When American Idol debuted four years ago, it was fascinating precisely because it represented such an anachronism. At a time when even frivolous teen idols made a big show of co-writing their own material, Idol pretended that we still lived in a world where leather-lunged belters such as Linda Ronstadt and Joe Cocker could build lengthy careers without lifting a pen to paper. To a degree, America has bought the ruse. During Christmas week, three of the top 10 albums in the Billboard 200 came from former Idol contestants: Carrie Underwood, Kelly Clarkson, and Bo Bice.
Bice became this country’s train wreck of choice last year when he single-handedly tried to affirm Charlie Daniels’ old mantra that the South is gonna do it again. Looking like the lead singer of a Lynyrd Skynyrd tribute band, he managed, on a show noted for its lack of subtlety and taste, to set new standards for cluelessness.
For those of us whose warped notion of heaven is getting the chance to hear Jerry Lewis sing Beatles tunes on Hullabaloo, Bice’s debut album promised big things. At the very least, we hoped, he might revisit his Idol showstoppers, the prehistoric rockers “Vehicle” and “Spinning Wheel.” (Let’s face it: Singing “Spinning Wheel” in this era is akin to showing up at Woodstock in 1969 and opening with “I Dream of Jeannie With the Light Brown Hair.”)
What a drag it is to find that Bice’s The Real Thing offers no embarrassments, no shameless histrionics, no anthems for a redneck revolution. It’s just a bunch of decently crafted, pointless modern-rock numbers that aspire to the Avril Lavigne template. Songs such as “U Make Me Better” and “You’re Everything” play the sensitive-guy card with a modicum of compressed chorus crunch to satisfy suburban males with Matchbox 20 posters on their walls. (Sample lyric: “I’ll open every car door/I won’t go out anymore/I’ll even eat off the floor”).
Bice sounds thoroughly dispirited, as if even his famously faulty shit detector can’t stop beeping. He might be your vehicle, baby, but this clunker’s already running on fumes. •