Phillip Phillips’s debut album a solid start

Photo courtesy of 19 Recordings, Inc.

Label: 19 Recordings Inc.

Release: Nov. 19

Pitchforks: 3.5 out of 5

 

The most recognizable song during the London Summer Olympics was the soundtrack to the U.S. women’s gymnastics team performance. From Gabby Douglas’s astonishing gold medal performance in the all-around event, to McKayla Maroney’s tragic vault flop, it was a gymnastic experience wrought with beaming smiles, disappointment and heart wrenching upset. The one song that was able to capture all these emotions together was Phillip Phillips’s “Home.”

Georgia-based singer Phillip Phillips released “Home” after he won season 11 of American Idol. The song has since flourished, lingering at the very top of the charts for weeks and selling over 2 million copies. NBC’s use of the song during the Olympics attracted new listeners. Now, the interest in his first debut album, “The World from the Side of the Moon,” is at an all-time high.

But does his album live up to the hype? It almost does, but not quite.

In his vision for the album, Phillips said, “The most important thing to me is making music that comes from my heart, and really connects with people on a gut level.”

Phillips set the bar a bit too high for this connection with his advanced single “Home.”

A lonely single person might come across a romantic couple so securely in love that he simultaneously becomes saddened by his own predicament, yet encouraged that love does exist. “Home” is a special song that functions like this lovely couple. It is so purely optimistic that it becomes sentimental, yet its simplistic beauty works like a bandage to seal any wound shut. It is cozy.

“Home” is home-y because it has a Mumford & Sons-inspired folkiness. Several tunes on the album give off a warm cabin feel, as if Phillips is singing around a campfire with his acoustic guitar strapped around his shoulder.

The opening song “Man on the Moon” features a twiddling violin, while the beginning of “Can’t Go Wrong” sounds like it has country roots in the strummed guitar and legato cello notes flowing in the background. Phillips uses nice instrumentation to accompany the charm. Most of the time it feels like Phillips is being genuine, but there are moments when his similarity to other artists makes him less convincing.

He tends to sound uncannily like Dave Matthews, but this is no surprise to American Idol followers who heard him cover an actual Dave Matthews Band song during competition titled, “The Rock.” Phillips’s “Get Up Get Down” could be taken straight from the B-side of “Busted Stuff.” Phillips cannot necessarily be faulted for the natural sound of his voice, but the song itself in its rhythm and blues vibe feels so identical to a Dave Matthews piece that it is easy to forget that this is the vocalist behind “Home.”

Some songs are duds. “Tell Me a Story” attempts to thrive on lyrical content alone, as its instrumentation is repetitive and bland with minimal variety. It is not as endearing as it purports to be, owing to clichéd lyrics such as “don’t believe in everything you see / Because what you want might not be what you need.” Female choral voices chime in a failed attempt to bolster the song’s attempt at grandiosity.

There is nothing impressive in the track “So Easy,” particularly because it sounds like trite radio pop candy. It is like a single man carrying a puppy through a college campus — it begs for attention.

It is acceptable to criticize Phillips for catering to the radio because he proves that he can make a more genuine, if less groovy, song in “A Fool’s Dance.” It does not rely on any chorus to carry it through. Rather, it is compelling through its darker existentialist messages. Furthermore, some songs can be catchy and sincere simultaneously: “Gone, Gone, Gone” is the likely chart-topper aside from “Home” because it is so joyously upbeat.

“The World from the Side of the Moon” is a mixed bag of good and bad elements. There is no denying that Phillip Phillips is musically gifted, but the album often suffers from an identity crisis. It lacks a single, defining quality because it only gets knee-deep in individuality. “Home” remains the Olympic anthem, but the album itself takes home a bronze.

 

Reach the reporter at jconigli@asu.edu