Remember all those predictions last year that Coldplay were on the verge of dethroning U2? It didn’t quite happen (the lack of major Grammy nominations for X&Y confirmed it), although Chris Martin can take solace in knowing that a new breed of balladeer has adopted his breathy falsetto and weakness for melodies and lyrics that seek to comfort and console. Let’s call it Oprah Rock — partly because of its therapeutic, believe-in-yourself message and partly because one of its leading purveyors, British wounded bird James Blunt, was given a huge boost last month (spending three consecutive weeks in the top five on the album charts) after he appeared on Winfrey’s show.
Daniel Powter’s ”Bad Day,” already a global hit that went No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot 100, is an even more unctuous example of Oprah Rock. The song is addressed to anyone who’s feeling depressed or in a rut (”You’re faking a smile with a coffee to go”), but its grand, panoramic arrangement wants to pump you up. The soothing piano and Powter’s go-down-easy delivery imply that everything will be fine — don’t worry, be sappy. With its infuriatingly ingratiating chorus, ”Bad Day” is one of those songs that wedge themselves into your brain whether you want them there or not, and that will surely end up being used ad nauseam in movie trailers and TV spots. Be prepared.
And also be prepared, after listening to the rest of Powter’s self-titled debut, to wonder why it’s the only true standout on the disc. The Canadian singer-songwriter clearly knows a thing or two about classic pop song structure and arranging. Echoes of fellow piano man Billy Joel and the piano-leaning David Gray reverberate through the disc — you may find yourself humming a few of Daniel Powter’s songs, at least for a day or two after you’ve heard them.
Yet Powter seems to want to be so many things to so many people that he rarely returns to the straightforward appeal of ”Bad Day.” One minute, on overproduced tracks such as the ”Hey Jude”-like ”Free Loop” and ”Lost on the Stoop” (which recalls U2 in their subdued-throb mode), he’s oozing sincerity and offering feel-good platitudes to troubled friends and lovers (”Baby we can change and be all right”). Then, jarringly, he turns around and transforms himself into the smarmiest kind of white-funk Casanova. In ”Lie to Me,” which is oilier than anything made by Wesson, he’s wooed by ”this girl named Detroit Cool” who asks him to ”do me like you should.” (In ”Hollywood,” he’s the one doing the seducing: ”Tell your daddy not to wait up/You’re not coming home,” he warns a potential conquest.) As the album lurches along, you keep hoping for the real Daniel Powter to stand up, but he never quite does. It’s one thing to be eclectic; it’s another to repeatedly sabotage your own record. Talk about a bummer of a day.