Review Summary: Leave This Town isn’t quite the album of sloppy seconds it threatened to be.
Of the twelve tracks on Leave This Town
, Daughtry’s second studio album, one in particular stands out. ‘Tennessee Line,’ the collaboration with 20-time Grammy winner Vince Gill, is significant for two reasons. Firstly, despite the band’s obvious appeal to middle America, it marks the first time Daughtry have made an explicit effort to cross over to a country audience. Secondly, Gill does not hand out guest spots on a whim: the phrase “praise from Caesar” wouldn’t be too far from the mark. When ‘Tennessee Line’ is almost certainly packaged as a single sometime in the next year, it will be interesting to see just how receptive country audiences are to yet another product of the American Idol
stable. The odds on “very” are probably fairly short at this moment in time.
The occasion of the Daughtry’s second studio album sees a couple of cosmetic changes. The studio musicians of old have been replaced by the slightly less faceless figures that have accompanied their master on tour the past three years, and there has been the ritual musings on how Leave This Town
is more of a “band effort” and other such contractual waffle. But, while it’s true this new group are a competent bunch of studio musicians, the album owes as much to producers, executive producers and focus groups as it does the people who actually wrote it. Daughtry himself claims a credit on each of the twelve tracks, but only once is he credited as the sole songwriter: on hard-rocking opener ‘You Don’t Belong.’ The eleven remaining tracks boast some fairly conspicuous names next to them: Chad Kroeger of Nickelback (twice), Ben Moody and David Hodges (ex- of Evanescence), Mitch Allan (formerly of SR-71) and Eric Dill (ex-The Click Five). Each of these names can point to his own success (one more so than others), but not one could be termed an innovator, and most would struggle to recall any but Kroeger’s face.
Leave This Town
isn’t quite the compilation of sloppy seconds it had threatened to be (and one of the faceless aforementioned puts in a stellar shift), but it’s formulaic, over-produced and makes frustratingly little use of the group’s sole golden asset: its singer. It is probably a little unfair to single Leave This Town
out among thousands of bland modern rock albums, but, even by the genre’s own standards, it’s frightening how much effort has been put into ensuring it’s as inoffensive as possible. The straight-up pop-rock sound of Daughtry
has been amended only slightly: the solemn verse/shouty chorus dynamic remains, although heavy compression ensures that it all sounds about the same, but there’s a little more for the moms this time around. ‘Life After You’ could seamlessly slide onto a latter-era Backstreet Boys album (although it probably wouldn’t be good enough), while ‘September’ is reminiscent of Enrique Iglesias’s more sombre singles the first time he crossed over to the English-speaking market.
The production, mixing and mastering (let’s give credit where it’s due) must all be indicted for crimes of compression: it’s hard to tell exactly who’s to blame, but both Ted Jensen (he mastered Death Magnetic
) and Howard Benson (take your pick) have form in this area, and both have to shoulder the blame for effectively neutralising the singer’s presence on the album. On lead single ‘No Surprise,’ his vocals are doubled throughout the entire song, a technique usually used to iron out bum notes and inconsistencies in a singer’s performance. Here, the effect is just to make it sound sterile, almost robotic, inadvertently complementing the unemotional banality of the lyrics. More offten, it’s the sheer loudness of the mix that overwhelms the singer: ‘No Surprise’ is again a culprit, but a similar approach fogs the choruses of ‘Every Time You Turn Around,’ ’You Don’t Belong To Me’ and ‘Ghost Of Me.’ The chorus of each hits with a wave of distorted guitars, but the impact is minimal as the tracks have been compressed to death. ‘Open Your Eyes,’ a co-write with David Hodges, bucks the trend completely and opts for a more dynamic riff during the chorus. For once, the melody is emphasised and it turns out to be one of the record’s most memorable tracks.
There is some real quality evident on Leave This Town
, but it’s buried at the back- the final two tracks, to be precise. ‘Tennessee Line’ isn’t so much a change of pace as it is a dramatic upswing in quality. Gill’s tasteful, bluesy acoustic guitar lines show exactly what songs like ‘September’ and ‘Learn My Lesson’ lack: some sort of tangible character apart from dryly picked chords and softly strummed guitar- something to suggest they’re more than just by-the-numbers rock songs. Gill adds more than just the guitar, though: his presence inspires Daughtry to his most expressive vocal performance of the record, and his subtle harmonies on the chorus, along with some tasty fiddle playing, add a sweet country tinge to the song. Closer ‘Call Your Name,’ paradoxically, is another of those “softly strummed guitar” songs, but it too benefits from the addition of strings, while the singer compares well with Raine Maida of Our Lady Peace as he makes subtle use of his falsetto.
There’s little point analysing the lyrics in any great detail: break-ups, shame spirals, blacksmiths getting laid off- the usual heartland ***. Pick up a Bon Jovi record for more inspiration. Lead single ‘No Surprise’ is far from a classic break-up song, but whoever said pop songs couldn’t express complex emotions was dead wrong. The chorus alone swings dramatically between teary-eyed sentimentality, needing to get out of there NOW and back again: ”Not wrapping this in ribbons / I shouldn’t have to need a reason why / It’s no surprise I won’t be here tomorrow / I can’t believe that I stayed till today / And you and I will be a tough act to follow / But I know in time we’ll find this was no surprise.”
It’s quite an adventure for a three-minute pop song, but it’s completely unintentional.
Taking into account that half of Leave This Town
was never intended for headphone listening, and is better heard blasting on a car stereo or a jukebox, it can seem somewhat picky to criticise the album for being poorly-written or for sounding like compressed dog poo. But that’s what critics do, and it’s a thankless task.