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Andrew is a staff writer at the “The Hudsucker”. He is a 28 year old lawyer living in Ottawa. Besides legal jargon, his brain capacity is taken up by reality show trivia, video game walk-throughs and room escape strategies. Andrew is also happily in a long-term, long-distance relationship. Follow him on Twitter as @sublymonal.

A Track-By-Track Review of Blake Lewis’s “Portrait of a Chameleon”

Credit: Fox + 19 Entertainment

It’s hard for me to believe that it’s been seven years since Idol’s sixth season aired. I say that with a great deal of fondness because Season 6, for me, was where I really took notice of the show. It was where the show transitioned from one of old-school singers to new-school artists and one of the catalysts for that volatile reaction was Seattle native & beatboxer Blake Lewis. In case you don’t remember him, Blake Lewis was the guy who flew in the face of seasoned rocker Bon Jovi’s advice and turned his epic rock anthem “You Give Love A Bad Name” on it’s head, breaking the song down with a dramatic drum-beatbox battle midway through. It remains, in my mind, one of the highlights of Idol’s 13 seasons.

But as with all Idol contestants who seek success, there comes a time where they need to do something that will take their career a step beyond what it was on the show. How does one go from singing karaoke to writing, recording and releasing their own songs which may be dramatical different in form while still maintaining the same audience. I would argue that Blake Lewis never beat around the bush with who he was. In those seven years, he’s released two albums: Audio Day Dream and Heartbreak on Vinyl, both of which kept a pop-vibe about them, but delved into other areas like electronic, 80s and dubstep without ever feeling like a watered down version. Lewis’s love and knowledge of a wide array of music is never something I’ve questioned.

Lewis in the studio, Credit: PledgeMusic, Blake Lewis

So naturally I was excited when Lewis launched a campaign on PledgeMusic.com in an attempt to create his own hype around the album and, from my perspective, it worked. It took me a few weeks in the campaign before I actually pulled out my credit card and order a signed copy of the CD, but the lure of song clips was too great. I needed to hear what Blake had been working on since his aforementioned sophomore album “Heartbreak on Vinyl” was released back in 2009. I often find it hard to tell if I liked a song based on a small clip, because I’m partial to the dynamics of a song: the build, the transitions from verses to choruses, the rise and fall, but Lewis’s clips satisfied my craving. I was still, eagerly awaiting the release of the full songs and the album itself and when I found out I’d be getting a digital copy long before my signed hard copy arrived in the mail, I was thrilled. I downloaded the zip file from the PledgeMusic site, ripped the folder open and hit play and what I found was not disappointed in the least.

The record opens appropriately with a song called “Start Again”. At first, it seemed like like a bit of a departure from Lewis’s purely electronic beats, but the synth kicks in within the first minute, layered overtop of a melody that would transition easily to an acoustic setting. The song itself is about new beginnings, perhaps appropriate given the previously discussed need for Idol alum to strike new musical gold. Moreover, given that Lewis signed with new label Republic Records for his third album, it was clear that the added independence had given him something to prove. This song sets that up well and transitions so perfectly into the second song on the album that I had to check iTunes to make sure I was really there.

Back To Life”, the second track on the album, would fit perfectly on Lewis’s second effort and I mean that as a compliment. I felt like “Heartbreak on Vinyl” was a step in the right direction for Lewis and was on high rotation for months after it’s release and still gets regular play when I’m in the mood for something catchy that will cheer me up. “Back to Life” has that same driving beat that Lewis does so well. Whenever I listen to a new song of his with that beat, I wonder if he just has a box of really great unreleased songs somewhere that he pulls out of his hat whenever he needs them. This would definitely qualify as one of them.

The third track “Not Today” changes the tempo and mood of the album, but not in a way that sucks the life out of it. I find a lot of artists struggle with the ability to write a good, compelling slower song but Lewis draws from his own experiences with loved ones battling addiction and gives this song an intimacy that almost made me feel the kind of second-hand embarrassment that comes with relating so heavily to an artist. I can hear the desperation with Lewis’s voice and I can say, with certainty that this will not be one of those slow songs that I scan by because every listen feels therapeutic to my own demons.

The fourth track deals with a common theme on Blake’s albums “Silence”. The song has an interesting swagger in the verses that gets snatched up by the gorgeous strings in the chorus. The way Lewis’s vocals drag almost have a James Blake quality to them seemed to lend a weight to the song that fits well with how heavy silence can sometimes be. I find this kind of pairing is not uncommon in Lewis’s songs. Because he’s so intricate with the construction of his electronic melodies, they often say more about the mood of the song than the lyrics ever can.

This song transitions into one called “Grounds for Termination” that introduces Lewis’s dubstep influences into the mix. The song might be what one would called a “transition song” except Blake always finds a way to make his shorter songs worth the listen. The seem to set up the next song and this one, whether consciously or not, definitely has a Daft Punk vibe.

Lewis in the IE10 Commercial, Credit: Lewis, Internet Explorer

The next song is one you might have heard. “Your Touch” was originally (and very aptly) featured in an Internet Explorer 10 commercial. I won’t lie, I still play this song quite regularly because the dubstep drop in it is just to epic not to. I get chills from it and sometimes, when I’m home alone, I crank it up to full volume just to get the full effect. Given that it was the first track we heard from “Portrait of a Chameleon”, it sort of set my expectations high but also made me anticipate a potential shift in what Lewis was capable of. So far, so good on the expectation from, but let’s see what else Lewis’s album has in store…

Track 7 is called “I Want You” and features LA Native and fellow electronic artist Samantha James. James’s influence on this track is apparent, in a good way. I think because Blake is so good at creating those driving, catchy dance beats, it makes his haunting down tempo melodies that much more interesting and James’s ethereal voice blends well with Lewis’s falsetto to the point that the ticks and the drifts in this song flow. The different layers to the song are interesting rather than distracting and almost make the song go by and before you know it, it’s over and you sort of just want it to play again.

 “Survivor”, the eighth track on the album, borrows again from Lewis’s acoustic stylings and blends them with his electronic roots effortlessly yet again. Blake is certainly one of those artists who defy genre classification and this song is the perfect example of why. It reveals what makes Blake so unique amongst his fellow Idol alum and, further, amongst a lot of the other artists out there. It’s part of the reason I feel the need to share his music with as many people as I can. I feel like anyone could find something they like amongst his diverse tracks. His description of himself as a chameleon might, for that reason, be the most appropriate I’ve ever heard. That said, this song picks up again on Lewis’s inspirational theme while keeping the cheese factor to a minimum and I think that continuity is definitely smart on his part.

Track nine has been one of my favourites since I first read the name. You may be wondering how “Disco in Space” could possibly be anything but a healthy slice of campy deliciousness and you might be right. But I considered myself a little bit of a connoisseur when it comes to Disco music. I was raised on my parents Bee Gees records and heavy play of Oldies stations featuring artists like KC and the Sunshine Band, Lionel Ritchie and Donna Summer and this track has all the making of a great disco album. From the drag of the strings within the first few seconds, I knew I was going to love it and Lewis takes it to another level with a bit more of a driving beat that might make the modern generation who can’t appreciate disco the way I do, appreciate this song and get up and dance to it. Not going to lie, I might listen to this one a few times before I go any further.

Okay, alright. Like I said before, Blake’s ability to duplicate moods in the melody and lyrics is what makes his songs work so well and “Retro Romance” is no exception. It has that undeniable retro feel, with the soaring vocals and a bit of a bounce in the verses. It could, absent the electronic undertones, fit into a jukebox in a fifties diner, but I love how Blake’s fondness for old music (something I share with him) infuses his albums and brings those common themes to a new audience. He’s fighting the good fight, in my books.

Love, Love, Love” is another transition song but, again, I feel like it creates a mood that makes it worth listening to. Some may discount electronic music as over processed and not “true” music because it doesn’t feature instruments, but I think technology allows artists to stretch the boundaries and create such amazing worlds that we may end up at the same place as we would with a violin, guitar or piano. Artists like Imogen Heap are a great example of how electronics sounds can be pieced together to create a masterpiece and Blake’s own masterful construction of songs follows that same blueprint.

She Gives Me Her Love” starts out with the same disco flavour as “Disco in Space”. It has that beat that reminds me of the riveting clack of the highway that the Bee Gees used in Jive Talking, but the chorus transitions into something more Reggae by the middle of it. Like I said before, Blake is capable of melding genres together to make one consistent consistent song and this is a cool combination that took me by surprise and feels like it make sense for the mood of the track.

The penultimate new track, “Runaway” was one that I was never sure what to expect as it went on. It began as something you might here on a Justin Timberlake album, but the melody switched several times after that and gave us something new. Lewis has always been a surprising artist and I think this song shows his unpredictability well. Just when you think a song is going to be Timberlake-esque, it turns into something else and that’s another thing that I really like about him. He draws inspiration from multiple places but is never reasoned to a straight copying of that one particular thing. He’d rather create his own thing using a mosaic of elements.

And the final track is another one of my favourites. Lewis released a piano-driven video of “Lost In Heaven” as one of the rewards for contributing to his album on PledgeMusic. Lewis has had previous songs of this nature on his prior two albums (such as The Point off “Heartbreak on Vinyl”). It’s one of those songs, like “Not Today” above, that you have to listen to all the words or, more appropriate, that Lewis draws you in and makes you want to hear every word. It’s one of those songs that even though I may not know precisely what Lewis’s target is, the lyrics are constructed in such away that that the listener could relate to them regardless and I love that. I think that is what makes good music, more than anything else.

Overall, on first listen I think “Disco In Space and “Not Today” were definite standouts for me, but the rest of the album is of the high quality I’ve come to expect of Lewis, so I suspect on further listens I will come to love every track for different reasons. I think the album definitely does demonstrate a willingness on Lewis’s part to try new things since “Heartbreak on Vinyl” and I’ll be interested to see what he does with this album. Hopefully tour. Lewis, if you’re reading this, come to Toronto so I can see you perform these tracks. Okay, that’s my personal bias coming out there, but I really do think Lewis is one of the greatest contributions Idol has made to today’s music scene.

blakelewisalbum

“Portrait of a Chameleon” Album Cover, Credit: Blake Lewis

Blake Lewis’s third album “Portrait of a Chameleon” is out now for those who contributed to his campaign on PledgeMusic and will hit iTunes on May 20th.

Follow him on Twitter and on Facebook for more, and check out his PledgeMusic page.

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4 Comments on “A Track-By-Track Review of Blake Lewis’s “Portrait of a Chameleon””

  1. Eric April 29, 2014 at 8:47 pm #

    Great review. i agree with you on everything and love this album as well. Blake is so unique and talented, and all his songs have substance, which is something a lot of artists are lacking nowadays. It’s a long-shot that this album takes off and makes Blake famous, but he definitely deserves a hell of a lot more recognition than he gets. Even as an indie artist, he’s one of my favorites.

  2. The Wandering Mind May 20, 2014 at 5:00 pm #

    Got this album waiting for me when I get home. I’m amped up to listen to this album. Good review.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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