November 20, 2008

David Cook: Self-Titled

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Last week I reviewed little David Archuleta’s debut, and even though I gave it a positive critique, I was spurned by a plethora of Archie-loving lunatics. This week, it’s David Cook’s turn in the spotlight, and while I don’t anticipate the same back-lash from Cook extremists, treat this review as one of unbiased intention.
During much of his run last season on American Idol, David Cook drew many comparisons to season five’s resident-rocker Chris Daughtry. Not only was Cook’s style harder-edged than the competition — especially in the context of Idol — he even pulled the same advantage-grabbing stunts that Daughtry did. Cook emerged from the franchise’s most talented season primed to be the first contestant who can hold his own with his Idols.
Of course, the difference between Cook and Daughtry is that Cook won the freaking competition, a feat fourth-place finisher Daughtry could not achieve. This loss certainly didn’t diminish Daughtry’s multi-platinum success, and Cook’s win actually presents a significant challenge. Unlike Daughtry, who had nearly two years to distance himself from the show’s sugary-pop associations, Cook has no such luxury, needing to rush out an album that skirts the line between hard-rocking and Idol-appropriate — a record that solidifies his alternative, post-grunge rock credibility, while still catering to the vastly diverse Idol audience that supported him, from swooning soccer moms to angst-ridden teenagers.
And while this obligatory nod to all audiences has catapulted several post-Idol contestants into super-stardom (Carrie Underwood, Kelly Clarkson), it also has resulted in embarrassingly misguided debuts (Taylor Hicks, Bo Bice), demoting contestants that showed artistic vision on the show into second-rate pop-rock balladeers. Thankfully, Cook avoids this pitfall, as his eponymous debut is a diverse, winning combination of poignant pop ballads and rolling rock anthems.
Surging album opener “Declaration” sets the stage, as Cook effectively builds from a haunting, sparse guitar riff into a swelling chorus. Lead single “Light On” and “Heroes” follow suit, pairing professional songwriting craft by Chris Cornell and Cathy Dennis with Cook’s soaring vocals. Sweeping, U2-esque mid-tempo “Come Back to Me” and hardest-rocking gem “Bar-ba-sol” are arena anthems in the making — perfectly suited for stadiums filled with cell-phone waving, Cook-loving crazies. Nevertheless, the most indelible moments on David Cook are when he tones down the guitars and amps up the emotion, as is the case on the stirring “Lie” or on the compellingly uncomplicated “Permanent.”
Even when the album is lyrically uneven (“Life on the Moon”), feels sort of forced (“Mr. Sensitive”) or is slightly generic (“I Did It For You”), David Cook is held together by the winner’s charming growl and Green Day-producer Rob Cavallo’s welcomed rock flourishes. With a voice that is more versatile than nearly every artist to come out of the Idol machine, David Cook is a multi-format monster in the making, a record that stays true to Cook’s identity while still appealing to the same pop-rock and adult-contemporary-loving audiences that got him here.