Chris Daughtry has always been a talented dude with a lousy record collection. He has a well-toned voice but wallet-chain tastes, thrusting his quavery tough-guy vocals into songs that make your mullet grow.
His sophomore album, Leave This Town, was released this week, and the 12-tracker might top the multiplatinum sales clout of his self-titled '06 debut, the hits-aplenty platter featuring It's Not Over, Home and then some.
That doesn't mean the new album is better than the first one, mind you. Daughtry — the man and the quintet — knows success comes from the status quo, so almost nothing has changed. Going back to his abbreviated stay on American Idol, the North Carolina talent has always wanted to tap into safe Nickelbackian churn. The only difference now is that he has the clout to get that band's singer, Chad Kroeger, to pen songs for him.
The lyrics are consistently dopey — "I woke up today / Sinkin' like the stones that you have thrown" — and the layered guitars and drums build and blast off predictably, sonic punch given clean sheen by producer Howard Benson and mixmaster Chris Lord-Alge. There aren't many twists save for a gently crooning Vince Gill on the fiddle-flecked ballad Tennessee Line.
But for all the Mad Libbian radio-rock grandeur and generic she's-gone sentiment — and trust me, that's more than enough to make a hit today — Daughtry still has That Voice, and it's a mighty yawp for sure. His band of friends loves a loud, lewd groove, and no matter how metallic(a) they get, they know the Bald Wonder will follow.
There's a smattering of keepers here. Opening cut You Don't Belong has genuine head-bang aggression, and the singer eats that sucker up with a hungry, don't-tempt-me smirk. What I Meant to Say works a slightly ripe '80s Night Ranger vibe with an another incredibly catchy chorus. And on hooked-out first single No Surprise (a Kroeger's co-penner) and dreamy closer Call Your Name, the singer shows off a new trick: holding a sweet high note without losing his edge.
There might be some digital mop-up on this album, but I'd bet not much. Daughtry is that good, and his voice is just getting better, a tasty little thought for sure. Now if someone would only buy him a few Zeppelin and Stones CDs, we might really have something here.
Sean Daly can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8467. His Pop Life blog is at blogs.tampabay.com/popmusic.