Let’s start with the good stuff about Turn On the Lights, the new release by pop singer/songwriter Daniel Powter. First off—for the most part, it’s great pop. Catchy hooks, clever lyricism, well-structured melodies, and solid production value without being over the top. All the things that make for a solid, marketable pop album.
Indeed, while there are a few missteps here and there (which I’ll get to in a moment), there are also moments of brilliance on this record. I love the powerful, anthemic choruses on songs like “Come Back Home” and “If Only I Could Cry,” and the singability of “Selfish.” In contrast to the more brooding vibe of 2008’s Under the Radar, this album has an easier feel overall, combining pop-lite falsettos reminiscent of Maroon 5’s Adam Levine with the easygoing vibe of Jason Mraz (only perhaps less “smiley”). Bottom line—Turn On the Lights is slated for success by formula.
And yet, against hope, I don’t think it’s going to go very far.
Why? you might ask.
Wait for it…
He had a “Bad Day.” (Okay, you can groan now.)
Perhaps the biggest drag on Powter’s career, ironically, is his one smash hit in 2005. Seven years later, we still almost can’t hear “Bad Day” without singing along. It set the bar so high for him that it’s difficult for all his other stuff to get anyone’s attention—even if it deserves said attention. Under the Radar, actually was. (Under the radar, that is.) And even though Turn On the Lights represents a stronger side of Daniel Powter, that “Bad Day” shadow still looms.
Not only that—I mentioned a few missteps on this album. Some might disagree with me on this, but I feel the album’s opening track and first single “Cupid” is a bit self-sabotaging. Yeah, it’s fun, catchy, and all that—but thanks to Neil Sedaka, it’s impossible to rhyme “stupid” with “Cupid” without it sounding totally trite and copycat. Another misstep is “Except the Blue,” which has the same kind of swinging-rhythm piano style as “Bad Day.” (The last thing Powter needs to do is remind us of that song.) These aren’t enough to completely detract from the value of the album, but they certainly don’t help his cause.
So what does all this mean? Turn On the Lights, while not perfect, deserves more attention than it’s going to get—and most of it is not really Daniel Powter’s fault. The “lights” of this album are just not enough to white out the shadow still being cast by “Bad Day.”