"Kris Allen," 19/Jive
It’s hard to imagine this panning out any other way. Think about it; this time last year, Kris Allen was a Conway kid with a glimmer of hope at getting more than a few seconds of airtime on “American Idol.” So far this year, he’s spent five months aboard the “Idol” rollercoaster, and the other five enduring a career’s worth of publicity, touring almost non-stop and, oh yeah, finding time to record his debut album.
As a TV show, the “Idol” formula is golden: In a marriage of two of our most cherished values — populism and celebrity — America gets to elect a new pop star (or at least it’s a convincing illusion). Post-show the grand ideals take a backseat. “Idol” parent company 19 Entertainment switches, transparently, into moneymaking mode, and it wants a return, quickly.
All of which is to say, take heart Allen fans. Just about no one comes out of “American Idol” with a pleasing first album. The real question is, is it bad enough to keep him from a second album on a major?
Probably not. Though in one of the most crowded holiday seasons in music in recent memory, “Kris Allen” might have an uphill battle. The future might rest on “Alright with Me,” a collaboration with the Fray’s Joe King that’s far and away the best thing on the album. It’s breezy pop of the first order, full of handclaps, percussive acoustic guitar and hooks that don’t quit. More than anything else on the album, it sounds like a song and arrangement the Kris Allen we know from “Idol” would choose.
Elsewhere, Allen’s mostly either trapped in schmaltz (the current single, “Live Like We’re Dying,” the sort of big gesture song destined for dentist offices) or in arrangements that push him toward the kind of big notes more suited to Adam Lambert (“The Truth,” “Lifetime”). Stylistically, big name producers push Allen all over the place, from brushes with funk to piano ballads to a bizarre tribute to Phil Collins (on the Saalam Remi-assisted cover of “Heartless”), and as is convention in pop albums aimed at a mass market, few can resist going for that grand moment and layering an extra flourish, whether it’s a string section or a guitar solo, on top.
That, of course, is modern pop music at its worst. But, again, take solace, Kris fans. It’s probably no coincidence that the three songs Allen told USA Today are his favorites —“Alright with Me,” “Red Guitar” and “Written All Over My Face” — are the most unadorned. Bet he’s already plotting album number two.