Review: David Cook, Analog Heart

Yes, that David Cook. Did you know he’s already released a solo album? It’s called Analog Heart, and a few weeks ago it was the #1 downloaded album on Amazon.com, even ahead of Mariah Carey’s new album. If you want to track it down today, however, it is mysteriously absent. Both iTunes and Amazon yanked the album, no doubt at the request of Idol powers-that-be. Seems unfair to me. Why not let Cook continue to accumulate wealth from his independently-released album? My guess is that Idol suits (in their characteristically totalitarian fashion) are counting on David Cook winning and, thus, being bound to a contract with the Idol record label. They probably are hoping to repurpose some of Cook’s songs from Analog Heart or even reissue the whole album at some point.

Anyway, I downloaded the album and listened to it… So what’s the verdict? Well, let’s just say David Cook has some room to grow as an artist. The album is in the vein of Three Doors Down-esque throat-clearing rock, which is normally my least favorite genre of music. Still, I like David Cook (he’s by far the best talent on Idol this season) and Analog Heart is at least as good as any pre-Idol album Chris Daughtry ever released. The album is earnest and shows some songwriting skill and rock bravado, even when it sounds a bit off-key (flat) 90% of the time. The opening two songs, “Straight Ahead” and “Don’t Say a Word” are fairly catchy rock tunes, with nice riff throwbacks to mid 90s alt-rock (Verve Pipe, Goo Goo Dolls, etc) and occasional splashes of 80s-era Cure. There are a few mediocre rock ballads, like “The Truth” and “Makeover,” the latter of which contains this charming lyric: “She fell out; her broken legs won't let her walk away / From this town that couldn't give a single shit either way.”

The best song on the album is probably “Searchlights,” a driving angsty rant with lyrics like “You are, for contradiction's sake / Everything I remember that I swore I'd forget” (granted, hardly poetry, but better than most of the lyrics of its genre). It’s a song that I could see being a radio hit, with some serious studio finessing. The worst moments on the album are when Cook sounds a little too much like bands like Staind (songs like “Porcelain,” “Stitches,” “Let’s Go”), which is not a good sound for his voice. He’s much better when he doesn’t strain and instead plays it down a little, focusing on notes and melody rather than being just another angsty jock rock copycat. His rendition of “Music of the Night” a few weeks ago on Idol proves he’s got a great voice, but on Analog Heart it’s crowded out by excessively noisy guitar and drums.

In any case, I hope David Cook wins Idol. His renditions of “Billy Jean” and “Always Be My Baby” were among the season’s high points, and of all the contestants left on the show, he has the potential to be a real artist (in the loose sense of the word). I’ll be interested to hear what he can do within the glossy, hyper-produced world of Idol recording. All I know is that he really needs to beat David Archuleta, the stage-dad-controlled automaton who appears to be the other major contender for the Idol crown.