September 21, 2011

Test Spins: Gavin Degraw, Sweeter

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Although a great artist, Gavin DeGraw has been mainly confined to TV show themes and background music. DeGraw’s huge 2004 anthem “I Don’t Wanna Be” was the opening theme of One Tree Hill and other songs such as “Follow Through” have been featured on Scrubs. Unfortunately, his greatest exposure probably came from his recent victimization in an assault case in New York City a few weeks ago, which surprisingly did not delay the release of Sweeter. However, a delay might have helped, because Sweeter lacks the catchiness of his previous efforts and could have used some commercial tinkering.

High hopes were set on the album’s first single “Not Over You,” produced by Ryan Tedder. Despite being one of Tedder’s standard productions, DeGraw’s personality and songwriting skills are able to shine through. Like his previous work, the song is piano driven yet contains a pop sensibility. This cannot be said for the rest of the record, which verges on adult contemporary territory. Songs like “Stealing” and “You Know Where I’m At” are slow, piano-driven songs, yet lack engagement as a result of subdued choruses and melodies.

Unlike DeGraw’s past albums, Sweeter is ballad heavy and often cumbersome with mediocre dirges. In addition to the aforementioned tracks, “Where You At” and “Spell It Out” also bring the record to a screeching halt. Gavin DeGraw was never purely pop, nor should he ever be, but the lack of memorable hooks is sorely missing in these ballads and thus most of the record. “Not Over You” was the perfect balance, but DeGraw never recaptures this vibe.

This is not to say the album is deft of catchy uptempos. The title track is a funky take on DeGraw’s typical uptempo material, an effective slice of piano pop/rock. “Radiation” is a tune in the same vein, although it is too similar to “Sweeter” to breathe a life of its own. These are the only truly uptempo songs on the album, and unfortunately are not enough to bring life to the record. The sad theme of getting over a girl gets old after a few songs, so it would have been nice if other territories were explored.

Fans like myself will be happy to hear new material from DeGraw, no matter how disappointing it may be. Sweeter simply sounds outdated, even for an adult contemporary record. The album is unlikely to bring new fans, which is a shame since DeGraw has proved he can make rock songs with the right amount of pop. Sweeter is a relatively harmless listen for a rainy day, but nothing more.

Original Author: Matt Samet