Phillip Phillips’ ‘Behind The Light’: Album Review

emilytan | May 19, 2014 6:00 am
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