The singer-songwriter shows off his writing chops with mature lyrics that parallel the musical direction heard on the Drew Person and Greg Holden-penned single “Home.” Working with Gregg Wattenberg, who previously produced Train and O.A.R., Phillips explores love, ambition and just plain growing up with songs like “Tell Me a Story” and album opener “Man on the Moon.”
Phillips pays homage to his Leesburg, Georgia base with “Can’t Go Wrong,” which features derivative but still completely earnest lyrics like “I can’t go wrong as long as I remember where I’m from” and “I want a chance just to face my fear,” delving into the past year and reflecting on how he has managed to stick to who he is throughout the journey. Whereas this could all come off as cheesy if it were surrounded by gloss and a dance beat, Phil’s country guitar riffs and harmonic background vocals serve to ground everything.
Working with a slew of backup musicians to form a full and big sound, including brother-in-law and guitar teacher Ben Neil, some parts of the album unsurprisingly remind the listener of bands like Dave Matthews Band and Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. This should make for a fun and high energy live show when he takes the album on the road. Probably taking a tip from Mumford & Sons, “Gone, Gone, Gone” has that “jam band you can take with you to the pub for a couple beers” vibe, or perhaps it would fit as a bonfire singalong.
The World From the Side of the Moon showcases solid musicianship from Phillip Phillips, and a sometimes surprising vocal range underlies the familiarity — his falsetto in “Hold On” particularly puts him into crooner status, if he wasn’t already. Sure, he wears his influences on his sleeve, but it’s no secret that Phillip can also take a song and turn it on its head (remember “Thriller” and “U Got It Bad”?). So while we wish his debut had a few of those unexpected moments, the quality here suggests he’ll be around to take some risks his next time out.
Pops Like: Dave Matthews meets Marcus Mumford, with some honest Georgia roots thrown in.
Best Listened To: In the car, whether after a long day at work or to calm down after a spat with your partner. Either way, this is music for the road.
Full Disclosure: Phillip Phillips was one of my favorites on season 11 of American Idol. This album successfully does what past winners like Kris Allen and Lee DeWyze couldn’t quite pull off with their own post-Idol debuts.
Idolator Rating: 4/5
— Emily Tan