For Christopher Owens, there is no such thing as a cliché. His chord progressions are simple; his vocal melodies would suit a fourth-grader’s recorder concert; and his lyrics are a series of slogans (valleys are deep, mountains are high, and she has the key to his heart). But he’s not lazy or unimaginative so much as motivated by a desire to reach the broadest possible audience: Complicating his songs would complicate the mission.
In his former group Girls, which broke up in summer 2012 after two albums and an EP, there was a distinct sense of balance: Owens’s lyrics, riffs and hooks kept the band endearing while producer and bassist Chet “JR” White brought distortion and other glorious layers to the mix. “My Troubled Heart,” the shimmering, momentum-building opener, is a reminder of how effective soul singing can be in a rock setting, not to mention wah-wah guitar and organ riffs. Generally, though, A New Testament is simplistic, with few moments more convoluted than a classic single by Buddy Holly or George Jones, two of Owens’s obvious influences.
The rest of the album is similarly rooted in conventional pop, whether it’s smoochy indie pop (“Key to My Heart,” “Never Wanna See That Look Again”), trad country (“Nothing More Than Everything to Me,” “A Heart Akin the Wind”) or piano-driven gospel (“Stephen,” named for his brother, who died at age 2). There are a lot of borrowed ideas, as always, but Owens, with his open-hearted charm and transparency, makes a strong case for emulation as its own virtue. A New Testament is the work of a soul brave enough to want to be like the rest.