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So dreamy, and so safe

November 11, 2008|August Brown; Mikael Wood

David Archuleta

David Archuleta


* 1/2

Why do "American Idol" fans consistently reward male pop singers for being entirely sexless on the show? Pouty lips and flirty lashes are practically entrance requirements for female singers, and "rocker" guys can bellow and strut to their content. But there's a kind of elfish contestant who always does well despite the possibility of vanishing in a cloud of unicorn glitter were he to sing something arousing.

Which brings us to the curious case of David Archuleta's debut album. It's an exacting distillation of a 13-year-old girl's wholesome romantic aspirations as imagined by 50-year-old label reps. Yet the show revealed that image is actually true to Archuleta's personality (albeit, one creepily stage-managed by his dad). It's as if Archuleta's influences as a singer were solely previous "Idol" contestants, and he's a blank screen for viewers to project onto via millions of speed-dialed votes.

Archuleta has one magisterial single, "Crush," that will smother all who encounter it with the refinement of its craft. But the record is larded with awkward modernist R&B, Christian semaphore ballads like "You Can" and warm-milk mewling that makes David Cook, Archuleta's "Idol" foe, sound like Robert Plant.

The best teen pop is often code for exploring more dangerous ideas, yet Archuleta counts Tamyra Gray and Kelly Clarkson as influences in his liner notes. Kids deserve more salacious pandering than that.

-- August Brown


There are four sides of 'Crazy'

Gnarls Barkley

"Who's Gonna Save My Soul"


* 1/2

Headlining the Hollywood Bowl in July, Cee-Lo Green announced that he and Danger Mouse, his partner in the future-soul duo Gnarls Barkley, were "contractually obligated" to perform "Crazy," the worldwide smash from Gnarls' 2006 debut, "St. Elsewhere."

Green was presumably joking -- "Crazy" is such a powerful invention that it's hard to imagine that even its creators are tired of playing it.

There is, however, something slightly obligatory about the outfit's new six-track "Who's Gonna Save My Soul" EP, which features no fewer than four versions of the title cut.

The original, from this year's "The Odd Couple" album, is well worth hearing again: A post-Portishead space-blues jam, the song contains some of the frontman's finest, most deeply felt singing.

And hearing "Soul's" demo version (one of the EP's three alternate renditions) demonstrates how complete a vision Danger Mouse had for the song from the beginning; for a studio magician whose music embraces the unexpected, he evidently leaves little to chance.

Yet nothing much is revealed by an instrumental mix or by a live take taped for MTV, nor does a live version of "Neighbors," also from "Odd Couple," tell you anything you didn't already know about Gnarls Barkley.

The set's sole new track, "Mystery Man," flatters Danger Mouse's collection of vintage keyboards but not much else.

Hey, even geniuses phone it in once in a while.

-- Mikael Wood

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