Every once in a while an album is churned out by the mainstream music machine that sends shockwaves through the industry – a record that carries listeners to a state of pop nirvana previously considered unattainable by mere mortals. American Idol star James Durbin’s latest effort is not one of those records. Fortunately enough for James Durbin, however, no one expected him to create the latest rock masterpiece, and Celebrate, comprised mostly of generic, formulaic pop tunes, is saved by his stand out vocal talent and a handful of memorable, radio-ready tunes.
James Durbin first gained mainstream notoriety by bringing his powerful voice to television audiences on Season 10 of American Idol. Despite finishing in fourth place he was able to capture the hearts of Idol viewers while singing Aerosmith and Beatles classics. James Durbin was also able to leverage his Idol success in to a deal with Wind-Up Records, and in 2011 released his debut, Memories of a Beautiful Disaster. The music on Disaster was heavily influenced by late ‘80s and early ‘90s rock and included guitar work by Motley Crüe shredder Mick Mars. On Celebrate, James Durbin begins to stray from his edgy yet easily digestible brand of rock and allows a very different side of him to shine through – a much softer side.
It wasn’t just Black Sabbath and Van Halen discs taking up space in his CD changer growing up. Durbin was raised to love both the Beatles and Michael Jackson. He also spent time listening to the boy bands ubiquitous to late ‘90s mainstream radio, including Justin Timberlake’s former group ‘N Sync. Owing to these previously unexplored inspirations, Celebrate is decidedly more pop oriented than anything he has released to date, not only instrumentally, but also lyrically.
The album is fantastically radio friendly. Underwhelming and unoriginal melodies and handfuls of songs driven by repetitive electronic beats make for a sterile and uninspiring listening experience. Although several of the songs on the record are difficult to discern from the track that preceded it, the record boasts a smattering of stand out tunes. The lead single “Parachute”, featuring a hook that compares falling in love to freefalling without a parachute, is one of the albums several bright spots. It’s the type of tune that you could end up having in your head for most of a day even though you might not want it there. The title track “Celebrate”, another highlight, makes use of the aforementioned electronic beats to produce a catchy tune that, along with several other of James Durbin’s new songs, would feel right at home on a Jonas Brothers album.
Durbin teamed up with several writers and producers during the creation of the album, most notably Ted Bruner (Miley Cyrus, Katy Perry), and is credited as a co-writer on 10 of the album’s 11 tracks. The lyrical content is tired and simple, but his ability to morph from rock to soft pop vocals even within the span of a single song remains impressive.
Celebrate might not generate any genuine affection from music aficionados, but that’s not really the type of album this is. If you’re not in the mood for anything too deep and feel-good tunes with catchy hooks written under the guidance of a record executive do it for you, you might really enjoy this record.