Seven years into its run and American Idol has finally produced a winner who can hold his own and work with his own Idols. This says more about David Cook, grand champion of season seven, than it does of the franchise itself: AmIdol suffered a significant ratings slowdown during its no-drama seventh season and, despite the megastardom of Kelly Clarkson, Jennifer Hudson, Carrie Underwood, and Chris Daughtry, major-league stars only saw the show as a way to hock a new album. Fortunately, major-league stars hold no fascination for David Cook. As he proved time and time again on the show, Cook's greatest wish was to be an American Our Lady Peace, a hurdle that's not exactly hard to clear. This low ambition works in Cook's favor on his eponymous major-label debut as it gives him a goal that's achievable -- plus, it's been so long that this sound has been in fashion that his heroes are waiting in the wings, eager to contribute to a project that may just raise their own profile. Foremost among these is Cook's biggest idol, Raine Maida of Our Lady Peace, who co-wrote three songs, but he's not alone: Zac Maloy of the Nixons has three songs, while Kevin Griffin of Better Than Ezra assists on "Avalanche," forgotten neo-grungesters Injected rev up the record with the hardest-rocking (and best) song in "Bar-ba-sol," and Johnny Rzeznik of the Goo Goo Dolls, no stranger to reality TV himself, gets a credit on "Declaration." It's a virtual parade of second and third stringers from the late '90s, all led by Chris Cornell, who continues his slow march into alt-rock anonymity here with "Light On," a perfectly fine bland power ballad that strangely finds the Soundgarden singer trying to write like those who followed in his footsteps.
All these rockers may give Cook some relative street cred but they're no guarantee for a hit record, something the AmIdol enterprise desperately needs at this point, so they're paired with certified hitmakers: Cathy Dennis comes in for "Heroes," Chantal Kreviazuk teams with Maida for "Permanent," and most notably, Espionage work with Maloy on his three songs. If Espionage's work leaves no discernible impact -- there's nothing that sounds remotely similar to Beyoncé's "Irreplaceable" or other hits they've penned for Chris Brown or Jessica Simpson -- Kerviazuk and Dennis compensate by gently weaving tried and true commercialisms into their songs, gently pushing Cook toward a crossover he's already made anyway. He not only is a star thanks to AmIdol, but he's always been ready to do big, happy, crowd-pleasing grunge-pop, as his self-released 2006 debut, Analog Heart, proved. David Cook is remarkably similar to that now-suppressed effort, heavy on crawling, melodic midtempo rockers and power ballads, only given more gloss in its production and writing. All this makes David Cook remarkably similar to the debut of his AmIdol forefather, DAUGHTRY, but where Chris Daughtry wallows in his stylized amorphous angst, Cook is a friendly puppy dog, eager to please. This may result in some embarrassing earnest moments -- none too coincidentally, they're almost all enabled by Maida, including "Mr. Sensitive," which rolls up the worst traits of Our Lady Peace and David Cook in one big blob of goopy glop, and the Maloy/Espionage "Life on the Moon" isn't far behind either -- but this enthusiasm makes David Cook a likable record: he's so happy to be here it's hard not to warm to him at least a little bit. After all, it's hard to be mad at somebody who wants nothing more than to make an album that could be played comfortably between the Toadies and Third Eye Blind.