From one point of view, it’s hard to feel sorry for Chris Daughtry. After his shocking 4th-place elimination from American Idol Season 5, his popularity has carried him onward to become the best selling AI alumnus who didn’t actually win the competition, going platinum with his first two outings and trailing behind only Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood in total record sales.
On the other hand, he does deserve a bit of sympathy vote, because these days he can’t seem to buy a good review. Even as his namesake band’s latest release Baptized hits the store shelves and iTunes this week, he is being panned by critics as the guy who killed rock and roll. Listening to the record, I honestly believe this is a bit unfair. Daughtry’s music isn’t bad—quite the opposite, in fact. It’s just miscategorized.
Let me explain.
Chris Daughtry has built his persona on being a moody, rasp-voiced rocker. The problem is, since his stint on Idol, he actually has yet to make a true rock record. Chalk it up to 19 Records and his producers exerting too much influence on him, or chalk it up to Daughtry not really knowing who he is or what he wants. The bottom line is that he’s a self-proclaimed rocker who has actually been putting out pop music that has a tinge of rock in it—and that’s a veritable no-man’s land. (Just ask Nickelback.)
In other words, Daughtry makes really good pop music—it’s just lousy rock and roll. If you judge his music as a pop artist, the outcome is much different. See what I mean by miscategorizing?
With that in mind, Baptized is actually quite good—as a pop record, not a rock record. It ticks most of the boxes for what makes good pop these days: singable hooks, stompy Mumford-and-Sons-style folk riffs (complete with banjo), electro drum loops and synths where appropriate, and even the occasional detuned indie piano. The album is well-produced, the track list is balanced, and Chris Daughtry’s raspy vocals play well over music that has just enough rawness to it to make more interesting than your average bubble-gum pop. The catchy opening title track is pure twenty-teens pop-folk-rock, with a banjo loop riffing over a squashed four-to-the-floor drumbeat, while follow-up “Waiting For Superman” (the album’s lead single) is a straight-up romantic power ballad. There are plenty of other radio-friendly moments to be found in tunes like “Battleships” (destined for live crowds to echo the “boom-b’boom-booms”) and “Wild Heart,” and the sentimental, falsetto-driven “High Above the Ground” seems tailor-made for a Nicholas Sparks movie soundtrack.
But here’s the thing: as great a pop record as this is, Chris Daughtry seems hell-bent on presenting himself as a post-grunge type of rocker—and that’s just not going to cut it with the actual post-grunge crowd. Ever. Never is this dichotomy more present than in the highly confusing “Long Live Rock & Roll,” in which he rambles over nostalgic moments in rock history while the track beneath him sounds like it was lifted from a power-folk Phillip Phillips track. Huh, what?
And therein lies the problem. Mis-labeling your product to the public never plays well. If you cut your movie trailer to play like your film is a comedy, but the actual movie is a tear-jerker drama, your film will get bad reviews. Same with music. Saying you’re a rock artist does not make you one. If Daughtry wants to get out of no-man’s land and be a rocker, then damn it, he needs to be a rocker. Drop the label, strip the production, do whatever—just make a real rock album. I have no doubt he can do it, and do it well. Otherwise, he needs to dispense with the moody façade and just embrace the pop fans that his first four albums seem to be crafted toward.
Baptized isn’t a bad album. Just don’t call it rock and roll.