Daily Archives: November 11, 2009
In celebration of the one-year anniversary of David’s debut CD, there is a Twitter Trending Party going on (don’t forget to tweet #DavidArchieVersary). In addition, I’ve decided to reprint my review of the David Archuleta CD last year, when I was blogging as an Anxious Black Woman:
Glimpses of Vocal Prowess: My Review of David Archuleta’s Standard CD
David Archuleta brings out the Roberta Flack in me. From the first time ever I saw his face, back in February, I declared to the world that I had a crush. Little did I know that, nine months later, it wasn’t going away-ye-yay-ye-yay-ye-yay-ye-yayyyyy! Because his voice is killing me softly with his many songs, and since I’m a grown woman, I can only imagine how he’s slaying the young’uns.
While many of us who discovered David on American Idol can identify the one song that made us “believers” in his talent (for many that would be his performance of “Imagine,” for others – myself initially – that would be “Heaven”), I would have to identify a moment more than an individual cover. That moment for me was Top 3 week, when idol contestants were given two songs to sing – one from the judges, the other from the producers – and then chose their own song. That week, Paula Abdul gave him some ancient and obscure Billy Joel song “And So It Goes,” a song about an aged man who looks back on his life with regret at the many heartaches he’s had and hoping that he wouldn’t be so jaded as to not open his heart for new love. Yep, that’s the song that Ms. Abdul thought a fresh-faced 17-year-old, who has admitted in interviews that he’s never had a serious relationship, was going to be able to cover and translate the pain of love.
Not only did David step up and deliver in spades, his voice haunted me that entire week. That the producers gave him the “gooey” insipid ballad, “Longer,” by Dan Fogelberg to interpret, was a clear sign of sabatoge, but being the good little trooper that he is, David managed to turn that lemon into lemonade. He had no choice, after those songs, but to choose a current song, and so he selected Chris Brown’s “With You,” which many thought he performed awkwardly (it was the disconnect in seeing this cleancut Rocky Mountain boy singing urban lyrics like “hey little mama,” “shorty,” and “I need you boo” that threw many off). Still, it was undeniable, to me at least, that – when taking all three songs together – David illustrated his incredible gift to dig deep into a song and let his gorgeous voice do the work of translation. The combination of Chris Brown and Dan Fogelberg also showed that he could sing anything (from contemporary R&B to schlocky crap) and sound good. As Randy Jackson was fond of saying, “Dude, you could sing the phonebook, and it would be good!” (A gimmick that TRL reenacted when both David Archuleta and David Cook were subjected to a phonebook-singing contest.)
So, knowing this about David’s vocal prowess, I bring my ears – already predisposed to love anything coming out of his mouth – to his self-titled debut album (which will be available in stores on Tuesday, while bonus tracks in addition to the 12 tracks on his standard CD, are available on the itunes download). I’m not surprised that other reviews have started pouring in, describing the album as “generic,” while others don’t deny his immense talent as an accomplished singer in all his 17 years. However, if there is any reviewer whose opinion I respect, it would be Rascal at Noting David, someone who takes David’s artistry seriously and who laments that “much of this production treats its eponymous star like an ingredient rather than as the main course.” I’m inclined to agree with this, but only to a certain extent. You see, this view underestimates the power of a vocal musician, which is what David is, even if – from what others have reported about his early attempts at breaking into the music scene – he was encouraged to play an instrument and write songs to become a “real artist” (Whatever…does that mean musical geniuses like Billie Holiday, Judy Garland, Frank Sinatra, et al, who only sang and didn’t play instruments or write songs, are not “real artists”?)
Yes, many of the tracks are over-produced, but if you’ve been paying attention to current pop music, that was inevitable. There really is no point in musicians even trying to “Rage against the Machine.” The stroke of a musical genius in this current age is learning how to subvert the machine oh-so-subtly, and I think David does that here. Take my favorite track on the CD: “Barriers.” It is clearly the most over-processed song on the album, and what I absolutely adore about it is the way you can hear David literally shouting to gain authority over the syncopated beats and the mixer, which tries to subvert his voice by producing an “echo” of it during the chorus – really, as Rascal says, treating this singer like one little ingredient among many. But, you hear him struggling and ascending on the song so that it’s his voice that guides the melody and the harmony. And the irony of the “echo” is that it merely reinforces the vocal master that David is on the song. Take that, Machine!
It’s a rather dissonant song, which blends a dash of reggae with some R&B and pop rock touches. And yet, for me, it works and shows off what David does brilliantly (I’m digging the bridge especially because he strains for some high notes and adds some fascinating runs – a vocal style he has admitted learning from black female vocalists, like his idol Tamyra Gray from season 1, and Natalie Cole, both of whom he gives shout outs to in his liner notes, a style that has been identified on American Idol as “diva”). As non-diva as David’s personality seems to be, he brings the “diva” on in his songs. Which is another way of saying that David brings the “soul.” And you hear it in his runs, his melisma, and his falsettos, which come in unexpected places.
For someone who represents a kind of cleancut innocence, a number of songs on the CD are just straight up angst with a touch of melancholy, which perfectly matches the “heartache” that his crystal-clear voice can register and recall. It’s something Rascal calls “an underlying melancholy, symbolized by that cry in his voice; the feeling that in grace lies an awareness of suffering.” Another reviewer calls it “tortured-soul whisper-singing, angsty bellowing in an echo chamber and quivering falsetto.” This is felt in two different songs, “Desperate,” a cover song that offers an emo-like rock sound, and “To Be With You,” a soft ballad that captures that tortured longing for his life to begin and for love to find him and wake him up to the promise and the hope. It can also be heard in the catchy “A Little Too Not Over You,” whose bridge shows off David’s falsetto the most beautifully.
Lest we forget that this mature-sounding singer is only 17, certain tracks are shamelessly added for the teens and tweens: most notably his popular, near-platinum-success single, “Crush,” and “Touch My Hand,” a cute and fun rockish sounding pop ode to the girl in the audience to whom David is singing. I understand this will be the second single, which, unfortunately, doesn’t do much to establish David beyond his teen heart throb image. I’m sure it will do just as well as “Crush,” which is the bottom line for record labels, but if they wanted to branch out and give David a new sound and mature image, “Barriers” or “Desperate” would have done the trick. I have hope they will be released as singles in the near future.
Some of the tracks are pretty generic – “My Hands” and “Don’t Let Go” come to mind – but some have some really catchy melodies, like “Running” and “Your Eyes Don’t Lie.” I personally am disappointed that there is just one other new ballad, “You Can,” since few of the tracks really allow David’s vocals to shine and be the main feature. But, at least, his ballad anthem to his “Arch Angels” fanbase, “Angels,” closes the collection, and it truly is an impressive piece of soaring vocalization.
As a debut album, its success lies in creating a bit of distance from David’s persona on American Idol and in showcasing that he can fit easily into the current music scene. My problem with that logic is: David, as far as I’m concerned, is a cut above current music artists, and it would be nice if his label showed that level of knowledge, musical intelligence, and respect for who he is. That David brings his A-game with his beautiful voice, singing incredibly on one vocal chord, mind you, means that I expect record producers to meet him half-way. As such, the result is a B+ album (and the plus is mostly David). However, he’s only 17, and I expect him to do much more – possibly peaking at age 25, when most male artists do, with an album that perfectly aligns him with the right producer and songwriter/collaborator. Right out the gate, Jive hooked him up with several different producers and songwriters, without thinking much of creating a coherent sound and collection, not to mention David had so little time to really focus on this album while touring 50+ cities during the AI concert over the summer.
Still, considering that, under such circumstances, a less capable singer would have been disastrous and less adept at selecting the right songs, David has nothing to be ashamed of here. At the very least, it shows great promise for his next and subsequent efforts in later years. And, of course, on a more superficial level: that CD cover is destined to make many fangirls (and fanboys) swoon.
Update Nov. 13, 2008 – now that I’ve heard all the bonus tracks – “Waiting for Yesterday,” (the falsetto is chill-inducing!), “Falling,” “Let Go,” “Somebody Out There” (David Unplugged!), and “Works for Me” – they’re such a throwback to awesome music (very Stevie-Wonderesque), I wonder about his label’s decision-making skills in not selecting these for the standard CD. However, I have zero doubts about David’s musical talents (most of these tracks were co-written or solely written by him). This boy is going to shake up the music world very soon! I promise you.