Album Review: Lee DeWyze's 'Live It Up' is a let-down
'American Idol' champ goes the soft rock route for his RCA debut
I don’t blame RCA for trying to put Lee DeWyze’s debut album as soon as possible after the “American Idol” tour and before the new season of the competition. This past year was far from the strongest from an audience standpoint for the hit FOX show. As the 24-year-old was crowned the Season 9 winner, there was a spark of outrage over runner-up Bowersox deserving the top spot, a shrug and a clap for DeWyze, and a tepid reaction from radio when his coronation song and cover of “Beautiful Day” was released. The AI tour had trouble selling out shows this summer and then there was silence.
Getting new material out in time for people remember just who Lee DeWyze is was important. Building his post-AI identity for Sony was important. The success of his first single was important.
Now that “Live It Up” has arrived, I fear it won’t be enough to satisfy the label and I wonder if soft rock was really the way for DeWyze to go. The set’s first single “Sweet Serendipity” is simple and would be perfect for commercial license, but doesn’t pack enough punch to interest the adult rock market outside of “American Idol” fans.
Opening the whole set with a touchy ballad is the biggest gamble that DeWyze and his handlers took, with generic songs about love at a midtempo dominating the whole rest of the set. The Mount Prospect, Ill.-native proudly lets those scratchy, hard edges seep out from his voice, but the aesthetic of it over pretty, guitar- and piano-led songs doesn’t always work.
As much as DeWyze wanted to put his own stamp on “Live It Up” with his numerous co-writes, several songs only seem to remind me of other artists and works. The title track very well could’ve been on John Mayer’s “Room For Squares.” "Beautiful Like You" is one of the album’s biggest triumphs, with a rolling piano line like Coldplay’s “Clocks” giving it a forward motion and some urgency, though still warm and familiar. (It could have been a couple choruses shorter and, unfortunately, it was the one track on the 11-song album that DeWyze didn’t co-pen.) “Weightless” – one of the better written songs on the set – hearkens “I’m No Superman.” He has his own Michael Buble moment in the Empire State-minded “Brooklyn Bridge,” followed by the sappy but sweet Mrazian “Dear Isabelle.”
The set’s producers and writers – which included lady-friendly Toby Gad, pop generalist John Shanks and team Espionage (Train) – threw every kind of cute into the set to tame DeWyze’s husky moan, from ukulele to hand claps to Oasis harmonies to dramatic strings culled straight from Aerosmith’s “I Don’t Wanna Close My Eyes.” What they forgot to do is leave enough of DeWyze’s personality in there. Something a little dark wouldn’t hurt and all the charm that captured the imaginations of his "AI" voters seems erased by the attempt to make a Hit.
And maybe that was the point. Sales for full albums from AI singers have slipped in recent years, which means RCA could just be interested in throwing out a menu of adult top 40 songs that could stick. In that case, “Weightless,” the title track and “Beautiful Like You” could do the trick. But as a sample of DeWyze’s talents, “Live It Up” is sadly single-note. Maybe he could've used some extra time after the summer after all.