Top critical review
An Honest Debut or an Unfortunate Misstep?
on June 23, 2010
Thirty years ago, I'm sure this album would have performed fantastically. Against pop titans like Lady Gaga, though, Johns stands little chance, and it's a great shame.
I'm never very surprised when an artist from American Idol doesn't do well upon their debut, or rather, when the public doesn't SEE that success. Michael Johns's 8th place finish during Season 7 of American Idol was not the finish he deserved, but upon his departure, I had hopes that Johns would wind up being the Chris Daughtry of that season, the surprise contestant who would persevere despite not winning the day. I was rooting for him and had high hopes when I heard news that he would be working with the likes of David Foster and Diane Warren.
"Hold Back My Heart" is, unfortunately, the sort of album that was destined to fail in the pop charts. There's no hook, no modern vibe to this album, and it's a shame, because Johns is without a doubt talented musician and performer.
I give the album three stars. I'm not surprised to see that it hasn't exactly jumped off of the shelves, and that's because this album seems antiquated. There are no songs on here suitable for pop radio. So, does that mean that this album is a failure? Absolutely not. The great majority of the songs here are actually quite good. "Feeling Alright" and "Fire" both have a great, classic, soulful groove, making great use of keyboards. Johns's voice has just the faintest edge in it, not quite hard enough for rock but perfect for soul and blues. "Heart on my Sleeve" makes for a strong and honest opening track, and the closer, "Turn to You," is spare and intimate, demonstrating the maxim "less is more."
Why not more stars, then? Because there's not really a hook on this album, nothing to bring in the other audiences. The album fits well with my tastes, but how will others get to know it? Besides this, there are a few songs that former Idol judge Simon Cowell would likely call "boring." Yes, they have a classic vibe to them, and that's great. But when Cowell is being a bit less harsh, he likes to call those "boring" songs "old-fashioned" and he's usually right. In this case, the term fits the bill. Johns's album is very old-fashioned, which is why I stand by my earlier comment that the album would likely have sold very well thirty years ago. "This is Goodbye" feels like a soul cover of a slow dance from the 1960s, as does, to a lesser degree, "Heart is Weak," which was penned by Diane Warren. And, for me, that's great. Neither are bad songs by any means. But the difficulty with being classic is that nowadays, classic records sell partly on the power of a name. CDs by Elvis Presley and Jimi Hendrix continue to sell, and yes, those songs are certainly old-fashioned, and that's not to say that they're not good. But a great reason they sell is that Elvis Presley and Jimi Hendrix are huge names.
So, in the end, "Hold Back My Heart" is a strong record, but isn't the record Michael Johns deserved. It's good, but this album was never destined to take the charts by storm. It would have tracked very well in its time, but that time isn't now, and it's all the shame, for there's a great deal of talent on this album.
Three stars out of five, not because it is of average quality, but because it falls well below its potential and in the wrong era.