White Guy With Guitar. That’s the popular term (and inevitable #WGWG Twitter hashtag) often used to describe the past five winners of American Idol: David Cook, Kris Allen, Lee DeWyze, Scotty McCreery, and, most recently, Phillip Phillips.
So when the gravelly-voiced strummer, 22, earned the confetti shower in May — beating out bellowing diva-in-training Jessica Sanchez — Idol cynics rolled their eyes. But then the decade-old reality competition did something unexpected: It gave him a genuinely excellent and culturally current coronation song.
That song, ”Home,” which went on to become an unofficial theme of the Summer Olympics, forsook string-swelling schmaltz, instead plugging into the booming acoustic-folkie wave currently led by Mumford & Sons. Given the double-platinum success of ”Home,” it’s no surprise that much of Phillips’ debut sounds similarly, appealingly Mumford-esque. His raspy Georgia drawl turns evocative campfire sing-alongs (”Gone, Gone, Gone,” ”Can’t Go Wrong”) into stadium-size anthems.
Where he doesn’t go Mumford, he goes Matthews, as in Dave — especially when left to his own devices. Many of the more circuitous, brooding songs here are penned by Phillips alone, and they’re less compelling than co-writes like the horn-blaster ”Get Up Get Down,” even if they seem to hew closest to his true taste. But that sonic schism doesn’t ruin The World From the Side of the Moon. It’s still the most relevant debut album the Idol machine has cranked out in years, and it nicely justifies this particular WGWG’s burgeoning career. B