Blake Lewis

Audio Day Dream

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Paula Abdul notoriously labeled Blake Lewis "the contemporary rebel," a seemingly nonsensical assignation that nevertheless had the ring of truth. Compared to everything else on that turgid sixth season of Idol, Blake was contemporary and a rebel. Unlike the obligatory soul throwback Melinda Doolittle, Lewis seemed versed in music made after his birth year, and compared to teen queen Jordin Sparks, he was happy to bend (but not break) the rules, beatboxing as often as he sang. Of course, that bit of sputtering showmanship was designed to masquerade his decidedly limited range, but it nevertheless made for OK TV, pushing him to the forefront of a dull pack that gleaned its only personality through the skin of Antonella Barba and the hair of Sanjaya Malakar. Blake carried a tune better than those two, but not better than Melinda and Jordin. Where he trumped them was the fact that he seemed to have a sense of himself, a musical identity cobbled together from the scrapyard of '80s MTV -- all learned via VH1 Classic and YouTube, naturally, as he was a toddler when the network launched -- that nevertheless seemed fresh when put against the endless Motown versions and Celine Dion on American Idol, and helped justify Abdul's appellation, at least a little bit. What Blake had that the other contestants didn't was musical ideas that came from outside the confines of the show, which was enough to make him interesting on a weekly basis (even if he was maddeningly inconsistent), and it was enough to suggest that he could possibly pull all his thoughts together on his inevitable studio album.

That inevitable studio album -- punningly titled Audio Day Dream, whose shorthand is ADD, a too-knowing acknowledgment of Lewis' scattershot attention span -- perhaps inevitably is a letdown, although it is surely more interesting than almost any other post-Idol effort from a finalist. Interesting as in, there's a whole bunch of stuff going on here, from the expected beatboxing and new wave fetishism to white-boy soul cribbed from Justin Timberlake and Maroon 5's Adam Levine, prissy schoolboy crooning pitched halfway between Keane and a neutered Morrissey, self-conscious digital effects, and a revamped "Puttin' on the Ritz" as learned from Taco, not Fred Astaire. It reads better than it plays because Lewis and cohorts -- mainly Ryan Tedder, the leader of Timbaland-supported pop/rockers OneRepublic -- have no idea how to synthesize this mess of sounds into something listenable, or even something that isn't irritating. All 16 tracks on Audio Day Dream fall into one of four categories, none of which Blake performs with distinction: stabs at old-school hip-hop, new wave revivalism, shaky club/dance soul, or tremulous, simpering Brit crooning. Whenever Blake breaks out his beatbox, it becomes evident that this is a visual trick for him, not an aural one; the new wave cuts play like stranded album cuts from 1985; he's not sexy enough to pull off the loverman boasts; and he has no range for the ballads. He's a jack of many trades but master of none -- ironically, given the album's title, he doesn't have the discipline to focus on one thing and do it well, so he tries to do everything and nothing jells. As it has so much going on, ADD is certainly one of the more interesting Idol-related records, but so much commotion without construction is ultimately as forgettable as Jordin's pageant-winner trifle, and perhaps a little more tiring to get through, too.

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