Howie Day

Sound the Alarm

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Howie Day began his career as an experimental songwriter, using loop pedals and digital effects to turn his guitar into a lush, layered instrument. Even when the material wasn't top-notch, his solo shows frequently were, and Day sharpened his act by canvassing the college circuit for years. Following his signing to Epic Records, he streamlined his approach, taking the spotlight away from his acoustic guitar and focusing instead on smooth, massively orchestrated pop/rock. In 2003 Stop All the World Now went gold as a result, although the album -- particularly its third single, "She Says," an unnecessarily symphonic version of a song that appeared in superior format on Australia -- proved that bigger isn't always better. Released six years later, the similar-sounding Sound the Alarm finds Day recovering from a quarter-life crisis, having battled his way through several court cases and one drunken airplane incident in the wake of Stop's success. Songs were composed with a handful of collaborators in L.A., New York, London, Minneapolis, and Bloomington, and the results are some of Day's most flatly commercial songs to date. This may be prime radio fodder, but the uncalculated appeal of Australia is as far away as that distant continent, having been replaced by keening string sections and all the spit-shine tricks of a contemporary recording studio. Re-creating such songs in concert would require droves of backing musicians, an odd constraint for someone who made his name as a solo performer, and Sound the Alarm sounds a bit fabricated as a result, especially given the presence of outside writers on every track. "Everybody Loves to Love a Lie" is a welcome diamond in the rough -- polished but not predictable, convincing but not conventional -- and "Counting on Me" nods to Richard Ashcroft with its swirling neo-psychedelia. But when Day croons "I must confess, I like us best undressed" with all the pillow-talking flair of John Mayer's "Your Body Is a Wonderland," you can't help but wish the teenager had never grown up.

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