Phillip Phillips’ ‘Behind The Light’: Album Review

While teen girls everywhere squealed when Phillip Phillips won the 11th season of American Idol against Jessica Sanchez, some thought he was just going to be another white guy with a guitar. With the less than stellar track record of past Idol alums who fit that description (David Cook, Kris Allen, Lee DeWyze), Phillips seemed to be on his way toward that same fate. However, the then-22-year-old proved us wrong when his debut LP, The World From The Side Of The Moon, went platinum and “Home” became a smash hit, selling 278,000 units in its first week. This made him the second most successful Idol winner after Kelly Clarkson, who beat him by 2,000 copies with her single “My Life Would Suck Without You.”

And so, for the first time in quite a while, an Idol alum has a lot riding on a follow-up album. On Behind The Light, which is out today (), Phillips again teams up with producer Gregg Wattenberg, so the 12-track LP unsurprisingly sounds familiar. There’s that whole “If it ain’t broke” thing, of course, but there were hopes that this effort would take Phillips to the next level of his pop-folk singer-songwriter career, perhaps filling the void while Mumford & Sons take an extended break.

He earns points for having a hand in writing each of the songs here, but the addition of elaborate orchestrations becomes overpowering. Take, for instance, lead single “Raging Fire,” which wouldn’t feel out of place on Coldplay’s Viva La Vida, but with more drums, strings and did I forget to mention more drums? If Coldplay’s grandiosity isn’t grandiose enough for you when you’re putting a song together, you may want to scale things back a bit.

The big sounds continue with “Midnight Sun” and “Open Your Eyes.” The inclusion of a piano on the latter, and knowing that Phillips penned the track himself, makes it the more compelling choice of the pair. Phillips also had sole writing duties on “Trigger,” “Thicket” and “Face.” While “Thicket” and “Trigger” show his Dave Matthews influence, “Face” has a John Mayer-meets-Jason Mraz feel with some Southern grounding.

With all the influences running around, the one that missed the mark is “Fly.” Between the layers and layers strings on the chorus and the way his voice starts to sound like that of an ’80s glam rocker, this is not the Phillip Phillips fans came to know. But hey, at least he seems to be actively trying to expand his sound.

Perhaps the thing missing on this album is that warmth and charisma that we got from Phillip on the first album. It shows up on “Unpack Your Heart,” which still boasts plenty of orchestration, yet once you get to strip it down and go unplugged, this one carries that signature Phillips appeal.

Behind The Light isn’t a complete success, but even when it fails it demonstrates the new ways Phillips has molded his sound. And you won’t know if something works ’til you try it, right? So with the few gems that this album does carry, there is promise that he’ll find that stable signature for the next album.

Pops like: A Dave Matthews album with electrified orchestras.

Best Listened To: In some movie based on a young adult novel, probably by John Green, where the main character realizes her purpose in life.

Idolator Score: 2.5/5

— Emily Tan

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  • Realist

    His 15 minutes from doing a bad cover of Greg Holden’s ‘Home’ are done. This is a massive flop and he’ll be without a label within a year like every idol WGWG behind him.

    • Freddy

      Yet his new album just released last night is now no.1 on pop and no. 5 overall on itunes ;)

      • Karyn

        That’s very true, but all of the pre-orders count on the first day so sales are always high upon release. What’s going to matter is where in stands after week 1.

      • Katy Montgomery

        And now ??

    • Peggy Miller

      I’m listening to the album now and am enjoying it immensely. If you thought his cover of home wasn’t good, you will never like this album

    • dixie

      Phillip a wonderful refreshing artist…finding his way…and we love the path he’s paving. We love buying his songs…just got the album.

  • Ellen Carey Rowe

    Obviously doesn’t get Phillip at all if she was looking for him to be filling the Mumford & Sons gap. This album is so much more him and 10 times better than World. Just like Idol, Emily Tan would like to turn Phillip into something he isn’t. I think I’ll stick with Stevie Nicks’ assessment that he is going to be very famous because he has something that cannot be denied.

    • Derek Lu

      yes he’s got his all american boy good looks going for him. let’s see how long that lasts shall we? let’s face it, we all know that’s why he won idol.

  • Richyb

    This album is being panned heavily by every major review. Billboard ripped it to shreds and pretty much underscored that PP can’t keep playing wanna-be Mumford forever.

    PP is done. He’ll be playing his two lucky songs that were handed to him at county fairs for the next 30 years. Funny part is that in an interview after Idol, he said he really didn’t like ‘Home’ and did not want it on his album ROFL.

    • Derek Lu

      yea i read that too! what an ungrateful POS. dissing the one song that made him a star. he really needs to be taught to not bite the hand that feeds him. it’s a lesson many idol alums have had to learn the hard way when they find themselves dropped and label-less within a year. LOL

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  • Alex Veliz

    obviously Artist’s aren’t recognized on this review…PP is an amazing guitarist and vocalist…his talent cant be pushed aside

  • Katy Montgomery

    He is not an artist.
    He is not a songwriter.
    This album to date has sold under 70k units, and will die before it hits 250k.
    It shows that the only people who want this are Idol fans, and barely that.
    Raging Fire is top 10 at AC radio – my mom is enjoying it.
    On tour with OAR – bring a pillow to this jamfestapalooza.
    One more album – and that will be that.

    His “talent” can be pushed aside – as he has none.