with a pretty stable career ever since: Aneta Langerova; and the first season of the Czech X Factor which was so much more fun and MUCH less drama-filled than the British original. I didn't watch any of those religiously but hey, I like music and I try not to be too snobish about it, so I WAS interested in them.

I always got the impression that the British and American Idols and X Factors produced pop stars (pretty boys and girls and occasionally belters like Leona Lewis) who really weren't my cuppa - musically - at all. To be honest, I never spent much time thinking about who the US/UK reality TV singing competitions produced until this spring when I first read the name Adam Lambert.

At first I wasn't really that smitten: his version of Mad World didn't seem to be that special to me. Eventually I grew to like this "edgy with a smile" siren of a rocker (tho his vocal style really isn't my thing*) and found myself tangled into the world of the 8th season of American Idol and in which I found TONS of talent (#signmattgiraud).

As the ignorants usually do I was one of the many who called the US of A homophobic because it wasn't Adam who eventually won this year's Idol, it was this little guy with an ordinary name: Kris Allen. When I got to know what Kris was about : musically (great musical taste, vocal and musical ability) and personality-wise (huble, quiet, wicked sense of humour), I couldn't have been more wrong. Because guess what? I would have voted for "the pocket-sized idol" too!

How could I NOT like someone who loves The Beatles and cites Paul McCartney among his dream collaborators? I know, people talk a lot of things to make themselves look good but Kris knows his shit. Liking his song choices on Idol, his versions of songs by Michael Jackson, Kanye West, Glen Hansard and our very own Marketa Irglova (the two of them LOVED him) - as well as The Beatles themselves was one thing but hearing his own singer-songwriter-y stuff he independently released before Idol (Brand New Shoes) made me really take notice.

This guy might not be the next Michael Jackson (one of his other heroes), the next biggest superstar - he'll leave this to Adam Lambert (if A. really has the talent & balls) but he totally is an artist worth a listen.

Kris Allen, the album, sadly doesn't have enough Kris-written songs. Kris's own stuff is pretty good but I understand it probably doesn't have enough comercial potential, as you have to grow to like those songs and appreciate their sometimes unique melodies. Luckily, all of the songs eventually appearing on the album reflect very well what Kris is about - and Kris's voice and soul add enough to the songs for the album not to sound like a collection hastily thrown together & released to cash in on the 15 minutes - which I understand is often the case with AI finalists' albums.

There isn't a bad song on the album, there are some that suffer from the production, tho: Is It Over is good in its acoustic parts, similarly Lifetime would stand out had it been more in the acoustic style, Before We Come Undone - a very good song with hit potential on its own is unnecessarily poppy.
Songs that stand out for me personally: apart from the first single Live Like We're Dying, it's the perky Alright With Me, heart-piercing Bring It Back and even more heart-piercing closing track I Need To Know which is reminiscen of Damien Rice's work.
The only song written by Kris Allen alone - Red Guitar deserves not only a special mention, it deserves its own sentence: original, fresh, melancholic and upbeat at the same time; with a guitar hook worth dying for.
The songs I haven't mentioned above are all mostly great...I've no complaints - exept for the What The Fucking Fuck bonus of the whole album: a version of Heartless which makes me wanna find the producer and kill him.

What I hear in Kris's work in general is the potential to be the contender of the likes of David Gray.

No, Kris Allen didn't come to this planet from another galaxy, he is very much human...OK, maybe a bit dancer too, but mostly human ;o) - and that is his strongest weapon. He is real, not in any way manufactured - and a real talent.
What I wish from/for him in the future: more albums (at least) as good as this one - and an acoustic live album would be brilliant, too.

Gonna wish upon a star. :o)

FV

If you're interested in my song-by-song review - or rather my notes to each of the songs -, take a few deep breaths and read below.

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Live Like We're Dying: the first single written by the Irish band called The Script. A catchy, yet not annoying little song which for me was love at first listen and since I bought it I've listened to it for over 80 times according to my last.fm profile (overall no. 5). Says a lot. http://www.last.fm/user/FantasticVoyage

Before We Come Undone: is a very good song that somehow sounds better live. Not sure if the poppy production was necessary because the song itself is pretty "accesible", I would have liked the rockier edge the live version possessed way way better.
Kris's main appeal to me is the rawness and vulnerbility, the soul he gives into his singing, in that respect he reminds me of the Irish and Scottish singer-songwriters like Damien Rice, Glen Hansard or Tommy Reilly. His live performances have it, his first album has it: carefull with the production!

Can't Stay Away: Now, tis better, the production, that is. Funkier, edgier. Should be a single.

The Truth: slows the album down for a while until it gets to the chorus which slightly reminds me of Snow Patrol or early Coldplay – yet with Kris singing this it surprisingly all works for me. Belt on, little busker.

Written All Over My Face: another song written by (and produced) The Script. Another hit. Tho I have to say I prefer the live version of this to the version on the album...kida sounds like it was produced by a robot (guess it's the drums, really). I have no idea why it works with Live Like We're Dying but not as well with this song.

Bring It Back: sounds like the old Kris Allen, only with a bigger budget. The chorus seriously tears my heart in two a little. I suspect if someone else sang this song I would just scoff but because it's Kris, I hear – and feel – it coming from *a deep place* (as in heart, not the other deep place).

Red Guitar: the only song on the whole album that was written solely by Kris himself. A song that pretty well shows what I love about his songwriting: he doesn't take the melody on the expected way. I can't understand why on earth Kris had to fight for this one to even be on the album. For me personally it's a stand-out song. Very refreshing. Plus it's got a brilliant guitar riff.

Is It Over: we finally get Kris with just his acoustic guitar, if only for 36 seconds. This song is gonna take some getting used to. Not bad at all but I've noticed it getting a few notches better when it's just Kris and the guitar; the song gets a little lost in the production.

Let It Rain: love the piano on it. You can totally tell the song was co-written and co-produced by a Scandinavian. It reminds me of a-ha and its members' solo stuff a little.

Alright With Me: when I heard the snippet of this song I had to replay it again and again. I just can't help myself but love it. It makes my soul dance and actually, can't wait to shake my butt to this one as well. :o) A genuinely happy song that isn't stupid.....we need more of those. x

Lifetime: poker face, huh? A solid pop-rock song, quite good production. I find myself liking the lyrics. Again, the song gets better when it's quieter. Can I have a live album of Kris and just him and his guitar or piano as the next Kris Allen project, please?

I Need To Know: another song that prompted repeated snippet listening – and the only song from this album I could NOT wait to listen to in its entirety and therefore headed to YouTube the minute the album „leaked“. Reminds me of Damien Rice. The main instrument in it is the piano. The song is beautiful. And Kris's singing...well, the way I like him best.

If only the album ended there. Children, don't listen to the bonus! Seriously, I warn you. Some dickhead decided that even tho we all fell in love with just Kris and his guitar performing Heartless , the best thing to produce this song would be the Kanye-meets-Ryan Tedder way. Wrong.
It's not that bad but it's *this small* next to the acoustic version. Shame, shame, shame.

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(* definition of "my thing" in this instance: Leonard Cohen, Lou Reed, Johnny Cash, Iggy Pop)

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