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RECORD RACK

Daughtry's 'Leave This Town'

Also reviewed: 'Horehound' by the Dead Weather and 'Tri-Polar' by the Sick Puppies.

July 14, 2009|Ann Powers; Randy Lewis; Mikael Wood

Daughtry

"Leave This Town"

RCA

* * 1/2

To understand the sensibility Daughtry brings to hard rock, read the acknowledgments in the CD booklet for "Leave This Town." Every member of the band put together by Chris Daughtry, the chart-topping former "American Idol" contestant, thanks his wife -- except for drummer Joey Barnes, who expresses gratitude to a future spouse.

What happened to the stripper-worshiping hedonism of hair metal, or even the monkish pose those '90s grunge rockers struck? Daughtry and his boys are marriage maniacs. That's what gives this band its pioneering edge, despite the utter predictability of its music.

That unwed drummer might be the best thing about Daughtry the band -- Barnes pushes forward anthems that might otherwise plod. Guitarist Josh Steely also has his moments, throwing in spicy little riffs. And there's Daughtry's voice, of course, an instrument cleaner and stronger than that of anybody else singing mainstream rock right now.

Although the mix on "Leave This Town," by hit doctor Chris Lord-Alge, is so compressed that it's tough to notice what each player is doing, many of its songs surely will be radio staples for the next two years.

A Christian father of two, Daughtry is not the first rocker to tackle the subject of monogamy, but he could be the most passionate about its value. It's one thing to offer to lay your lover down on a bed of roses, the way Jon Bon Jovi did; it's another to write about how an argument can make you stalk off clutching your car keys and then come slinking back, or to assess a breakup with the level-headed words, "Don't be surprised when we hate this tomorrow, God knows we tried to find an easier way."

That song, "No Surprise" was co-written by Nickelback's Chad Kroeger; but unlike that band, Daughtry never indulges in tongue-wagging lechery. When he does address new love, in "Supernatural," it's with a hopefulness that would have suited a 1960s girl group (or the Jonas Brothers).

More often, he dwells on the regrets, straying and emotionally charged returns that make up a lifetime spent together. Most remarkable are the two songs he co-wrote with pen-for-hire Brian Howes.

"Ghost of Me" vainly comforts a lover whose (possibly justified) doubts about the singer come out in her dreams. "What I Meant to Say" is an anti-apology from a tongue-tied guy who can't get the upper hand with his argumentative mate. Both focus on the kinds of problems that actually wreck relationships, not on the fantasy realm of romance.

Daughtry might get more credit for his perspective if he were a sharper writer. He's prone to cliches, and to flowery phrases like "tonight the sunset means so much," which work against his common-man persona.

What's important about Daughtry's relationship rock is that it is rock, macho and cathartic. The audience for this music has matured and expanded to include PTA parents and the "nice" kids who would never have gone for the gender-bending, whiskey-swilling lifestyle with which the music was long associated.

Chris Daughtry and his mates are making rock that's not just safe for this more sober crowd, but powerfully attuned to it. Dismiss him at your peril.

-- Ann Powers

--

Primal rock with a chilling power

The Dead Weather

"Horehound"

Third Man

* * * *

There are few bands that demonstrate any appreciation for the notion that the notes you play may be less important than those you don't. The Dead Weather, Jack White's latest project -- a collaboration with the Kills' singer Alison Mosshart, Queens of the Stone Age guitarist Dean Fertita and Raconteurs bassist Jack Lawrence -- embraces that philosophy with bone-chilling power on "Horehound," the band's take-no-prisoners debut.

Mosshart brings a ferocity to her vocals; she's a fearsome adversary to all those high-pitched metal wailers. White, leaving the guitar work predominantly to Fertita, takes up his seat at the drums to drive this machine in tandem with Lawrence's titanic bass lines. Beefy riffs, upended beats and blues-rooted atmospherics are dolloped on sparingly, until it's time to explode with a solo.

"I like to grab you by the hair / And drag you to the devil" Mosshart snarls in "Hang You From the Heavens," which she wrote with Fertita. "Stand up like a man," she warns in the quartet-composed "Treat Me Like Your Mother," "You better learn to shake hands / And treat me like your mother."

In White's "I Cut Like a Buffalo," his lead vocal, one of just two on this outing, is accompanied by the convulsive sounds of Mosshart's gurgles as he cries, "Is that you choking / Or are you just joking?" There's no joke here, just mountains of chest-rattling primal rock seemingly designed to reassert the elemental power of the four-piece rock group. Mission accomplished.

-- Randy Lewis

--

Album's about the wrapping

Sick Puppies

"Tri-Polar"

(Virgin)

* *

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