Nothing New on ‘The Other Side of Down’

David Archuleta -- "The Other Side of Down" -- Jive -- 1.5 STARS

Courtesy Jive

Backstreet’s back! Or wait, boy band pop music just hasn’t petered out yet. That’s right—the infamous genre has once again come into the music marketplace with what can only be described as a tired, stereotypical try. It’s true that there is a formula for pop music, but without anything unique or new, even that formula can fall flat. This is exactly what’s happened in the third and newest album of David Archuleta, the runner-up of American Idol’s seventh season. “The Other Side of Down” is unoriginal, over-produced, too slow to be dancy and too fast to be sentimental, and the lyrics barely speak to anything. The album, though it has all the right ingredients, will end up falling short of any lasting popularity.

The first song on Archuleta’s new album is the title track, and like the title suggests, it’s basically the other side of “Down” by Jay Sean. As a matter of fact, the notes Archuleta sings when crying “Down” are almost exactly the same as those in Sean’s song. This kind of echoing seems more like Archuleta is trying to ride the wave of Sean’s popularity for a song released less than a year ago than him coming up with something original. Almost every track of the album mimics contemporary pop to the extreme in that it includes the cheesy, now popular, beat which sounds like a techno turned hip-hop groove found in songs like “Down” and Jason DeRulo’s “In My Head.” Where most pop artists seem to save this rhythm for the dance songs, Archuleta has slowed it down and turned most of his songs into a strange mix of upbeat and sentimental that is really only appropriate to listen to while driving; this cuts it out of typical teenage situations his audience should be enjoying it in—that is, at parties and hanging out in their parents’ houses with friends.

On top of all of this, the lyrics in the songs are almost unbearable. They pile one cliché on top of another until the song doesn’t really mean anything—but they do rhyme! For example in “Look Around,” the most dancy track on the album, Archuleta sings “Like a train wreck, you’re on a mission / Television got you blinded / Better slow down before you lose ground / It’ll happen anyway / Paint it over if your world is gray” which actually means nothing, but can be loosely translated to yet another cliché: stop and smell the roses. The lyrics are highly predictable because of these factors. In “Complain” he sings “No more wasting my time looking in the mirror / Wishing my life was…”—You guessed it! —“A little bit clearer.”

It would be easy to blame the producers on this album for creating something that seems like a marketing ploy to rob the gullible teen consumer who listens to radio DJ’s opinions. Unfortunately, it looks like Archuleta has actually had more of a hand in this album than he did on his first album. Here he co-wrote 10 of the 12 songs whereas on the first he only co-wrote two. It really is a shame that he isn’t doing something more original, because he has a beautiful singing voice proven by his ranking on American Idol. Interviews at the beginning of the season suggested that he had a more interesting idea about developing music, citing R&B and latin music as his main influences. He seems to have lost that inspiration or has just gotten confused and now thinks that adding a beat to your song makes it soulful.

Either way, Archuleta’s new album will not go down in mainstream culture history because it has added nothing new to the pop world. He’s not daring like Lady Gaga, nor passionate like John Mayer, nor a dancer like Justin Timberlake, nor a romantic like the Kings of Leon. He’s just normal, which could be his thing, but he has sadly interpreted normal as regurgitating all of the pop music released in the past year. But he’s young, and with a voice like his perhaps there’s hope for him yet.