Can the 'American Idol' winner transcend the guy-with-guitar curse?
Phillip Phillips, the most recent of the crowned "American Idols," has a bar to raise. Previous guys-with-guitars-styled singers like Kris Allen and Lee Dewyze are struggling for their album sales and criticisms to match their FOX show success. What this 22-year-old has going for him on his debut album "The World from the Side of the Moon," besides a title charmingly impossible to remember, is his natural, warm growl and the mixed blessing of always sounding like somebody else.
Namely, Phillips splits time on "The World" between Dave Matthews Band rockers and Mumford & Sons roots numbers. This comes as no surprise to the listener, who would easily mistake his chart-breaking single "Home" for the latter's earnest heartbreaking. As for the inveterate DMB, Phillips picks up where 2001's "Everyday" left off: these are not band-written songs, this collection is shot after shot at the Next Big Single, with a frontman never stepping away from the center. Some melodies will achieve exactly the radio single sound Universal undoubtedly hoped Phillips could achieve. "Gone, Gone, Gone" has enough BPMs to differentiate it from "Home" while still dipping into the same pool. Closer "So Easy" could easily head to Adult Top 40 as "Get Up Get Down" will leave both Matthews and Maroon 5 shaking that they didn't have first dibs.
Phillips is game for all these, but it's not unfair to say he has some serious limitations, too. Dynamically, his vocals remain pleasant, lightly challenged, but rarely changing. Those performances cause tracks like "Drive Me" and country stomper "Cant' Go Wrong" to fall flat. He most emotionally expressive on "Home," still, and abstract "Fool's Dance."
The next challenge is to take Phillips' likeable brand further, without entirely disassociating him from the television show. Some songs are strong enough, and his fans can follow this set pretty easily. Now it's up to the marketing team. Happy holidays, guys.