Many Idol fans believe that Blake Lewis was the victim of the biggest robbery since...Chris Daughtry the season before. But given the very disappointing debut of winner Jordin Sparks, the runner-up better count his blessings as perhaps it may be time to tell music golden boy Justin Timberlake to put up another seat right next to him and it should be occupied by Lewis as he crafts a very funkified dance-pop album with plenty of the masterful beat-boxing skills he exhibited on his run on 'Idol.' One can argue that Blake could actually win a beatboxing competition hands-down against Timberlake, considered still until Blake says otherwise the best white boy beatboxer in music.
The album technically starts with the radio-friendly hit 'Break Anotha.' The song itself is interesting since it was co-penned and produced by OneRepublic's Ryan Tedder. The beat is very similar to what Timbaland has done for Justin on FutureSex/LoveSounds....very heavy and very club-worthy. Speaking of Tedder, the 1R frontman co-penned and produced alongside with the seemingly equally proficient Lewis who has a future in producing if for any reason music doesn't end up working for him.
After the bombastic sounding 'Gots to Get Her,' Blake shines with rapper Lupe Fiasco in the playful 'Know My Name,' which features more prominently at the end his beat-boxing skills which leads straight into the masterfully done 'How Many Words.' The song alternates between Blake's mid-range voice which resembles a mix of the lower range of Adam Levine and the wail of Robin Thicke and his beat-boxing. The beat-boxing gets placed at the right times and gives the otherwise sappy pop song a unique edge to it. Not too many musicians can pull that off.
The next couple songs are quite generic dance-pop songs but the ending of 'Hate 2 Love Her' saves the portion with 20+ seconds of Blake on a mic beatboxing, well worth going through the first 3 minutes plus of dance-pop sappiness.
Unfortunately the album takes a sudden nosedive with the sugary 'Without You,' which smells of the pre-solo Justin Timberlake spirit. After listening to the funkified dance-pop Lewis and Tedder created at the beginning, the song almost has a major letdown feeling. But in its defense, you have to make at least two radio hits right? This one would qualify as such.
Blake returns to form quickly somewhat in the rather grooved-up and hynoptic 'Here's My Hello.' The airiness in the refrain fits very well with the controlled whine of Lewis and also gets a little electronica falir, suggesting a future headway on his next effort which according to reports he is looking to craft for sometime next year, which would be quite the quick turnaround after a debut. The song ends again with a little beatboxing solo from Lewis, always a treat for his fans who are looking for some of that.
'Whatcha Got 2 Lose' is definitely a seeming homage to the very man he's probably going to take a seat next to
when its all said and done. This song is very much one out of Justin's playing with the heavy hip-pop beats, come-hither lyrics without being very naughty, and of course the beatboxing. The next song 'She's Makin Me Lose It' is the most electronica of the entire set and like 'Here's My Hello,' suggests a future path of Lewis, which means he may dabble more into 80s' style electronica, a genre not exactly visited again recently. Until now. He could though have done without having sound like Prince because there can only be one person to sound like Prince and that would be Prince.
The album then hits into a 1:10 skit of Blake's alter-ego B-shorty which after hearing...you know exactly why some people call his beat boxing skills alone annoying. It would be best to keep the alter-ego at the door Blake.
Probably the best non-dance pop track is the Genesis-like 'End of the World.' The soaring refrain will bring memories of Phil Collins-era Genesis, not a stranger to heartfelt lyrics and soaring choruses under a drum and synthesizer-heavy shell. The only issue is that at times it feels like Lewis is reaching and its OK to be stuck in the middle range.
Overall, the album is probably hands down the best debut ever for an Idol alum. Some will argue that Carrie Underwood's is the best but the problem with hers is that there wasn't any hint of originality and country fans were trying to block out the pop influences that Shania Twain made huge in the late 90s. Yes Carrie is selling albums like nobody's business but at the end of the day, she wasn't chipping anything off the block to claim as her own. Blake and Ryan Tedder have decided to completely get off the well-worn road of never taking risks with a first album
and the result is creating a very distinctive sound despite takiung a few cues from Depeche Mode circa 1980 and Justin Timberlake circa FutureSex/LoveSounds. But instead of slavishly compying their sounds, Blake like he did with Bon Jovi's 'You Give Love a Bad Name,' he has chosen to take the best parts of their sounds and merge them with the street performer he once was. Tedder could have allowed more of Blake's beatboxing skills and inclination to old school hip-hop and electronica but we hear he wants that on his second album, which could come a lot faster than you think and will contain more of the 80's style electronica you hear in 'She's Makin Me Lose It.'. And under Tedder's guidance, Blake has been allowed a lot of wiggle room in the creative control department, something no one from Idol with the exception of Daughtry was allowed. Even Kelly Clarkson had to fight for that at the risk of completely alienating the people that got her at her point right now.
Justin Timberlake, meet Blake Lewis. He's here to stay as long as he wants to given his knack at production.
Alan Ho is the chief head of Musiqtone. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org