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Album Reviews: Daniel Powter by Daniel PowterDaniel Powter's been big in Europe and his native Canada for almost a year, but it took two things for the falsetto-voiced piano man to finally catch everyone's ear in the U.S.: James Blunt and American Idol. Powter's label, Warner, delayed releasing his self-titled debut album in the U.S. for months and months, and might have gone right on delaying it had not Blunt's surprise hit "You're Beautiful" ascended to the top of the charts. Then, someone at Idol latched on to the album's lead single, the insufferably catchy "Bad Day," and decided to make it the theme song for contestants booted off the show. Next thing you know, "Bad Day" is the #1 single in America, and Powter seems poised to kick Blunt off the top of the sensitive singer-songwriter heap. He might even turn out to be American Idol's biggest success story since Kelly Clarkson, proving that the show has the power to break new artists even when they're not singing for Simon.
What's surprising about Daniel Powter is that, once you get past the insipid "Bad Day" and two other lackluster ballads that open the album, there is much to enjoy here, and it doesn't fit the James Blunt/Jack Johnson nice-guy-next-door mould at all. Instead, Powter comes across more as a hetero version of Scissor Sisters frontman Jake Shears -- a clever pop tunesmith with a killer falsetto and a knack for delivering throwaway lyrics like they're the wittiest thing you ever heard. Songs like "Lie to Me" and "Hollywood" chug along over jaunty, honky-tonk rhythms that echo vintage Elton John and, improbably, the gospelly piano licks and tambourine-fueled beats of Screamadelica-era Britpop. Even the better ballads, like "Styrofoam" and "Give Me Life," the album's last and strongest track, get under your skin with sneaky, hooky melodies and an unshakeable sense that Powter is a guy with something to say, even if he hasn't quite figured out how to say it yet.
Producer Mitchell Froom, an old pro at tarting up singer-songwriters, sneaks lots of orchestral touches into the mix to give the album a nice, glossy pop sheen. He also deserves a lot of credit for masking the fact that Powter's falsetto, as distinctive as it is when you first hear it, is actually pretty limited.
The fact that there's only one "Bad Day" in this set could be good news or bad news for Powter -- either his audience will fade quickly once people figure out that he's not the next James Blunt, or he'll be able to dodge the one-hit wonder tag and continue cranking out jaunty piano-pop anthems for years to come. Or, maybe both things will happen -- plenty of talented singer-songwriters have cranked out a token hit early in their career and then gone on to find their voice and make better music for a smaller audience. And Powter might prove to be one of them. -- Andy Hermann
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