As much as I like "No Surprise", the sizzling, energetic first single off Daughtry's Leave This Town (the follow-up to their multi-platinum self-titled debut), I'm even more impressed with the quality of the rest of the songs. Creative and original (especially considering this is mainstream pop/rock), this collection eliminates much of the 'cookie-cutter' nature that I felt many of those songs had while retaining hook-laden melodies that made it so successful commercially.
Dubbed by Chris as "a very big rock album", this sophomore effort starts that way with "You Don't Belong", a heavy rocker filled with '80's-inspired guitar riffs and power chords. Rather than using studio musicians as the debut did, Chris' bandmates recorded the musical tracks, and that's one of this album's major highlights and improvements. The almost not-stop touring allowed the band to develop chemistry, and the resulting cohesiveness shows through on the recording, giving this album a more loose, 'live' feel.
"Every Time You Turn Around" keeps the rock edge going...the band members were given latitude to "throw things in on the fly"...an extra solo line here, an extra cymbal crash there, and this song is a good example of that. "Life After You" finally slows things down a bit, but that's not a bad thing on this record. The string of mid-tempo or slower songs that dominate the rest of the album are not contrived or 'manufactured'-sounding...in fact, Chris' weathered voice bleeds passion and sincerity combined with his relatable relationship-themed lyrics. The production allows 'holes' to open up for the vocal(s) to be heard clearly.
Chris (collaborating with some of his rock 'buddies' and producers, including Nickelback's Chad Kroeger on two songs) seems to have honed his songwriting skills further...his almost innate ability to craft melodies and write lyrics from the heart continues to grab you and reel you in, without 'recycling' too much from the first record. Two songs in particular stand out for me... "September", a heartfelt ballad about growing up in the summertime in his small, North Carolina hometown but having to leave things behind to move forward, and "Tennessee Line", a country-flavored tune (fiddles and all) featuring country legend Vince Gill on background vocals. Unique and captivating, these gems are refreshing to hear while staying within the confines of the basic formula for Daughtry's success.
While returning producer Howard Benson throws in a few extra production tricks here and there, he manages to keep the sound fairly natural and the enhancements aren't too overdone.
The bottom line: Great songs, solid performance, and an overall stronger rock attitude. I'm not sure if the changes would be enough to win over those who didn't like Daughtry before, but if you did enjoy Daughtry Part 1, the sequel isn't likely to disappoint.