Back in the ’70s and ’80s, multiplatinum rock artists were a dime a dozen. These days, however, rock acts that manage to move even 1 million units have become a rare exception, not the regular rule. Chris Daughtry has been one of only a handful of rockers in the last decade to accomplish that feat, with the Season 5 American Idol alum’s first three albums selling more than 20 million units worldwide and another 53 million individual tracks since his self-titled debut in 2006.
Early on, Daughtry’s gruff voice and post-grunge, modern rock sound rightfully earned comparisons to contemporaries such as Nickelback and Three Days Grace. On Baptized, however, ’80s arena-rock influences such as Bon Jovi, Def Leppard and Journey rise to the surface amid smoothly produced, radio-ready anthems and ballads—songs that will have listeners of a certain age digging through their old acid-washed jeans in search of forgotten lighters to hoist aloft when Daughtry and Co. come to town.
Fortunately, Daughtry’s lyrics remain a lot more positive and significantly less sexed up than most of the ’80s rock gods to which his band’s fourth album pays musical homage. But I’m afraid I will still have to come back to that whole lighter thing in a minute.
“Witness” encourages those muddling through not to give up and to remember, “You are not alone.” “I’ll Fight” believes in and defends a struggling friend during a dark time (“Never let the darkness hold you back/ … I wanna see you fly/Way beyond the sun/Anything you’re ever gonna dream/I pray that it will come/ … Any place, any time/You gotta know, for you I’ll fight”).
“Battleships” describes an explosive, conflict-cratered relationship (“And I don’t wanna fight this war/Bullets coming off our lips/But we stick to our guns, and we love like battleships”) but then affirms reconciliation after all the metaphorical bombs go off (“Show me you care/I got my white flag up and it’s waving/’Cause you know this love’s worth saving, baby”). Likewise, “Broken Arrows” is the word picture Daughtry uses to describe a couple’s barbs, even as he realizes, “There’s gotta be a better way” to work through their war.
A lonely woman on “Waiting for Superman” nevertheless holds out hope for a “super” man to swoop in and save her. “The World We Knew” reminisces about the past and praises a couple’s perseverance through change (“Everything was different/But we’re still here”). Similarly, “High Above the Ground” recalls a couple’s different backgrounds, then looks forward to their permanent future together (“I see the future in your eyes/Forever and always, you and I”).
Since the title track appropriates the spiritual imagery of baptism to describe a man’s main squeeze, it could be read as sacrilegious. It can also be seen as illuminating the spiritual picture God first painted about how the love of a man and a woman point us back to our relationship with our Creator. “It’s safe to say I’m lost/Without you in my arms,” Chris sings, “So I call your name and I pray you might/Come and watch over me like the pale moonlight/ … Take me down, take me down by the water, water/Pull me in until I see the light/ … I wanna be baptized.” Later in this decidedly Bon Jovi-esque tune, Daughtry says of his love, “‘It feels like grace every time you’re near.”
Mildly suggestive lyrics turn up on “Baptized,” as Daughtry sings, “Let me drown, let me drown, in you, honey, honey/ … And the days and nights are cold/Without your body to hold.” (I should note that Chris is happily married, but fans may not be.)
“Wild Heart” recalls when a woman indulged her wild side (“They called you the devil’s daughter, such a pretty liar”). Similarly, “18 Years” rewinds the clock as Daughtry calls up his own reckless early years (“We were young, we were wild”) while reminiscing over drinks with a compatriot (“Sit down with an old friend/Like time it never stopped/From the cradle to the coffin/We drink until we drop”). And Daughtry also says of his lady, “You were smokin’ like a cigarette, I couldn’t breathe/Used to rock around the ballroom, dance on the bar.”
“Traitor” metaphorically imagines a betrayal as someone pulling a trigger. “Long Live Rock & Roll” glowingly name-drops a multitude of ’80s and ’90s bands, many of which became famous for songs with lots of problems, including Mötley Crüe, Guns N’ Roses, Hole and Def Leppard. Daughtry sings, “So won’t you help me pour some sugar/On these memories tonight?/Throw your lighters up/And, darling, sing with me tonight.”
Throughout his career, Chris Daughtry’s lyrics have often waded into the messy reality that life and love can be difficult, discouraging and conflict-strewn endeavors. But those struggles almost never have the final word. Indeed, we rarely have to wait long in a Daughtry song before he responds to those challenges with exhortations to keep trying, keep praying, keep confessing and keep moving toward a brighter future with those we love.
As has been the case with Daughtry’s previous releases, a handful of minor missteps need to be navigated here, such as the tracks that romanticize (and arguably minimize) his self-described “wild” youth. Still, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a mainstream rock album that’s as consistently upbeat, optimistic and hopeful as Baptized is. Don’t stop believin’, I guess you could say it tells us, as we keep livin’ on a prayer.
After serving as an associate editor at NavPress’ Discipleship Journal and consulting editor for Current Thoughts and Trends, Adam now oversees the editing and publishing of Plugged In’s reviews.