Hello, and welcome to Radio Rants. Who’s up today?
I wondered who this guy was when I saw him in the Top 10, but a single cover that bland, a photo so uninspiringly and obviously modified, a boring looking performer like that, and so much gratuitous blue can only mean one thing.
“This is American Idol!” Or what’s left of it, anyway. I watched a season or two of Idol back in the day (seasons 3 and 4) before jumping off the bandwagon, and I wasn’t alone. Somewhere around season seven and continuing into this eleventh season, Idol went from cultural phenomenon to irrelevance with diminishing ratings and no-start winners (since season 7, the only notably successful alum is Adam Lambert, who didn’t even win). It could be that the show’s become a predictable, hackneyed industry job that uses over-singing and creatively sterile artists to prop up a dying business model. Or it could be that none of these singers get a decent start because each winner is saddled with a “coronation single”, their last performance as a contestant and first single as a winner.
And they’re all terrible.
Each coronation single hits all the cliches of schlock pop music: stiff arrangements that want to be important, big and empty productions, and all the cloying sentimentality of a dollar store greeting card. They’re an eagerly erased smudge on a promising career at best, and one foot in the commercial grave at worst. Anyway, let’s see what the new guy Phillip Phillips (seriously?) got stuck with.
“Home” begins with some acoustic picking that doesn’t sound too simple or too complicated before Phillips’ brings his Idol winning voice to the track. Dude has an interesting voice. I can’t tell if that’s interesting good or interesting bad, but his audition video struck me as early Eddie Vedder passing as a jazz singer (aside: is this really what passes as judging on Idol these days?). But none of that really shows up on the recorded version of “Home”. If anything, he sounds like more rawkin’ Marcus Mumford. But American.
Speaking of which, Mumford & Sons is one of two dead-on comparisons for “Home”. The song builds from acoustic picking into acoustic strumming with plucked bass, gang vocals and basic, persistent percussion. And I have to admit, the chord progression is nice, especially the descending bass part at “Just know you’re not alone”. But still, “Home” sounds so much like a Mumford & Songs cut that you could pitch it as a M&S song to most people, and they’d buy it.
The less obvious but just as valid comparison is Arcade Fire. I haven’t touched on the lyrics yet (we’ll get there), but “Home” is like 50% “Ooooooh ooooh ooooooh whooooa ooooooh” chorus. Add in a little bit of chiming piano/glockenspiel to guide the vocals, and you have sounds that could have come right out of AF’s first album. But the wordless choruses here don’t work because 1. they go on for too long, and 2. they’re too calculated. The songs I linked to use wordless singing as a vamp or as giant, memorable hooks, and on “Home” all I think is that I can’t hear the newest American Idol over all the studio singers. And this isn’t just me being really picky about where a song borrows sounds; I’m only bringing this up because the songwriter cited these two acts as big influences on “Home”.
But “influence” might as well mean “driving force” because this song’s lyrics are all of two stanzas stretched to their breaking point. It’s not even anything worth trying to snark at; “Home”‘s lyrics are about “Holding onto me as we go/As we roll down this unfamiliar road”, “Just know you’re not alone/’Cause I’ll make this place your home”, “It’ll be clear”, “No fear”, and “If you get lost, you can always be found”. I know it sounds counter intuitive, but “Home” could use some of that American Idol schmaltz just to give it a damn target because, as is, the song’s entirely too broad and dispassionate to connect.
Much has been made of “Home” being the first coronation single that didn’t aspire to be “We Are the World”, but that feels like damning with faint praise. I took a listen to the others, all ten of them, and virtually no one comes out of that match looking good. The closest competition is David Cook’s “Time of My Life”, which doesn’t do too much wrong, but next to nothing right, and Kelly Clarkson’s “A Moment Like This”, which has already picked up some dated charm. Going by that, “Home” succeeds (it’s the second highest charting coronation single–only Cook got higher, and he was Idol at the show’s viewing peak), but feels too scattered and disconnected to stay in rotation once the initial “What do you mean it’s not terrible?” novelty passes. Should soundtrack a fair few movie trailers, though.