Since vocalist Phillip Phillips first arrested America’s attention with his victory on American Idol Season 11, his advance single “Home” has further solidified his place in current pop culture. (You probably recognize the tune even if you don’t know who is singing it.) Now, with the release of his debut album The World From the Dark Side of the Moon, Phillips gives us an even greater taste of who he is musically, as he now tries to make the difficult transition from talent show contestant to serious recording artist.
Over time, my greatest criticism of the American Idol franchise is that the record producers behind the scenes insist on slathering the subsequent recordings from its contestants with so much pop-production polish that we lose the essence of what first drew us to the artists in the first place. I’m losing count of the debut albums from these artists that have tanked as a result of this unfortunate practice.
That being said, I’m happy to report that somehow Phillip Phillips has largely escaped this snare, and has released a record that not only fairly represents who he is as an artist, but also presents with an overall enjoyable listening experience. As a result, I expect that this album will find far more chart success than those of other recent Idol winners.
Phillips’ distinct Americana-tinged roots/acoustic rock style comes through clearly on The World From the Side of the Moon, not just through the instrumentation or Phillips’ own gravelly voice, but also through the songwriting itself, to which Phillips contributed generously. The kickoff track “Man On the Moon” sets the stage well with a solid, acoustic guitar-driven (and banjo enhanced) groove that makes you want to keep listening—followed by the already well-proven hit “Home.” Other standout tracks include “Gone Gone Gone,” “Drive Me” and “Wicked Game”—and the emotion packed into “Wanted Is Love” makes it a personal favorite for me. I’m not gonna say the album doesn’t suffer from some overproduction (that’s to be expected), but at least we can hear the essence of Phillip Phillips as an artist in the midst of it.
The news isn’t all sunshine and roses, however. There are a few forgettable tracks thrown into the list that seem only to serve the purpose of making the album longer, and the quieter tunes near the end are fine in their own right, but they tend to run together and make the time drag on. Beyond that, my biggest concern for Phillips is the obvious affinity for Dave Matthews and Mumford & Sons, to the point that most of the songs on the record will remind you of one or the other. While this definitely makes his sound current for the moment, he runs the risk of becoming a trend-follower rather than a trend-setter. Phillips needs to find a way to pull away from the pack and establish his own identity in future recordings.
However, though not without its flaws, The World From the Side of the Moon is the most respectable debut from an American Idol champ in years, and gives me real hope for Phillips as an artist. If nothing else, it gives him a solid platform on which to continue building a career, and if he plays his cards right, I expect that he will escape the pool of mediocrity into which so many of his predecessors have fallen. Phillip Phillips could easily go on to join the ranks of Idol success stories like Daughtry, Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood. I look forward to seeing what comes next.
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