At the end of American Idol’s sixth season, Blake Lewis did the impossible: He advanced to the final two on the strength of something other than a singing voice. Millions of viewers cottoned to his beatboxing, insisting he was the Spark-plug of the season — but it remained to be seen, till now, if the pop world would be nearly as novelty tolerant.
Lewis’ first album, Audio Day Dream, drops just two weeks after the debut from Jordin Sparks, and he knows better than to compete with the season 6 winner on her sonorous turf. Still, while most of Lewis’ tracks begin or end with a sputtering smattering of simulated vocal percussion — on top of a half-dozen interludes of the ‘boxing s-s-st-st-stuff — the remaining 90 percent of the CD finds him trying to do what he doesn’t do best: sing.
If there’s a genre for his vocal style, it’s ”poor man’s Adam Levine.” He certainly doesn’t have the Maroon 5 frontman’s chops, so a lot of Lewis’ overproduced cuts keep him in a comfort zone where he can jump from midrange into a falsetto, bypassing too many pesky high notes. Emotion hardly factors in, with Lewis dead-set on asserting himself as the lothario who’ll mosey into the club and steal your girlfriend (”What’cha Got 2 Lose?”). He’s aiming to be the hip-hop-slang-slinging sibling of his brother-in-beatboxing, Justin Timberlake. But he’s a pretty puppyish stud.
The pimp behind this transformation is Ryan ”Alias” Tedder, the OneRepublic songwriter who co-penned and co-produced eight ADD tracks — and who’s bent on doing for Lewis what Tedder’s mentor, Timbaland, helped do for Timberlake. But Tedder’s touch doesn’t extend far beyond lyrical come-ons (”I’m givin’ in to ya/You’re givin’ in to me/So give it away”) and halfway-realized hooks. Of his material, ”Gots to Get Her” is the only real standout, and that’s partly because it borrows so much of its rhythmic cadence from ”Puttin’ on the Ritz” that Lewis and Tedder share credit with Irving Berlin. (Commence grave spinning.)
Lewis is such a self-professed ’80s fetishist that he presumably knows ”Ritz” from the 1982 Taco cover instead of the original. And his nostalgia doesn’t stop there, or at beatboxing. Remember him singing the Cure’s ”Love Song” on Idol? While he’s no Robert Smith, he can at least aspire to ape Smith’s lesser synth-pop contemporaries like Heaven 17. ”How Many Words” and ”1000 Miles” do an okay job of recalling New Romantic crooners who eked out careers by being sorta suave. If Lewis could just find a way to integrate all his early-MTV influences (A Flock of Fat Boys?), well…that album wouldn’t be great either — though it’d be less forgettable than this exercise in pop adequacy. C
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