Review Summary: Gives hope for a more original future beyond that of a Daughtry sound-a-like.
It’s hard to hate on an American Idol winner when said winner is dyed-in-the-wool Midwestern rocker David Cook. He cruised to a fairly dominant victory over standard-pop crooner David Archuleta with his nicotine-stained, husky vocals, his bar-rocker good looks, and most importantly, his ability to actually play guitar and create some truly out-of-left-field arrangements of songs. Cook’s first album after winning Idol, and his second overall, is what you would expect from his offerings on the show, a collection of modern-rock tunes that are carried mostly on Cook’s strong voice and owe quite a lot to Cook’s own idols. Alas, the creative ingenuity Cook showcased on Idol in covering pop classics has been overwhelmed here, replaced by radio-ready, meat-and-potatoes rock ‘n roll that is entertaining, solid, and, too often, surprisingly bland.
Unlike most of the champions who came before him, credit must be given to Cook for penning much of the material on his self-titled, and while he can at times wax sentimental like on the sappy “Heroes,” his arrangements and lyrics are what you would expect from a new alt-rock hero with the ambition to become an “American Our Lady Peace.” Single “Light On,” co-written with that Seattle rock god Chris Cornell, is your typical late ‘90s power ballad, while opener “Declaration” is hook-y guitar-heavy grunge-pop, and Cook’s voice is the driving engine behind each song, lending appropriate gravitas and pathos at times and just sounding like he’s having a ton of fun at others. Just check out the gritty, thudding rock of “Bar-Ba-Sol,” easily one of the best songs and vocal performances on the record.
Cook still has a ways to go when it comes to making smart creative decisions, as the embarrassing metaphorical conceit “Life On The Moon” shows, and some songs just end up sounding too much like generic Nickelback-esque contemporary rock, like the uninspired “Mr. Sensitive” and the corny “I Did It For You.” The best songs are those that don’t come off as sounding like they just rolled off the latest major-label rock assembly line, most notably the affecting “Permanent,” which glides along on a haunting piano and strings line and Cook’s intimate lyrics. And Cook’s own “A Daily AntheM” ends out the album on a powerful note, a truly ripping guitar solo that I almost couldn’t believe coming from the mild-mannered Cook closing out a fairly rockin’ tune.
David Cook is easily one of the best debut albums to come out from the American Idol series, disdaining cookie-cutter pop and an anonymous hit team of writers, instead focusing the attention on its star’s distinctive vocals and a rebellious image that Idol definitely needed. While much of the record still sounds a little too over-produced, a little too slick, and a little out-of-touch with progressive alt-rock, it bodes well for Cook’s burgeoning career and a number of tracks give hope for a more original future beyond that of a Daughtry sound-a-like.