Season 7 of the hit music reality show 'American Idol' brought out a first: a rocker had won the competition after 5 pop-flavored contestants and a country star had won the previous six seasons. It was almost fitting to see the former Tulsa bartender, part time indie rocker and former The Midwest Kings moonlighter/bassist win in a landslide over the more decidedly hipper David Archuleta after watching former Idol rocker Chris Daughtry skyrocket to fame after getting an unceremonious boot in Season 5. So knowing what Daughtry had brought to the table before Cook won Season 7, how would RCA/19 Recordings handle having a rocker with more or less the same independent spirit?
The end result is David Cook's full length debut, an eponymous one at that (already a strike one for this reviewer...your debut should never be an eponymous one). Coming out a mere few months after his win on Idol, anyone who expected a well-crafted and well-oiled machine of an album should be disappointed. Much like Kelly Clarkson's album debut, 'Thankful', David Cook shows glimpses of where David would like to go while other moments suggest exactly what it is: no one can craft a well-above decent album in just a few months in between TV appearances and the 'Idols on Tour' national tour. And frankly, an album out this soon (I know it's part of the deal, doesn't mean we all have to like it) is a slight injustice of all the creative spark and talent this man carries inside of him (watch his take on Mariah Carey's 'Always Be My Baby' or his show-stopping rendition of 'Music of the Night' to have an idea of the spark he truly carries).
The first four songs of the album, 'Declaration', 'Heroes', 'Light On' and 'Come Back to Me' are among the many moments of the album where you can tell these songs did not truly fit David Cook. The arena rock feel is something that Cook is comfortable with but it is the songs in the middle part of the album that capture full essence of what makes the 'Idol' winner tick. . 'Light On' has the radio-friendly feel and while Cook pulls it off quite well like he did with every other song in the album, the style fits more towards a band like The Calling or even Daughtry than Cook's leanings and inclinations to more harder rock with a slightly progressive feel. It is though quite obvious why the label chose 'Light On' as the official single from the album, with the melodic feel and the overall swell to the middle of the song. It is also interesting to note that 'Light On' is a Chris Cornell-penned song and we can only guess that means he truly hasn't left the arena rock genre given what he has put out lately.
The meaty part of the album begins with the first of three grungy hard rock numbers, 'Life on the Moon'. Do not be shocked this song lands airplay on an alternative rock station or even one that plays harder rock. Honestly, one must wonder where some critics come from on their assertion that the song had great execution on the part of Cook but the lyrics were mangled. The song's lyrics evokes what might be the best characterization of an Idol's rise to fame since the song Kelly Clarkson sung the night she won, 'A Moment Like This.' One of the best tracks is the badly titled 'Bar-ba-sol' and good thing that was the only bad thing that was bad about the song. It's another gritty, grungy number that fits the Cook style: gritty lyrics, measured hard rock swagger and electricity crackling in the instrumentation. The next track, 'Mr. Sensitive' continues the gritty, swaggering trend and the song will leave you wanting more at the end
'Lie' is one of the obligatory grunge-rock numbers about long lost love and trying to reclaim it back. The song is nothing too spectacular lyric-wise but once again it is another exercise in Cook able to make it his own despite the hokey nature of both songs. The problem with the song is that it sounds a little bit like Daughtry's 'Breakdown', giving the song a slightly cheap feeling.
'Permanent' is an interesting number. Although one of the shorter numbers in the album, Cook shows an incredible flexibility which may serve him well in the future. The number is a piano-driven number and stripped of any of the hard rock anthem that Cook is most comfortable with, very moving and hypnotic. The song certainly focuses more on Cook's vocals as well as the powerful lyrics...now this is a love song he can pull off without showering it in electric guitars and drum playing.
The album ends with the now very annoying 'Time of My Life' and in retrospect, the lyrics about 'chasing rainbows' and chanting 'This is my time' and 'My face in the crowd' almost sounds incredibly too preachy for a grungy hard rocker like David. But hey, the song won the Idol songwriter's competition and this is what Cook got stuck with and he obviously does his best to not fall flat on his face delivering this song.
Overall, David Cook has moments where you can clearly see where David Cook stands in the music world. At heart, he is a grungy hard rocker armed with an electric guitar and capable of writing crackling lyrics, much like he did with his own indie album and with The Midwest Kings. But at the same time, he is capable of writing a power rock ballad, much like what you hear in the painfully short but great 'Permanent'. Unfortunately for this talented rocker, he gets weighed down by songs like the overly preachy 'Declaration' and the radio-friendly 'Light On'. Both songs are by its merit excellent arena rock numbers, but while Cook obviously can master that genre, he is at his best in songs like 'Life on the Moon' and 'Bar-ba-sol'.
Outside of having being weighed down by most of the tracks in the album, he clearly has a future in the business and we certainly look forward to seeing what he comes up with next and we can only hope RCA can give him more creative control and more freedom to write than he did on this debut. Don't get me wrong, David Cook undoubtedly is the most control the label has given to its winner when it comes to the 9 songs Cook helped co-write. But this man deserves a chance to be the one to call a bulk of the shots in the creation of an album, production and musical composition included. But in the end, this debut, while good, could be better and we know he will be markedly better on his next effort...dare we say GREAT. If he is given the chance and the tools by 19, do not be surprised that Carrie Underwood and Kelly Clarkson one day will have competition at the top and his name is: DAVID COOK.