The sophomore full-length by Andy Grammer was produced by veteran pop producer Jon Levine and it shows. Slick and glossy, the songs on Magazines or Novels are performed and produced with a goal -- conscious or not -- to match the massive success of the hit "Keep Your Head Up," from his self-titled debut -- not an easy thing to replicate, but this team gives it an honest try. As is often the case when following a successful debut, there is a bit of an identity crisis at work here: Grammer wrote or co-wrote everything here, and he seemingly did so with a careful ear to the radio. His first single, "Back Home," with its anthemic, near football-chanted male backing chorus, foregrounded banjo, and enormous tom-toms and kick drums is as catchy and appealing as mainstream pop gets. The L.A.-cum-Nashville swagger in "Honey I'm Good" melds the backing harmonies of Bruno Mars to Keith Urban's more easy grooving rock sensibility (though the overuse of Auto-Tune in the lead vocal was unnecessary), and could be a second single. More of Levine's effects -- laden production and slippery hip-hop rhythms -- haunt the foreground of "Masterpiece" while "Pushing" comes dangerously close to One Republic territory in both arrangement and production. "Red Eye," with its compressed loops, is offset by delicate synths in the intro and the backdrop, recalling Maroon 5, but it's bridged by an enormous backing chorus worthy of a Rihanna record. The closer, "Kiss You Slow," with its fat hip-hop loops and acoustic piano, ambient textures, and layered sound effects, is almost majestic in contrast, with Grammer's vulnerable vocal in the verse. Of course, this being a pop song, the backing singers on the refrain come across the front with enormity. On this last point, the backing choruses on virtually every song on Magazines or Novels make for excellent singalongs, perfect for the club or the car or even a sporting event. And that's on purpose. Every move here has been carefully calculated to engender fan support, sure, but to extend Grammer's reach toward a wider audience. With his appealing voice and good-natured charm, he will likely achieve just that. ~ Thom Jurek
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