Blake Lewis' debut album disappoints
Blake Lewis stood out from the "American Idol" crowd with his beatboxing. But his slick recording debut, "Audio Day Dream," doesn't deliver on his unique promise.
Special to The Seattle Times
Jingle Bell Bash: Blake Lewis appears with the Jonas Brothers, Timbaland, Keri Hilson, OneRepublic, Sebastian, Sean Kingston, Colbie Caillet, Ehpikh; 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Tacoma Dome, 2727 East D St., Tacoma; $25-$106 (206-628-0888; information: www.kiss1061.com, www.tacomadome.org).
Blake Lewis, 26-year-old "American Idol" runner-up and Bothell native, made his name by being unique.
"Remixing" songs midperformance on live TV, Lewis wove a cappella hip-hop sound effects (it's called beatboxing, grandpa/ma) into "Idol"-sanctioned jukebox pop.
An original vocal weapon, Lewis' beat-box also seemed the tip of a deep musical iceberg, a wealth of experience and expertise only revealed in glimpses.
Unfortunately, on his debut recording, "Audio Day Dream" ("ADD"), we're still not getting the rest of the iceberg. The album, which comes out Tuesday, is 16 tracks (55 minutes) of energetic, bubblegum pop.
Lewis' love of hip-hop, drum and bass and trance music appears on "ADD" like faint syrup in a giant Italian soda.
Take lead single "Break Anotha" for example. Two-thirds of the way in, the drummer (Seattle club mainstay Kevin Sawka) kicks into a skittish, booming beat, at once a half- and double-time breakdown. Lewis rides the momentum with stretched-out singing like a character in a "Matrix" fight scene.
But then it's back to the song, which is so slick with cliché dramatics it might have been directed by Michael Bay ("Pearl Harbor" and "Transformers").
The track — like most on "ADD" — is produced by Ryan Tedder, singer for recent MTV sensation OneRepublic. Everything Tedder touches on "ADD" turns to upbeat, no-brow disco, squarely in the center of a Venn diagram that includes Maroon 5, Justin Timberlake and latter-day Cher.
When Tedder falls back, things don't get radically different. Mike Elizondo produces "1000 Miles," a song that combines "Every Breath You Take" with "Time After Time," but the super-sincere ballad is impossible to take seriously. Lewis' voice isn't terribly strong, and when things veer into lyrical cheesiness (which they often do on "ADD"), the song collapses under its own weight.
"ADD's" most serious misstep is the Tedder-produced "Gots To Get Her," a synthetic carnival stomp to the tune of "Puttin' On The Ritz." As would-be camp, it's barely listenable, but "Gots To Get Her" comes across with baffling earnestness.
A notable guest performance comes from Kanye West protégé Lupe Fiasco on "Know My Name." Fiasco's phoned-in rap effortlessly rips Tedder's tame hip-hop beat to shreds, but he's gone as quickly as he came.
Elsewhere, former 'NSYNC member Chris Kirkpatrick (the one with braids) shows up as a background singer, and his presence alone speaks volumes about where Lewis stands artistically.
On "American Idol," Blake Lewis was different from everybody else. He sucker-punched cookie-cutters with a hybrid style. And no question his fondness for intriguing rhythm breakdowns and beatboxing makes for captivating live performances. But "Audio Day Dream" doesn't differentiate him from the herd of MTV mall-pop.
Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company
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