Chris Daughtry isn't the only hard-rock-singing fourth-place finalist releasing an album this week
Remember when metal was the happiest genre on earth? If not, you’re either too young to recall or too old to care about the 1980s heyday of hair-metal, when the pouffy ‘dos, screeches, and spirits were all as high as a drummer stumbling out of the Rainbow Room.
Chris Daughtry, whose new album came out Tuesday, is much more a product of 1990s grunge’s surface gloom and lower vocal registers, if not necessarily that genre’s exact sensibilities. And Daughtry’s obviously not a hair-metal guy, either literally or figuratively.
But if you’ve been looking to put out a Warrant on the hard rock of the ‘80s, there’s another “American Idol” fourth-place finisher putting out an album this week: James Durbin, who was born the year Motley Crue released “Dr. Feelgood” and, from all appearances, kept a copy of it close by in his crib.
So, the big demographic question: Will the 21-year-old’s debut, “Memories of a Beautiful Disaster,” appeal to his contemporaries, who may never have even heard hard rock that doesn’t take itself too seriously?
Or is it more up the alley of the fortysomethings (and even early-50s types) who’ve flocked to the musical “Rock of Ages” to relive their misspent youth, and who might be hankering to hear this kind of inherently adolescent music sung by non-AARP members?
Durbin really has the ideal chops for this kind of stuff, and, perhaps more importantly for the genre he’s chosen, the word “cred” is nowhere in his vocabulary. He’s happy screaming about being a societal “Outcast” or jerking tears with the mawkish father/daughter ballad “May” or just wailing about undying romantic love – whatever works.
Quite wisely, he’s enlisted pop-metal’s top producer, Howard Benson, not to mention a bunch of contemporary hard rock’s most commercial songwriters (Marti Frederiksen, Ben Moody) – and, on the outrightly retro “Outcast,” the Crue’s own Mick Mars, as a co-writer and deliriously bent guitar soloist.
If you’re the kind of multi-tasker who can head-bang even while you cringe, this may be the album for you. Because there’s as much hokum on “Memories of a Beautiful Disaster” as anything that’s ever resulted out of the “Idol” franchise (and yes, our memories do go as far back as Justin Guarini).
The foremost offender is “May,” which Durbin didn’t have a hand in writing. If you thought songs about young mothers who die in childbirth while delivering beautiful baby girls were strictly the province of old country music, think again, as Doug Brown’s lyrics give us Durbin as a single daddy who raises his daughter all the way to walking her down the aisle. (At least the song doesn’t end with the singer’s fictional daughter also dying on the delivery table, as was my mid-song fear.)
The rest of the songs deal in more standard-for-the-genre tropes about us against the world and you and me forever, in short, sharp, under-four-minute bursts. “Angels saved me, God forgave me/But you alone took me higher than heaven,” he sings in the opening number, a wholly uplifting sentiment that sounds entirely at odds with the ominous thunder of the backing track.
The hokily anthemic “Right Behind You” starts with a Spanish guitar intro and eventually leads into a wall of sound – complete with celebratory bells – as Durbin sings, “Close your eyes, fall backwards/I won’t let you die, I’ll be right behind you.” It’s absolutely the most momentous-sounding song ever written about a corporate-retreat trust exercise.
One superior song, “Love in Ruins,” is hooky enough that it skews closer to power-pop than metal – which is less of a surprise when you look at the credits and see Go-Go turned songsmith Charlotte Caffey listed. (Dear Charlotte: Please start your own hair-metal side project!)
If you can forgive the cheese factor and overcome any lactose intolerance, there’s fun to be had here, in that and the other least pretentious numbers.
You may even be surprised to find, when listening to the Mick Mars-assisted “Outcast,” that you are experiencing a wave of Motley Crue nostalgia, even if you thought you hated the Crue at the time. Well, it’s either that or the vapors.
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Chris Willman has been a frequent contributor to TV Guide, New York magazine, the Los Angeles Times, Rolling Stone, Spin, Billboard, Parade and other publications. In a long run at Entertainment Weekly, he penned more than 20 cover stories as a senior writer before becoming the magazine’s chief music critic. His book "Rednecks & Bluenecks: The Politics of Country Music" was praised by Stephen King, who said, “You won’t read a better book about American music this year — or, probably, a better one about American political thought.”