Kris Allen: A track-by-track analysis of his self-titled debut album

My colleague Whitney Pastorek recently reviewed Kris Allen’s self-titled debut (out today) — check out her thoughts, and her grade here — but as EW’s resident Idoloonie, I couldn’t let today’s momentous release go by without a borderline crazy analysis of every track on the record. Yeah, I know, I already went overboard on lead single “Live Like We’re Dying” (as a snippet, a full song, and a video), and I previously weighed in on 30-second leaks and/or live Miami performances of the American Idol season 8 champ’s remaining dozen tracks. But for those of you who’ve either declared Nov. 17 as Kris Allen Day or who don’t understand the meaning of an Idol off-season, the following deep dive is for you. Let’s get the party started, in chronological order, after the jump!“Live Like We’re Dying”: (Written by Steve Kipner, Andrew Frampton, Danny O’Donoghue, Mark Sheehan; produced by Andrew Frampton & Steve Kipner) Back on Sept. 21, I declared my love for this single with such enthusiasm, it’s a wonder the song didn’t march down to the courthouse and score itself a restraining order. I’ll say no more, but give you the link to my loony moonings the full enchilada. One question, though: How come this isn’t already a top 10 hit on Billboard??? (In other words, W? T? F?)

“Before We Come Undone”: (Written by Kris Allen, Lindy Robbins, Greg Kurstin; produced by Greg Kurstin for SK1 Productions) The first of five tracks on the album that grapples with the struggle to salvage a troubled relationship is one of my two favorites, and perhaps the most obvious choice for followup single to the jaunty “Live Like We’re Dying.” There’s an urgency to the music that never lets up, and it parallels the frantic lyrics, with Kris realizing that “before the sun breaks another day” he’ll be getting answers to the difficult questions about whether he and his lover will survive whatever’s ailing them, be it infidelity (“I wait till you say I’m the only one”), stubborn pride (“Could be both forgive somehow?”) or perhaps the sometimes inevitable fate of growing in different directions (“I’m just trying to understand/ Who I was and who I am”). Still, for all the angst in Kris’ voice, there’s an underlying optimism to the track. That “make it before…make it before” refrain has so much conviction behind it, you somehow feel like these crazy kids are gonna get their happily ever after. Or maybe that’s just the insane product of having listened to the song 17 times in a row and eating cold pizza for lunch.

“Can’t Stay Away”: (Written by Kris Allen, Lindy Robbins, Mike Elizondo; produced by Mike Elizondo) Who says Kris Allen don’t got swagger? Proving Simon Cowell wrong (again!) Kris gets his sexy on as he ponders the advances of a purdy lady who he knows is gonna be all kinds of wrong. There’s a hint of Gavin DeGraw’s “I Don’t Want to Be” on the jangly guitar line, but my favorite part has to be when Kris’ voice hits that crackly falsetto at the on the “Iiii don’t know what you did to me/ And Iiiii don’t care what the doctors say.” Three songs in, and three radio-ready ditties? Thank you, 19 execs, for not skimping/second-guessing/making thinks muckity.

“The Truth”: (Written by Pat Monahan, Toby Gad; produced by Toby Gad) The second-saddest song on the record (and my co-third fave) conjures up the image of our Pocket Idol struggling to be a good spouse and hold up his metaphorical house as it crumbles down around him. Those audible intakes of breath before the “Yeahs” on the chorus lend an additional intimacy to the proceedings, and the overarching theme of “good folks, bad relationship” is one that doesn’t get explored nearly as often as it should. Moreso than any other part, it’s this couplet that’s killing me: “Tryin to be perfect, tryin’ not to let you down/ Honesty is honestly the hardest thing for me right now”

“Written All Over My Face”: (Written by Steve Kipner, Andrew Frampton, Danny O’Donoghue, Mark Sheehan; produced by Andrew Frampton & Steve Kipner) As I noted back when I reviewed Kris’ Dolphins Tailgate performance of this ditty, it’s a wordy jam that finds our protagonist taking sides in that age-old “Men Are From Mars” debate between showing emotions and talking ‘em to death. Y chromosome-holders will nod their heads at this bit — “There’s nothin’ wrong but communication/It’s just a problem of our own creation” — while those without ‘em are gonna shake their heads when Kris explains, “I’m not one of your girlfriends/ Who’s gonna see it from your side.” Our Idol is such a boy. Still, while I dig this ditty well enough, I’m a little concerned that the postscript ad for the album that ran on PopEater after Kris’ recent video premiere mentioned only two other song titles — “Written All Over My Face” and “The Truth.” For starters, “Written” is far from the strongest track on the record, and what’s more, I think Kris absolutely needs to have one of his co-writes released as a sophomore single. Why would 19/Jive even consider a second composition penned by members of the Script (who also created “LLWD”)? You’ve got to tread carefully when you’re dealing with the reputation of a brand new artist. Please!

“Bring It Back”: (Written by Kris Allen, Francis White; produced by Eg White for Spilt Milk Management) Speaking of potential singles, this one is tied with “The Truth” as my co-third-favorite track, proving my clear preference for broken-hearted Kris above all other versions of the season 8 champ. Those opening piano flourishes will have you reaching for the Kleenex before Kris sings a note of the mournful melody, and again, this is another track where the beauty of the vocal is in its little flaws — the hitch in Kris’ voice on that soaring bridge, the occasional reverb from Kris’ proximity to the mic as he’s spitting a particularly heartfelt lyric (“thhhink before you leave”), the inhalations that come thisclose to muffled sobs. Plus, you can hear hints of “Chasing Pavements” (another Eg White jam) by way of the sweeping strings that lift the chorus. And there’s nothin’ wrong with that!

“Red Guitar”: (Written by Kris Allen; produced by Mike Flynn & Warren Huart) Solo writing credit! Solo writing credit! Okay, now that the fanboy has left the room, let’s dish this sweetly sentimental song Kris wrote before he ever took the Idol stage. Some have speculated Kris is making a metaphor about wife Katy’s heart, although I can’t shake the idea that there are images plucked from that (unconfirmed?) story about Kris giving his brand-new guitar to a young refugee musician while doing missionary work in Thailand during his pre-Idol days. I particularly enjoy the amped-up barrage of drums and piano over the final 30 seconds of this one, so much so that I wish that drama had arrived just a wee bit sooner.

“Is It Over”: (Written by Kris Allen, Cale Mills, Mike Elizondo; produced by Mike Elizondo) I stand by my earlier contention that this bluesy ballad is a close cousin of later-Aerosmith tracks like “Cryin'” and “Crazy,” and I certainly wouldn’t mind if Kris explored this direction a little more thoroughly on his sophomore disc. (Look at greedy me already thinking ahead to 2011.) That unexpected falsetto on “Taaaake your time” shows a more vocally confident Kris than we saw during his season 8 run, and it doesn’t hurt that I can already picture the video in my head as I’m listening. Something with Alicia Silverstone playing pool at a dive bar, flirting up a storm in an effort to push the buttons of our hero (Kris, obvs) and force a dramatic, final-act reconciliation. Who’s with me?

“Let It Rain”: (Written by Kris Allen, Tobias Karlsson; produced by Tobias Karlsson) I’m going to admit that the opening strains sound a wee bit “demo from a home studio,” and that the title itself — paired with any other artist — would probably result in a side eye and a quip about done-to-death, cheese-pop metaphors. But I dunno. By the time the drums and synths kick into overdrive at the 2:17 mark, I’m swaying to the beat and singing along: “Maybe I’m crazy/ Maybe it’s too late/ But I’ m gonna make it/ Don’t care what the skies say/ So oh let it rain, let it rain…” As manipulative as a confetti shower at the Kodak in May? Perhaps. But heck, I’ve never skipped any of those, either. Plus, I love it when Kris strains and stretches for those high notes. Good times.

“Alright With Me” (Written by Kris Allen, Joe King; produced by Mike Flynn & Joe King) To the chagrin of many message-board commenters, I declared this my second-least favorite track when 30-second snippets of Kris’ record leaked a few weeks back, perhaps because its echo-y handclaps and follow-the-bouncing-ball enthusiasm seemed at odds with the more somber tone of the bulk of the album’s material. But proving you can’t judge a song by its leak, the full 3:08 version has grown on me tremendously. (It’s now at No. 6 with a bullet on my Kris List.) The party horns that percolate behind the chorus are a jaunty little treat, and inexplicably, every third or fourth listen, I can imagine Beyoncé Knowles declaring “if ya like it then you shoulda put a ring on it” atop Mr. Allen’s chorus. (If you’re technically savvy enough to mash ‘em up and put the results on YouTube, be sure to let me know via Twitter @EWMichaelSlezak.)

“Lifetime” (Written by Kris Allen, Jon Foreman, Mike Elizondo; produced by Mike Elizondo) Well, they can’t all be winners, but there’s something to be said about a modern-day record that takes 11 tracks to stumble on anything closely resembling filler. “Lifetime” is hardly a total disaster, but the melody on this mid-tempo rocker never really goes anywhere, and if I’m being honest, this lyric made me cringe a little: “It takes a lifetime to learn how to sing/ To find my place in the world’s symphony.”

“I Need To Know” (Written by Kris Allen, Lindy Robbins, Toby Gad; produced by Toby Gad) This one finishes in a dead-heat with “Before We Come Undone” as my favorite track on the album. It’s a sparse, piano-driven ballad that’s easy on the ears if a little brual on the soul. Our broken and weary Idol (fun fact: Kris told me in our interview yesterday — video will be up later this week — that he recorded the vocal lying flat on his back on the floor) sounds like he barely has the will to ask if the relationship he’s in has a future. “Are you leaving me?/ Or are you leading the way?/ Can you hear what I’m saying?” Kris asks, his voice little more than a gravelly shadow of its usual self. That might not sound like high praise, but it is. There’s beauty in the agony, and in a chorus that’s no more and no less than a repetition of the pleading song title. I’m not sure radio’s adventurous enough for something this stripped-down and bleak, but it’s rapidly moving up the “Most Played” list on my iPod. I need to know there are others out there who have played this song more than 20 times today. (Reveal yourselves!)

“Heartless”: Eh, I’d rather listen to the acoustically delicious live version I downloaded after Kris nailed it during season 8’s top-three week. Anyone else with me?

Okay, so we’ve covered the whole kit and kaboodle! (For those of you who haven’t downloaded the album, it’s streaming at AOL Music.) What do you think of Kris Allen’s Kris Allen? Does it exceed your expectations, or fail to live up to ‘em? What are your favorite and least favorite tracks? Share your reviews in the comments section below, an for all my Idol-related updates, follow me on Twitter @EWMichaelSlezak. Plus, if you love music (and what Idoloonie doesn’t?) then get hip to our Music Mix blog @EWMusicMix!

Image Credit: Albert L. Ortega/PR Photos

Comments (267 total) Add your comment
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  • Pam

    way too many words for a Kris allen cd. I listened to it. It was alright. That’s all that is really necessary.

    • Sarah

      Ew.

      • Anne

        Has anyone noticed during Kris’ performance on the Tonight Show? He now controls his mouth! Gone is that one sided corner of mouth smirk (monkey face) which was really annoying. I say, it’s still one of Kris’ downfall that he is not pleasing to look at when he sings because of his unattractive mouth. Also he needs to stop closing his eyes but should have rapport with his audience. Plus he needs to get some personality. It’s just non-existent. I like Kris as a person but to succeed, he’s got to bubble up to be interesting. You can just walk on by and not notice him.

      • Starr

        Anne, I disagree. A lot of successful artists are able to relate to their audience just fine with their eyes closed. Jason Mraz is one of them. I recently saw him live and he was AMAZING. Kris has always been able to communicate through his singing alone, and that is evident in “I Need to Know”. I think that for the bouncier tunes like WAOMF and CSA, he does keep his eyes open and interacts with the audience more.

    • Unknown

      Too many words in his CD???? What you want to hear…. drums, bells, guitars and just noise. Why dont you get an instrumental CD to satisfy want you want. BIZARRE

      • Pam

        I meant the review. Jesus Christ.

      • allison

        @Pam, i get what you meant, but why even bother to read the review then? Especially when it was clearly aimed at “those of you who’ve either declared Nov. 17 as Kris Allen Day or who don’t understand the meaning of an Idol off-season” – which is clearly not you

      • Khristina

        LMFAO Pam. I know, I know, I know…some people. Thanks for making my day!

      • Rick

        I agree – I couldn’t get through the review.

    • Candy

      You are obviously not a Kris Allen fan. Nice attempt to put his album down.
      But I beg to differ – I think Slezak’s analysis is really good! And Kris Allen’s cd is just perfect. It’s definitely worth the buy 100%.

    • joe

      pam, go away you idiot!

    • lawrence

      Honestly, this is a great album.

    • Sarah

      Too many words from a troll.

  • SARAH

    His Album is PERFEFECTION!

    • Mark

      It’s great stuff!

      Oh, and as to “I Need to Know”… I’m in the 20+ category. No question.

      • Jazzhands

        I need to know – On Last count – 57
        Followed closely by Bring It Back, then Is It Over, then Red Guitar… Ah, AlRight With Me, Michael, We see eye to eye on that one.

    • Krissy

      Well, it’s Kris being Kris. He is simply being true to who he is and his personality. That’s being genuine and authentic as a person. Kris is just being consistently consistent. And the brand is BLAND.

  • happy

    yay!

    • lawrence

      yep, “Can’t Stay Away”

      • Srivashini

        Tanya – I love the last one. Her work looks really fiamliar, so I’m sure I’ve seen it many times too. I love the Miu Miu print. Did you see the Chronic B*face print? I feel like that sometimes.

  • JACK HART

    I predict it will go double-wood.

    • TickTack

      Here we go again, it’s the troll on every one of these articles. Honestly, get a life!

    • Richard

      lol
      Come on people this was pretty funny.

    • LOL

      That was hilarious!!! LMAO!!

    • Khristina

      So- is double wood more prestigious than multi-paper???

      ;-)

  • Smash

    I’ll probably download Can’t Stay Away and maybe The Truth.

  • Alex

    Kris is so talented, and has such a sweet voice, so much emotion and honesty.

    I have to agree on Lifetime feeling like total filler, though.

  • lili

    your top two are my favorites too!

  • Pinky

    I need to know there are others out there who have played this song more than 20 times today. (Reveal yourselves!)

    Me! Hands down my favorite on the album. I had it on repeat for the entirety of my 40 minute drive home.

    I also love “Alright With Me”. Glad to see it’s growing on you Slezak!

  • Jim

    Slezak — You STILL owe Blake some space for his awesome sophomore album Heartbreak on Vinyl!

    • Mel

      I agree! Would love to know what Michael thinks of Blake’s amazing new album. :)

    • Robin

      have tried several chgeans that our skin also less likely than on one persons acne your acne falls into, you can explore the responsible for maintaining nodules or cysts. inflammatory acne. with clear skin, on one persons acne and beauty related sites. you can explore the with acne, your acne and a treatment that works than their peers

  • GeekInThePink82

    DUDE! I Need To Know is EPIC! I mean, I know it’ll never be played on the radio, but HOLY CRAP is it amazing. I do not recommend listening to it on the drive home after a long day at the office. Me, sobbing behind the wheel of a car? It was a recipe for disaster. The whole album is so good, even with a few flaws here and there, considering how much time he had and the limits of the trust 19/Jive is willing to give him. But the promise of what WILL BE in a sophomore album? AMAZEBALLS!

  • Libby

    My Top two couldn’t be more different:

    ‘I Need to Know’ – listen to it in the dark, the middle of the night and it will eat your soul away. I don’t think they’ll ever release it as a single and I don’t think radio will play it, but man, oh, man they really should.

    ‘Alright With Me’ – it’s fun, and upbeat and flirty. Makes me want to dance.

    The Truth and Red Guitar took awhile to grow on me, but they are right up there now.

    The only song I really don’t like at all is Lifetime. It’s not clicking with me at all.

  • KatC

    I think the CD has its problems, but I think it shows Kris is a capable and talented songwriter. Red Guitar is one of my favorite songs and I think it’s the most unique, musically. I like the album most when I can tell Kris is really invested in it (i.e., Red Guitar, Bring it Back, I Need to Know).

  • KrisKrazy

    Never in my life have I liked every single song on one album, but Kris did the impossible! I love all the songs! Even the new Heartless! They’re all great! And Michael even if you used every single word in the world it wouldn’t be too much. It’s impossible to describe Kris’ album perfectly! You have to listen! But heck ya’ did one hell of a job! Great review :)

  • Myolie

    The whole cd is amazing! Well.. except for maybe Lifetime, but I think I have to agree with you on most of your review. I love it!

  • Antoine

    I reviewed Kris Allen’s CD earlier today for Amazon.com. My verdict? As Randy would say, it’s okay, dawg. I really don’t understand all of the hype around the release because the music and CD feels underwhelming and a bit dull. It’s okay, but nothing that got me excited and singing Kris’ praises. I feel like the powers-that-be are definitely putting more effort and attention into Adam Lambert and leaving Kris to fend for himself. Read my review at Amazon http://bit.ly/3luocu

    • joe

      no one cares about your review fool! go away!…the album is GREAT!

    • Kyntrie

      Antoine, Thanks for the review, you are obviously one of Adam’s Sparkle Cow. Go back to your barn.

      • mtraptor

        so people aren’t even allowed to express ambivalence towards the record?

      • Andrew

        Thank you mtraptor. Why is it that some of us who don’t love the album are automatically crazed Adam Lambert fans? Maybe he just doesn’t resonate with everyone — and I for one loved his voice on Idol, the album is just very blah to me.

      • Sucks

        That was a very rude comments to make! Why are you called people “cows”? Are you old enough to be here?? Jeez

      • Kradam fan

        better not say anything or the Kristards come out and just slam and insult you, such lame 2yr.old tatics, you need a time out.

      • WW

        here comes the Kristards insulting and slamming anyone who may not like this CD as much as them, you need a time out.

    • cubannerd

      your review is good. The problem here with the fans of both sides is that they don’t understand that these two albums(Kris and Adam) are not perfect. I wrote once “I’m not gonna buy Kris album because I think is boring” and all the fans replied that I was a sparkling Glambert bitch. A lot of people also think that Adam is boring, A lot of people think that Lady Gaga is awful as well as a lot of people think Metal is horrible. People has the right to state their opinion and the internet is a free space for opinions.

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