Review Summary: Too much filler to be considered great, but James' vocals make this an album that really should be listened to by any of his AI fans.
Already one of the 100 best frontmen of rock according to Revolver, and one of the more exciting participants in American Idol history, James Durbin has already made his impact on mainstream music. He tried to bring metal to the big AI stage, and for the most part succeeded in spades. His inability to conform to what others thought was best, and his sheer passion for rock music and performing made him a treat to see on such a stale, overdone show. Many months later and we see the release of James' first album; while he does abandon his "metal" persona for the most part, his vocal capabilities and extreme passion for his art make this an album that is so much more enjoyable than other idol contestants he will no doubt be compared to.
The name of the game on Memories of a Beautiful Disaster
, however, is a feeling of restraint that should've been expected given that James is still connected to an American Idol record company; for every hard rock anthem like Stand Up
, where James and the band kick it up a notch and treat the listener to great rock and fantastic vocals, there are tracks like Love Me Bad
and All I Want
that seem tailor made for pop radio, with overly simplistic music and downright laughably bad lyrics that make James sound like he's truly forgotten what made him so popular to begin with.
From the get go, though, it's at least apparent that James had some say in the recording and writing process, as the first track Higher than Heaven
begins with a nice heavy riff that, coupled with the uptempo drums and bass, make for a rocking opening. James nicely demonstrates his wide vocal range, phenomenal at that, and a surprising guitar solo is thrown in for good measure. At the very least, the first song keeps hope high that this won't be like Daughtry or David Cook's first albums, where the pop was prevalent and the rock was sparse. Unfortunately, hopes are somewhat dashed by track 2, the completely uninspired All I Want.
While his vocals are still quite strong, the lyrical content and extremely bland backing music create an extremely mediocre attempt at pop-rock radio, essentially taking away the feeling that James was going to stay rocking throughout.
The remainder of the album essentially follows this type of format, where a strong track is typically followed by one or more mediocre tracks, greatly ruining the flow of the album and making for a disjointed record, despite the strength of some of its tracks. While Love Me Bad
is among the worst songs on the album, with the horrendously cliche lyrics and awful, boring music, Love in Ruins
sees James showcasing his extremely wide, and very impressive, vocal range, where he hits some very high notes during the chorus, right before the guitar solo, and at the tail end, where his vocals are quite akin to early Steven Tyler.
Among the other high points are the 80's glam metal track Outcast,
the primarily acoustic Everything Burns
, and the rocking (NFL) anthem Stand Up
. The former sees Mick Mars join the party, much like Slash on Daughtry's debut; while not among Mick's best work, it makes for a hard rocking track, where James' vocals make it sounds like he's having a blast. Mick's playing coupled with James' vocals prove that he really can have a bright future in the rock music scene. The next track, Everything Burns
, sees the acoustic guitar taking a backseat to James for the vast majority, giving the listener another chance to just focus on the vocals, rather than how hard a song does or doesn't rock. One thing that's easy to forget in the whole 'give metal a chance' persona was that the true force behind all of the performances was his fantastic voice, not the music that may or may not have been 'metal;' songs like Everything Burns
showcase this quite well.
Nevertheless, James saves one of the best for last, in the rocking, anthemic Stand Up
. Sure, it breaks no new ground in rock music, but it's the type of song that James loves to sing, and it's a very catchy and uptempo track that's fun to listen to. While the lyrics are quite bland and the theme overdone, when listening to songs like this or Outcast, its quite apparent that James had an absolute blast recording, as his random shouts of "oh yeah" at the end of some verses just scream that he is still riding the high created by his awesome run on AI.
For a first release, and actually being affiliated with an American Idol label, Memories
is a fine album. There are numerous occasions where James demonstrates his absurd vocal range, and shows us that he was the true reason for the popularity and success on AI, not just the fact that he was the season's "rocker." There are instances where James and the guys kick it up and rock hard, like Outcast
and Stand Up
, but there are also songs that seem tailor made for pop radio, like the horrendously cliche Love Me Bad
and the completely restrained All I Want.
Any fan of Daughtry, David Cook, or James' run on AI should enjoy this album, as there are quality tracks that demonstrate that James does have an extremely bright future. Stick to the recommended tracks, as they are the best indication of what James is truly capable of.
Higher than Heaven
Love in Ruins