October 25, 2011
Clear as Day
In listening to American Idol winner Scotty McCreery’s debut album, it becomes all too clear that either McCreery is being carefully reared by the unabashedly commercial-minded execs of 19 Entertainment… or that he simply enjoys playing follow-the-leader. The former is most likely, but almost every track on Clear as Day sounds like an emulation of the style of one of country radio’s favorite hitmakers. We get to hear Scotty McCreery play Montgomery Gentry. We get to hear Scotty McCreery play Kenny Chesney. But there are precious few moments in which it sounds like Scotty McCreery is being Scotty McCreery.
“Water Tower Town” sounds like something lifted out of the Montgomery Gentry reject pile circa 2002. “Better Than That” carries a strong thematic resemblance to Kenny Chesney’s “Never Wanted Nothing More,” with nothing about it’s story structure feeling at all urgent or revelatory. On another note, it comes as no surprise that “Walk In the Country” was co-written by Urban, as the track clearly has Urban written all over it. (Think “Where the Blacktop Ends”) Such style-mimicking demonstrates the fact that, as a whole, Clear as Day falls into the common trap in which commercialism overshadows an album’s artistic merits.
Somewhat oddly, it’s the two singles released thus far that represent the album at its absolute worst. “I Love You This Big” scans as a grammatically-awkward piece of schmaltz with an uninspired production and a dull, auto-tuned vocal. “The Trouble with Girls” merely sounds like a cute little basket of cliches, as if the writers were more concerned with struggling to find words that rhyme than connecting with a listener on more than a surface level. At the same time, the dramatic orchestral swells in the bridge make the song sound like it’s taking itself way too seriously. It’s all too obvious that the songs’ sole purpose of existence is to serve as inoffensive distractions between radio commercials. They are so carefully calculated so as to make no negative impression that they end up making hardly any impression at all.
In most cases, lyrics rarely scratch below surface level. High school hallways serve as a common stage setting – Little surprise, given McCreery’s age of 18 – with many of the tracks playing like gender-flipped versions of Taylor Swift songs, minus the authenticity and distinct perspective. The title tracks recalls a few mundane details of an encounter with a romantic flame, only to settle for a clumsy grasp at the heart strings by killing the girl off in the end. The songs that work are those that emphasize the melodies and Scotty’s performances above the generally mediocre lyrical content. “Write My Number On My Hand” finds McCreery turning in what is possibly his most engaged performance of the set, with a wink-wink country boy charm that effectively sells the silly lyrics. But that’s not to say that all of the songs are lyrical duds. With “Dirty Dishes,” McCreery taps into the universally acceptable country radio theme of faith, and offers a take that is actually interesting. The song (written by Neil Thrasher, Michael Delaney, and Tony Martin) portrays the narrator’s mother saying “the strangest prayer ever said,” in which she thanks God for dirty dishes, noisy children, slamming doors, et cetera, and then highlighting the positive aspects of common domestic annoyances. Less effectively, however, “That Old King James” scans as an inferior “Three Wooden Crosses”-wannabe. It tracks the life journey of a King James Bible as it is passed down through different family members, but it lacks a clear message to serve as a form of listener payoff.
At its best, Clear as Day continues to offer glimpses of the substantial well of talent McCreery possesses. But at the same time, that talent sounds like it’s a long way from being fully realized. He’s not Josh Turner. He’s not George Strait. He’s not John Michael Montgomery. But when it comes to portraying who Scotty McCreery is as an artist, Clear paints a picture that is disappointingly murky.