Don't get me wrong, I love so many guys and gals that have come out of the "American Idol" universe. Christ Daughtry, Clay Aiken, Kelly Clarkson, Taylor Hicks, Kris Allen, Kimberly Locke, Josh Gracin, etc. They are wonderful singers, and many of my favorite albums in recent years are from these kids. I'm just not a fan of the show too much (I get annoyed at the way they cut songs off, and I can't deal with the judges.) and 90% of the time don't even get in to their music until long after they're off the "Idol" stage.
I also have a theory that the best never win (except the first season when they weren't aware of just how much power 2nd through 10th place or so could hold). I think the producers know that the other kids on the show can do better without being contractually obligated to the company, and therefore rig the votes so they have a better chance at more. Yes, I know that theory requires producers to have hearts. And yes, I therefore, by default, believe in miracles.
Also, he has a Miz t-shirt on in his Wiki photo.. so he's awesome already. Get it? Ha... ha... ha... *ahem* Ok, moving on then. =)
All that said, let's see what this guy has to offer as a solo artist.
"Higher Than Heaven" kicks us off in a rocking, high-powered love way. "Angels saved me, God forgave me, but you alone take me higher than heaven." Whoa, okay, that's a little intense, and a little too 80's for me personally, but I like the effort.
Actually, I am feeling the second track, "All I Want" as more of an appropriate opening number. However, I say that based off the first verse and the feel of it. I'm less than enthused by the rest unfortunately; just a little bored. Stick with me here though - it gets better.
"Love In Ruins" has this incredibly interesting lyrical base to it, and I enjoy the concept a lot. The chords and melody don't give a dark feel whatsoever, but I close my eyes and see someone with a very snarky look on his face, enjoying every minute of it in a twisted, loving way. Not sure if that made any sense, but hey, my blog, my statements. Oh, and there's a little Axel Rose / Stephen Tyler action going on - listen to the end especially.
Okay, here we go - now I'm into it. "Right Behind You" has me from the opening guitar part and through the journey I'm feeling through the verses. I believe everyone should have a figure in their lives like this support beam singing to whoever he's there for. This is a song about believing and needing. "Close your eyes, fall backwards; I won't let you die. I'll be right behind you." Takes it to another level - this isn't just falling, this is life or death.
"Love Me Bad" is about holding on in the wrong situation and enjoying the hell out of it. Everything about his tortured voice says it in this, and I get it, it's tough. Really a well-written powerful number that I think far too many people are able to relate to. Annndddd it's the first single. I just watched this video for the first time, and I may be in love. Check it out!! Really a great into-to-the-artist video, very little conceptual storyline.
"May" looses me though. I get that it's a beautiful story and there's so much soul behind it. It's probably something other people can really get in to and love, but it just does nothing for me, and that's a requirement in my criteria of things that make a song likable. And come on: "She was like the way she was" as your hook line? *sigh* I'm bored, sorry. I feel awful about not liking it - the woman dies in childbirth and the guy has to raise a girl alone. It's a hell of a story and so sad, but I just cannot relate, let alone enjoy, this dragging number. I think part of it is that I know he can't either - he's playing a character, but not in a musical where I can build a connection to it.
The next song, "Screaming," makes up for it though - no worries! What an amazing let-go kind of song. A song for the youth, for sure. I just enjoy this a lot. Mm, please let me never grow up from my early 20s just so I can always enjoy shouting these kind of songs at the top of my lungs.
"Outcast (feat. Mick Mars)," however, is not an anthem I'm getting much at all out of. It's too typical for my liking I think. I like is musically though - James knows how to deliver a good mix of 80's/90's feel to his music and keep me interested with some of the most kickin' guitar riffs ever. I sincerely hope some of his stuff becomes regularly practiced pieces people recognize while jamming in the studio.
You know a song's really good when it brings tears to your eyes, and "Everything Burns" did that for me. Whew... um, wow. This is a girl's depression song. "She sings till everything burns... all of this hate, all of this pain, burn it all down..." There's even a hauntingly gorgeous female voice in the background, which to me is definitely the girl really singing the song through her soul. Funny thing here is that this was actually written by Ben Moody (ex-Evanescence guitarist) to be a duet with Avril Lavigne, but Durbin got it and re-worked it into an incredibly touching, powerful, beautiful solo song.
"Stand Up" raises the tempo completely to end the album, and I just don't like it as an album song. I bet it would make a kick-ass starter for a concert, and he would have every audience member on their feet jumping and screaming the lyrics, ready for a great night ahead. It's just not a good album song, but the ones geared toward a concert crowd never are (Rascal Flatts tries on every album they do and it never works). "Stand up! Let me see your hands up! Wanna hear you shout it out! Tell me if you're ready to go!" See - couldn't you much more easily see Axel-I mean Stephen-I mean James, yelling that out to a live crowd than through your speakers at home?
Summing it up - Stuff I wouldn't mind hearing again:
- "Right Behind You" - http://open.spotify.com/track/4bKnFA4k2u88hi7Xae4rKc
- "Love Me Bad" - http://open.spotify.com/track/7rR4W3Eg7OyIOJ6Ac5sv03
- "Deeper" - http://open.spotify.com/track/1uUgPDF45Slrs0iVizJMJn
- "Screaming" - http://open.spotify.com/track/1VGq78aIga0lDjqunVyn3k
- "Everything Burns" - http://open.spotify.com/track/1pybWlGZQrSj960qw0qbeq
So 5/11 - not bad at all for a first-timer!! I enjoyed the album, and could definitely play it again track-by-track while I was working on something else, because it doesn't require your full attention to enjoy bopping your head to. This guy definitely as a unique sound we haven't heard on the scene in quite a long time, and has an impressive range and talent.
James states in his own bio (on durbinrock.com, his official site) (which, by the way - kickin' publicist who obviously has a lot of confidence in this kid, calling him "rock music's 2012 revivalist and ambassador") that he wanted this album to sound as much like a live show as it could, and I think he achieved that well. In some parts, the songs don't work for a recorded album, but could be awesome live. Some though... wow, they could work either way, and this guy could be looking at a pretty cool career if he gets marketed right. It took Lifehouse, one of my favorite bands, 5 albums to finally capture their live feel (AMAZING shows, by the way) on a CD. This guy could show an impressive future if he keeps stepping up his game.
So what are your thoughts on this guy? Too much like Axel, or just different enough to be something new for us? Does he have growth potential for future success? Can he shake off the "Idol" stigma? Comment below!!