Kris Allen’s Debut Album: The Preview

Being a diehard “American Idol” fan is an emotional roller-coaster. No matter how much you dig a performer on the show, by the time his or her album leaks your fandom has been deflated by less-than-awesome singles and frustrations with how they’re being marketed. “Idol” albums are often over-written, over-produced and over-calculated, making the artist feel like studio-bots with little personality. “I’ll like the songs on tour, without all the studio crap around it,” you say to yourself, trying to save face when deep down you know your favorite new singer laid an egg.

Well, fans of our current “American Idol” can breathe a giant sigh of relief, because AOL premiered Kris Allen’s self-titled major label debut this morning and it’s pretty damn good.

I jotted down some notes while listening to the CD for the first time. And MTV News would like me to share them with you. So here we go!

» “Live Like We’re Dying”
Y’all know I love the single, which was originally a b-side from the Script, and Team Allen did right by starting the album strong. Besides, any power-pop album that features piano on the opening track instantly gets my seal of approval. (See: New Radicals’ Maybe You’ve Been Brainwashed Too.)

» “Before We Come Undone”
Whew! What a massive improvement over the demo I heard over the summer. (It featured an ill-fitting electronic drum track. Did not want.) Reverse guitar and piano parts give the track a really neat unraveling sound, as if the song itself is coming undone along with the rocky relationship Kris sings about. If I have one gripe, it’s that I feel like Kris’ vocals sound just a smidge behind the beat, as if they decided to increase the track’s tempo by a couple beats-per-minutes and forgot to update Kris’ track.

» “Can’t Stay Away”
Allen’s flirty side comes out to play in this white boy funk track. The verses sound like Maroon 5 without the whiny vocals, and the choruses are like Gavin DeGraw with less soul man posturing. Sorority girls: Be prepared to hear this when your frat guy boyfriends make you a new mix.

» “The Truth”
>>Kris’ breathy ballad vocals remind me of Richard Marx on this track. Considering I’m a sucker for Marx’s schmaltzy oeuvre, this one hooked me early, even if this Pat Monahan/Toby Gad-written song is considerably less cornball than Marx’s massive hits. These lyrics really jumped out at me: “While the floors underneath our feet are crumbling/ The walls we built together tumbling/ I still stand here holding up the roof / ‘Cause it’s easier than telling the truth.” I can see why the Beatles-obsessed Allen chose this song, as the collapsing-house-metaphor recalls “Fixing a Hole.”

» “Written All Over My Face”
Another song from the Script fellas, and it has the same wordy, bouncy feel as the single. I like this song less than “Live Like We’re Dying,” but Kris’ playful delivery injects the song with enough energy to save it for me. Or maybe it’s just that the song’s content — about his lack of a poker face in a relationship — reminds me of his pissed-off glare at Danny Gokey during their disastrous Styx duet. Let’s just say I’m excited to see this one live.

» “Bring It Back”
Kris teamed up with Adele mastermind Eg White for a heart-wrenching piano ballad. It’s a gorgeous, understated production that keeps Kris’ raw and honest vocals front and center.

» “Red Guitar”
Swoon alert! Kris wrote this song for his wife before his “Idol” journey and it’s an irresistible love song about a red guitar he gifted her. The U2-esque guitar sound on this one is especially winning, particularly because makes sense thematically. Although his wife isn’t the best guitar player, he hears beautiful strums every time she picks it up. And as far as guitar players, U2′s Edge is one of the top, yes?

» “Is It Over”
Kris begs and pleads with a girl who recently dumped him on this bluesy guitar-driven waltz. But the “Woe is me” theme and the dramatic flare-ups on the song would make it a perfect contender for next season’s “America Hates You This Week” elimination song on “Idol” results show.

» “Let It Rain”
Kris penned this tune as a response to all the pressure he was feeling while making the album. Being the “American Idol” is hard, you guys! I know I just said “Is It Over” would be an apt “Idol” results show anthem, but this is definitely it. My criticism is that the decent-but-not-genius-hook doesn’t really warrant the epic strings-and-all Goo Goo Dolls arrangement. (I was never a fan of “Iris,” but that song’s melody earned its over-the-top treatment.) However, right around the corner is …

» “Alright With Me”
… This! Kris may claim Paul McCartney is his biggest influence, but this catchy guitar sing-along (about enjoying “the chase”) is essentially George Harrison’s “Got My Mind Set On You (Part II).” This bouncy song is pretty impossible to dislike. How much fun will that falsetto note be to sing along with in concert? (To quote one of the lyrics, “I guess that means L-O-V-E.”) Excuse me while I go dance in my chair some more.

» “Lifetime”
The song’s “I’m still learning how to be a man” message shows Kris’ sensitive side. I have to call him out on skating on his Southern accent to cover up his less-than-kosher chorus rhyme scheme, though. Last time I checked, the words “symphony,” “melody” and “be” do not rhyme with “say,” even if Kris’ drawl might suggest otherwise.

» “I Need To Know”
Shockingly, this Fray-like piano-ballad was not the song Joe King co-wrote. (He did the boppy “Alright With Me.”) Kris’ voice is at its most vulnerable on this track, starting off as a croaky whisper. Cellos join him, then an orchestra, and by the time Kris belts “I need to knoooow” to his disinterested love, a tinkering electronic guitar fills out the sound. Kris might not have been known for his ballads on “Idol,” but apparently we missed out. It’s a great way to close the album.

» “Heartless”
Kris arguably earned his spot in the “Idol” finale thanks to his acoustic switch-up of Kanye West’s “Heartless,” so it’s not surprising that he included said cover as a bonus track. What is surprising, however, is the Phil Collins “In the Air Tonight” arrangement Salaam Remi whipped up. It’s a fail. An interesting fail, but a fail nonetheless.

It’s not a perfect album by any stretch of the imagination. (Don’t you wish there was just one totally-acoustic song on there, Kris fans?) But as far as “Idol” albums go, it’s fantastic. Kris’ influences are loud and clear, yet the songs don’t sound like lukewarm carbon-copies or wannabe retreads. Most importantly, Kris survived the major label machine without having his likeable personality swallowed up. In fact, the self-titled album sounds so quintessentially Kris that calling it anything other than Kris Allen would have felt disingenuous.

Now it’s your turn to sound-off! What do you think of Kris Allen’s album? What’s your favorite song? Do you like how the album isproduced? Do you think Kris has a hit album on his hands? Leave a comment below!