January 12, 2006

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Bo Bice, The Real Thing
RCA Records, 2005
C

Bo Bice’s debut album, The Real Thing, is one album made up of two halves.

The first half (the first five tracks) is like drinking water when you’re expecting Sprite. The lack of bubbles, and umph, makes you want to puke.

Sure, water is fine, but not when you’re expecting Sprite.

The first five tracks of The Real Thing are fine, if you like the pop-rock sounds of Matchbox 20 (one of Bice’s favorite bands) and Bon Jovi (Richie Sambora and Jon Bon Jovi contribute to the album). But puke comes to mind, and mouth, when you’re expecting southern rock with grit, soul and passion. When listening to Bo Bice, the last thing his fans want to hear is Clay Aiken-like music influenced by past-his-prime producer Clive Davis (not to say Davis doesn’t know music and talent. He does but the moment he gets his hands on good talent, he dilutes it in hopes of turning a larger profit).

You look at Bo (real name Harold). You hear his beliefs on pot smoking (supports legalization). You see his beard, long hair, and a rather sizable tattoo square on his chest. You think you have a true southern gem for the modern era. A reincarnation of the Allman brothers.

His southern grit, twang and charm helped win him fans during American Idol. But it seems, with the first half of this album, all he’s trying to do here is fit in with Hollywood as best he can.

Don’t, Bo. Just don’t.

The best track on the “bad half” of the album is “Your Everything,” though even this over-produced song sounds like it belongs on the soundtrack to Dream a Little Dream (an 80s movie starring the Coreys - Haim and Feldman).

God, please give Bo an acoustic guitar, some whiskey, a joint and a microphone. I’d pay to hear that any day over this Rob Thomas-like imitation. Where’s the accent? Where’s the grit?

You might sell records with this album, Bo. But was it worth selling your soul?

Those of us who supported you during Idol rooted for you to lose to Carrie in the finale. You’re better than Idol. Move on from it.

When you got second place, we felt the world was right. You’re free!

Don’t make it wrong again with music like this. We’ll give you slack. This is your first album and the mighty Clive Davis had his paws all over it. Break away. Break free. Find a little room and just play. Forget everyone else. You have potential. But potential ain’t much if you ain’t gonna use it.

Luckily, Bo seemed to hear this plea, and saved himself with the second half of his album.

This is when production finally takes a back seat to the music, starting with “Remember Me.” “Remember Me” strips down the music, leaving us with an acoustic guitar and Bo’s voice (though Davis-like bells and whistles are added during the chorus). Yet, there’s less Bo-ness here than we’re craving.

There are two Bo-written tracks. It’s not a coincidence they fall in the “good half” of the album. “It’s My Life,” the first Bo-written track, is okay, but not his finest work.

But, the one track Bo wrote without much help from overpaid, out-of-touch producers, “Valley of Angels,” is by far the best track on the album.

Those of us who watched Idol still feel the goosebumps on our skin when we think of the night Bo, in an act of bravery (or perhaps stupidity), opted to sing a capella. He chose an obscure song, “In a Dream,” by Badlands. There was nothing to hide any mistakes he might make. It was just Bo and his music. The result was one of the best performances I’ve seen in years.

It took Bo until the last track on The Real Thing to give me that “Oh my God” feeling again. “Valley of Angles” solidifies Bo as a true talent. If only that one song could erase most of the other tracks on the album.

The less influence people have on his music, the better his albums will be. Only time will tell if Bo lives up to his obvious talent.

— Richie Victorino