Thursday, August 07, 2014

my definitive ranking of the kris allen discography (so far)

UPDATE (Aug 8, 2014): The full list is finally up! Meanwhile, Kris will stream Horizons in full midnight (US Central Time) in his YouTube page

A couple of weeks ago, when I was in a five-hour midnight bus ride from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur, Kris Allen's "Written All Over My Face" (a song off his first post-American Idol album) played on my iPhone playlist. It's been years since I've heard the song, having had Thank You Camellia in constant loop since its release in 2012, so it was a pleasant surprise for me to hear it again (fast-talking/rapping Kris is always a good thing).

So there I was inside the bus, at around 1AM, and while listening to WAOMF, I remember thinking back to some of those click-bait-y Buzzfeed posts about "ultimate" lists. Has there been such a "Kris List" before? There had been attempts, if I remember correctly. But that was years ago.

Anyway, so a crazy idea formed in my head: to rank all of Kris's songs to date. I figured it's a good way to reminisce while I (and his fans) are (impatiently) waiting for his new album Horizons. Granted, his latest single, "Prove It To You", has been on repeat track since pre-orders started July 8. And we've heard the live versions of some of those tracks as early as last year's Out Alive tour. But what the heck. It's a good way to kill some time.

Fast forward to today, less than a week before the August 12 release date. Apparently my crazy idea was indeed crazy in that it was not as easy as I thought it would be. So I had to set some scope and limitations (wow I sound like a science project...which this kinda is?). This is, first and foremost, a personal list anyway, so I get to make up some rules. ;-)

Such guidelines include the following:

  1. All songs included in the list must be widely released at one point or another. So while this automatically excludes Kris's pre-Idol album Brand New Shoes (it was hard choice to make) and the leaked demos, the list includes not only his two studio albums (the self-titled post-Idol debut album and the grossly underrated TYC), I've also included in the rankings Kris's American Idol studio recordings (since they were available for purchase at one point), most of the bonus tracks, and other singles.

    I also excluded ranking the Waiting for Christmas EP here mainly because it's, seasonal to be (almost) objectively ranked with the rest.

    (I may do another list that includes BNS. Soon. Maybe in the next update with Horizons.)
  2. All songs included in the list must be the original/studio recordings. This means that inasmuch as I would like to include the live Idol performances and the other amazing mashups from his previous tours (that rocked-out Falling Slowly/With or Without You comes to mind), sticking to the record will be more standardized. Let's face it, almost all of Kris's live performances are much better. But they also vary from time to time.

    Also excluded: some of the acoustic versions of the songs off the TYC fan edition. And the TVOL remixes. I did include that other version of "The Truth" and both versions of "Heartless" (AI recording and KATA bonus track) but this is because the former was also commercially released as a stand-alone single while the latter two have totally different production values.
Okay. So that's enough disclaimers for now I guess (the usual "my personal opinion only" applies, obviously). Onto the rankings:

47. Lifetime
I have to admit: I totally forgot about this song until I started this list. After listening to it again, I realized that this song goes nowhere (case in point: the bridge is basically just "it takes a lifetime" repeated over and over). Amidst other slower tempo songs in the first album and in the entire discography, this just...fades into the background

46. The Truth (feat. Pat Monahan)
An example of a good idea done...not so good. Pros: the shortened version, the cool video that was released for it. Cons: that bridge. Perhaps if Pat just stayed in the harmony, the result would have been better. Instead we got an awkward-sounding breakup tune.

45. Renegade (American Idol Studio Version) [with Danny Gokey]
The recording is not as disastrous as their live performance, but I'm not really sold at the song choice, either.

44. Heartless (Salaam Remi Remix)
On paper, including a remix version of Kris's arguably most popular American Idol perfmance is a good thing. Its execution, though, is another story. On the plus side, Kris' lower register is quite good in the opening verse. But then, there's the screech.

43. The Way You Look Tonight (American Idol Studio Version)
On Idol, this performance landed Kris in the bottom three for the first time. In retrospect, it does kinda make sense. The switch to a more uptempo beat towards the middle, which works in some of his other arrangements, messed this up instead. It must be the brass intruments?

42. Fighters
Of Kris's "inspirational" tracks, this one falls short of his other more urgent and engaging anthems. When I think "fighters" I imagine more oomph. This one is just…okay.

41. All She Wants to Do Is Dance (American Idol Studio Version)
Yes, the live performance of this song was a bit of a mess, but this recording makes up for it. Slightly.

40. Bring It Back
"Bring It Back" falls in this place, because, at least for me, it fell victim of too much expectations. It was co-written by Eg White, who worked previously with Adele(!), but somehow, apart from the bridge, the song doesn't go anywhere.

39. How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You) [American Idol Studio Version]
I wish the finalists were not straddled with the original backing tracks when they recorded their Motown hits because it kinda stripped them off their creativity when it comes to song arrangements. Nevertheless, this is still a good take.

38. Red Guitar
This is supposedly a song Kris wrote pre-Idol, so if put in that context, it's quite understandable that there is indeed a certain naivete in it. It is a song about a guitar (and the girl who plays it). On the plus side, it is one of the songs in KATA that had better production values. That drum breakdown in the end is very cool.

37. Let It Be (Live)
Some live performance recordings can stand alone really really well (David Cook's "Permanent" comes to mind), while some are just...pretty good. "Let It Be" falls in the latter category, in my opinion. Maybe because I enjoyed watching this more rather than simply listening to it.

36. You Got a Way
"You Got a Way" has the same vibe as his performance of "The Way You Look Tonight". Which, as the latter's placement shows, it's not really a good thing to be compared to. To be fair, it's a good close to an otherwise peppy album. (Then again, I don't want it to end.)

35. Leave You Alone
I remember reading a comment on Twitter that said this song is like a sequel to "Is It Over" (more about that later). In a sense it is true. And just like sequels, trumping the original seldom happens.

34. Shut That Door (Acoustic)
This song was only released in the fan edition of TYC, and with good reason. While it is a capable crowd-pleaser in concert tours, the vibe does not translate on record. Perhaps if the recording is a full-band version rather than just acoustic, it'd be loads better.

33. No Boundaries
Idol coronation songs are generally…not that good, so the expectations here were not that high. Kris did a good job given the material, but you can almost hear the strain when tries to reach the high notes. Dare I say Adam's take (and arrangement) is a bit better?

32. Apologize (American Idol Studio Version)
Kris's version of this OneRepublic hit doesn't deviate much from the original, which, on the one hand, is good because it was still able to showcase the range of his vocals. But then, the cynic in me labels it as "safe".

31. Heartless (American Idol Studio Version)
Nothing beats the live acoustic performance, but of the two versions Kris has released, I would argue that this is the better one. The cold open provides a glimpse of the said live performance, for one. For another, there's that last "heartleeesss" line towards the end.

30. Send Me All Your Angels
This song was written by fellow AI alum Chris Daughtry, and it's quite easy to imagine him singing this in a more angsty-rocker way. Kris's take is softer in a good way.

29. Let It Rain
"Let It Rain" is one of those songs I wished were released as a single, mainly because Kris + rain = awesomeness. ;-) But seriously, this is a pretty solid ballad, even if it is kinda repetitive.

28. Turn the Pages
I'm not really sold at the book metaphor, but it was executed well. "'Cause everything is temporary, every line of every story / Let me be the hero in the one that never ends" is a very cool lyric.

27. What's Going On (American Idol Studio Version)
Too bad this song was overshadowed by the beauty that was "Ain't No Sunshine" and the madness that was "No Boundaries" in the finals. I think this is one of his good but underrated songs.

26. Remember the Time (American Idol Studio Version)
I never liked the original version that much (I know right? Blasphemy!), so props to Kris for making me hear the song in a new light. Maybe it's the acoustic guitar vibe.

25. The Truth
I did not like this song that much when I first heard it, but it has grown on me over time. While I take points off its length (some of the instrumentation can be cut to reduce the 4-minute playback), I like how the vocal soars as the song progresses.

24. Can't Stay Away
It's one of those--for lack of a better term--"ironic" songs that I like: here Kris trying to impress some girl who doesn’t give him the time of day, but the sexy swagger of the beats tells that it's just a matter of time before she gives in (and who wouldn't?).

23. From the Ashes
This bonus track is actually worthy to have been included in the main tracklist. It's like the rockier cousin of "Before We Come Undone", with the drum beats and that hint of furious strings.

22. I Need to Know
At first listen one may dismiss this song as lazy singing, given how tired-sounding Kris is in the first verses. Then the piano backing builds and you realize it's not lazy but an expression of frustration and perhaps defeat. Perfectly captured.

21. Monster
I would have ranked this higher because, indeed, this has everything going for it: awesome intro, cool beats, the howling. But…I dunno, I'm not that sold to I-have-a-dark-side theme though.

20. Come Together (American Idol Studio Version)
No Simon, this is not like eating ice for lunch. But if we do have to use the ice metaphor, add some fruit or whatever because this more of a sorbet for lunch. Cool, refreshing.

19. Better With You
Happy Kris >>> Sad Kris. When it comes to his songs that is. "Better With You" served well as the opening track of Thank You Camellia as it set the tone of what the album will be like. Also: fast-talking Kris!

18. Rooftops
This song has a laid-back swagger in it, and captures both the acoustic and the funky.

17. Blindfolded
Heinz Winckler, who originally recorded this, sang it in a way that's more optimistic. Like promise of eternal love or something. Kris's somber take is creepier bordering on stalker-y. And it's really good.

16. She Works Hard for the Money (American Idol Studio Version)
Like "Heartless," the studio recording pales in comparison to the live performance, but this gets extra points up the list for its dance-y guitar vibe.

15. Ain't No Sunshine (American Idol Studio Version)
Again, this studio version feels a bit of a letdown if you've watched the live performance, but this still stands on its own and it was, to some extent, able to capture the elements and stylings of the said performance. Which is good.

14. Written All Over My Face
Like I said at the beginning of the post," rapping" Kris is always good. To say that this song has The Script vibe will be oversimplifying it, given that the said band wrote this. But somehow that explanation works for me, too.

13. The Vision of Love
That falsetto. 'Nuff said.

12. Teach Me How Love Goes
"Teach Me How Love Goes" is one of those love-it-or-hate-it songs. I guess because vocally, it doesn't soar as much (then again the song doesn't call for it). What I like about it most, though, is the awesome instrumentation behind it.

11. Loves Me Not (feat. Meiko)
Finally, after a series of less-than-stellar collaborations, we get this gem. Kris and Meiko captures the he-said-she-said dynamic here. I especially love the line: "why do you pick up to watch me fall?"

10. Falling Slowly (American Idol Studio Version)
This is another cover that doesn't deviate much from the original material, yet somehow this is better? The falsetto is wonky in parts, but somehow it still works.

9. Before We Come Undone
Now this song, in my opinion, should have been the second single off the debut album. it has good pop-rock beats to mask the underlying message of a relationship on the rocks (one of those ironies again), and it showcases Kris's both lower and higher registers, especially towards the bridge. Weirdly enough, it has received airplay in major radio stations here in the Philippines.

8. Man In the Mirror (American Idol Performance)
While it is a bit short, given that it is a live recording of his semifinal performance. But it ranks high on my list because of one thing: that awesome growly glory note. Hey, it captured my attention five years ago, and look where it got me.

7. My Weakness
Isn't it ironic (heh) that a song titled "My Weakness" is sung very loudly? No? Whatever the case, it's fun, it's catchy, it's second-single worthy.

6. Is It Over
If the TV series Nashville existed in 2009, I'm pretty sure this is one of the songs Gunnar and Scarlett would have sung to one another in one of their breakup moments. But seriously, the country vibe and the hint of desperation in the vocals really captures the essence of the song.

5. Live Like We're Dying
Say what you want about the origins of Kris's first post-Idol single, but LLWD is still a damn catchy tune. From the opening riffs to the fast-talking chorus about how we should live life as if it were our last, it's a timeless anthem that's way better than all of this "YOLO" business. Added bonus: time conversion lessons!

4. The Vision of Love (Maison & Dragen Radio Remix)
So I bended my exclusion rules a bit. But admittedly, I have a slight bias towards this remix because this is the first track I heard before TYC was released. Disco! Kris is always good.

3. To Make You Feel My Love (American Idol Studio Version)
This is the first song I heard from Kris that I played on repeat for days. Which is not surprising considering he became my favorite to win after this performance. I remember that his version was being compared to Adele's at that time, so bonus points for it introducing me to her music as well.

2. Alright With Me
Kris Allen (the album) had a lot of somber songs about failed or failing relationships and rah-rah anthems. What's going for this song is that it stands out of the pack: from the clappy beats and yeah yeah yeahs at the start to the guitar riffs toward the bridge. And it stands the test of time, too.

1. Out Alive
You know that you're a fan of a song (or a band) when you can sing along even to the harmonies. That's how I am when "Out Alive" plays. It has everything going for it--from the lower register that slowly builds up to the thumping drumbeats at the bridge. It's both a war cry and a love song. Love it.

* * *
If you've managed to read at this point, let me know your thoughts! What's your most favorite Kris track so far? Do you (dis)agree with the rankings? Hit me up in the comments section! ;-)


Anonymous said...

Interesting to read. Gotta say that I'm really glad I know that you're a huge Kris fan. :D

PJ said...

thank you! :)

Anthony Ong said...

I don't agree with most of your ranking except for the number 1 ranking of Out Alive haha. So yay!

Anonymous said...

Fun reading and would love a long conversion about all the songs.I heard WAOMF shopping last month and it sounded great.If that had been 2nd single,it would have been a hit.NB will always be last on any list for me.INTK would be top3.YGAW and LYA would be higher than IIO.Love it live but not recorded.TMHLG would be much higher on my list.I am not a fan of Fighters either but think STD would sound great with full band.Love that song.
Pretty much agree with rest of rankings and your comments.Thanks

PJ said...

@Anthony: haha! yay. :)

@anon: thanks for taking time writing your thoughts in the comments. WAOMF would have indeed be a good single off KATA too. also agree that STD would have sounded great with a full band. i saw a YT clip of that and wish it'd been a "regular" bonus track with that arrangement.

it's always nice to have a different tastes and opinions on these types of things. kris's songs has a diversity. which is only good for him. :)

Anonymous said...

Fun reading. Will be interesting to see where HZS fits in to this playlist. =)