After a shocking fourth place finish on his season of American Idol, Chris Daughtry took the charts by storm with his band Daughtry, launching hit after hit and selling millions of albums both domestically and abroad. However, the Break The Spell era two years ago began to break their momentum with several underperforming singles at mainstream radio despite a successful tour. So, when an article printed in Rolling Stone recently described the band’s new material as “poppier, cleaner, lighter” and “folksy in parts,” I imagine that there were a few eyebrows raised. I would’ve been curious enough, and so, it was with that curiosity that I dived into their latest offering and fourth studio album, Baptized, a twelve-song affair that paddles into the pop world while repressing all things rock. A new wave has certainly swept over them, one that isn’t guaranteed to carry many of their longtime fans with them.
Opener “Baptized”, the title track, was co-written with Claude Kelly and takes a more prominent country direction with a banjo line straight out of Taylor Swift‘s “You Belong With Me”. The new sound actually works really well, developing into a pop-folk hybrid without the overdone foot-stomper chorus we’ve been hearing as of late. He sings, “Take me down by the water/Pull me in ’til I see the light/Let me drown in your honey/In your love, I want to be baptized.” I could see it as a future single, especially if RCA wants to keep the folk sound alive at radio. Then again, they might also opt for a more pop-sounding song.
Leadoff single “Waiting For Superman” packs that pop punch with an assist from Martin Johnson of Boys Like Girls, who co-wrote just under half the album, with the same being true of “Battleships”, a sort of spacey-sounding song that ranks among my least favorites. However, things pick up quickly again with “I’ll Fight”, one of the few songs that Daughtry fully wrote by himself on here. It’s a more guitar-driven composition that could also work as a single, with an inspirational message about being there for someone even in their darkest hour: “Any place, any time/You gotta know for you, I’ll fight.” Rolling with the punches both lyrically and musically, he does that alright.
Another standout is fifth track “Wild Heart”, which is basically the “September” of Baptized, a slower record about trying to keep the memories of the narrator’s youth alive. He pleads, “Take me back to that fire in your eyes/’Cause I know it ain’t gone too far/Take me back to you, to your wild heart.” Don’t be surprised if this ends up getting a release should the album go to three singles; I say if because declining record sales and airplay may only get it to two. We’ll have to wait and see.
“Long Live Rock And Roll” follows, a solid pop/rock song (which should honestly rock harder, it is “rock and roll”) that name-checks favorites like Billy Joel, Elton John and Journey, though it’s best to leave that kind of novelty lyric to acts like Train. From there, most of the second half of the album drags on with a pack of slick sounding tunes that have no real memorable qualities, save for something like “The World We Knew” which verges into Snow Patrol territory, or “Broken Arrows”, a stripped down ballad that sounds like it was pulled out of the abandoned 90’s lite rock bin. At least a track like “Traitor” tries to go hard with an emphasis on guitars and a more distorted vocal, but even that doesn’t compare to the band’s earlier material. Closer “18 Years” is also unremarkable, but does pick up the pace before coming to an end.
This is ultimately another polarizing album this holiday season and the label politics of it all don’t help the matter. It’s obviously a very commercial album with a ton of potential mainstream singles on it, but at what cost is it to those Daughtry fans who love the rockier side of the band? There are edgier numbers on here, but nothing to fully satisfy the Alternative fan. Then again, it’s not as though the group could score any airplay on that format or the Active Rock airwaves even if they tried – their first album marked the peak of that. (You do always have their older catalogue to sort through.) However, if you’re one of their followers and enjoy the poppy nature of their music, like on “Superman”, you’ll thoroughly enjoy this record. Not only does the band sound energized, but they have a lot of solid hooks which should do well in concert. In fact, I’ll be seeing them live when they play a promotional radio gig here in about a month’s time. They may be purified in pure pop on this release, but don’t count them out in this race; “it’s not over” for Daughtry on the charts… yet.