"I practiced this for hours, gone round and round, and now I think that I've got it all down...I'm not taking the easy way out..."
It's all true, Daughtry worked really hard on this one, and it sounds it. Right out of the gate, with its Queensrÿche intro and shades of Nickelback, Leave This Town's opener, "You Don't Belong," batters with some real anger (thank you co-writer, Chad Kroeger), at least until we get to the hooky chorus which yanks the musical experience back into traditional, chart-tested Daughtry territory. From the above-quoted, second track and single "No Surprise" and on, it's Daughtry 2.0 (down from "You Don't Belong"'s 3.5), which is okay since Leave This Town still kicks its multi-hit, multi-platinum predecessor's ass, alternating between big guitar'd, Creed-inspired grunge-a-longs and country-bred, beer hall breakup ballads across its twelve powerful tracks.
This is all really likable material, even though its every move is predictable. Cuts like "Every Time You Turn Around" charge out of the jungle like a wild pachyderm that unfortunately is tranquilized by the pop dart "I know you're standing there waiting for me, to take it on back down the other road baby, but I won't let you down" in its extremely anthem-ic chorus. This happens on every single rock workup, those energized recordings alternating methodically with sensitive, mid-tempo purges. Regardless of topic, tempo or potential for tediousness, every song delivers its mandatory, Top Forty hook within a little below the minute mark. And interestingly, there is much attention to detail production-wise on the front half of these workups, the lure as important as the payoffs, those being irresistible choruses guaranteed to indoctrinate after their first repetition.
The lyrics? Well, that's a work in progress. On one of Leave This Town's best tracks, "Life After You," we're told, "...all that I'm after is a lifetime of laughter, as long as I'm laughing with you," that comes off as genius when compared with some of the album's other dissertations; stray dogs such as "Every Time You Turn Around"'s "...pardon me, I've been following my dreams," "What I Meant To Say"'s "...wounded by the same old shots you take," "Supernatural"'s "...lost from the start, I might as well be on the moon, it's much colder than I thought, even in the month of June," and "Learn My Lesson"'s "...tonight the sunset means so much, the one thing that you know you never touch" needed to be followed with a poop-scoop. Then again, sophisticated lyrics are not what we're buying with a Daughtry record; he's an everyman, not a Socrates. No, we're rooting so hard for this guy/band that it's best to overlook details as long as we're being expertly entertained which we are.
Though Daughtry's rockin' with testosterin' made him/them popular at frats, at tailgate parties and on army bases, it's the good ol' ballads that got the girls. No shortage here, with the beautiful "Every Time You Turn Around," "September," "Call Your Name," and the acoustic waltz "Life After You" all starting like your favorite John Mellencamp song before bordering on modern "country" (the track "Tennessee Line" actually hiring-in one of that musical genre's heroes, Vince Gill). Come to think of it, that's the smartest hand this group plays...working the rock and country rooms at once without actually being country rock.
In the past, musically, Daughtry has been placed in the House of Creed, but a better location now might be in the State of Bon Jovi, especially after Chris' nailing "I'll Be There For You" while performing in honor of Jon and Richie at the Songwriters Hall of Fame. Think about it...there's not much of a difference between that dude who's wanted "Dead Or Alive" and Chris' good bad boy who either is heroically trying to save relationships or bravely ending them. And melodically, especially when our vocalist goes for the high notes, couldn't he be mistaken for a Richie Sambora-era Cher? (Nah, we kid because we love so we kid...)
Everyone knows Daughtry the human is especially talented and obviously worked hard to deliver a record this satisfying. Still, for real longevity, he eventually is going to have to cut loose from his assembly line handlers and reveal real depth, not just skills, and that could earn him a discerning audience and a place in the music books beyond American Idol history. And a really quick intervention: Chris, you need to stop using those same three or four note intervals...it's now devolved from style to formula, and your imagination and pipes certainly can handle vocal jumps beyond major fourths that resolve to thirds; that said, you sure do sound good singin' 'em, so never mind...for now. Beating the sophomore jinx and looking at what was accomplished here, to borrow some out of context words from "No Surprise," Daughtry was "...a tough act to follow," but Leave This Town succeeded admirably, something we all pretty much expected from this band's talented namesake.
1. You Don't Belong
2. No Surprise
3. Every Time You Turn Around
4. Life After You
5. What I Meant To Say
6. Open Up Your Eyes
8. Ghost Of Me
9. Learn My Lesson
11. Tennessee Line
12. Call Your Name
Follow Mike Ragogna on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ragz2008