Five for Fighting

Two Lights

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Five for Fighting's John Ondrasik is a straight, clean, post-9/11 version of "Daniel"-era Elton John. He's got exquisite pipes, a knack for the big key changes, and a true star's sense of emotional entitlement that masks itself as introspection. If 2004's Battle for Everything saw a more assured and concise Five for Fighting reacting to its surprise success of 2001's "Superman" single, then 2006's Two Lights represents Ondrasik's complete transformation from somber troubadour into adult alternative mother-ship. With the now branded Five for Fighting, there is no hint of danger, no chance for controversy, and no way that at least half the record won't end up supplying brow-creasing melodramatic film moments and high school year-end slide shows with forced poignancy for years to come. It only takes a few minutes into the elegiac opening cut "Freedom Never Cries" to revisit the 9-11 angst/patriotism that won Ondrasik the majority of his initial public favor ("I only talk to God when somebody's about to die/I never cherished freedom/freedom never cries), a song he deftly follows with the super earnest and wistfully upbeat "World," and later "Riddle." From there it's a real hodgepodge, with detours into murderous Springsteen-esque road trips like "California Justice" and "65 Mustang." For the most part, Two Lights is a serious record about hard-working people in hard times -- only the jaunty "Johnny America" and the dumb but infectious "Policeman's Xmas Party" echo early press comparisons to the more whimsical sides of Ben Folds and Billy Joel -- but it's not saying anything that hasn't already been beaten into the masses since the confessional that used to house self-absorbed singer/songwriters became open to the public.

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