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Nov 19, 2011
Review: James Durbin's 'Memories of a Beautiful Disaster'

By Brian Mansfield, USA TODAY

From the moment he walked into his American Idol audition, James Durbin had the makings of a fan favorite. He had a compelling back story -- having been diagnosed as a child with both Asperger and Tourette syndromes -- and a voice capable of reaching the stratosphere. Those qualities help the 22-year-old singer come across as both tough and sympathetic on his debut, Memories of a Beautiful Disaster. Much of it recalls vintage hair metal, but Durbin also shows a tender side.

For Beautiful Disaster succeed, James will have to convince Idol fans to continue to "give metal a chance," as he liked to say on the show. Winning over metal fans may be tougher, since so much of his music harks back to an earlier style of the music. But hard-edged production from Howard Benson, as well as stamps of approval from Black Label Society Zakk Wylde and Judas Priest singer Rob Halford, won't hurt there.

Higher Than Heaven (James Durbin, Marti Frederiksen, James Michael). James' album leads with the kind of blunt-force guitar riffs that are so often the hallmark of Howard Benson productions. The guitars drive the verses of this song written with Sixx:A.M. frontman James Michael and hard-rock go-to songwriter Marti Frederiksen. At the chorus, James' vocal melody takes over, singing of a love that's redemptive enough to turn around a haunted, hopeless life.

All I Want (Zach Webb, Jasen Rauch). As a hard-rock singer coming off American Idol -- always a tough sell -- one of the best things James has going for him is his love of '80s metal. Much of the show's older audience will have grown up with that music, so big singalong choruses like this one -- co-written by Red founder Jasen Rauch -- push all the right buttons.

Love in Ruins (Charlotte Caffey, Steven McDonald, Anna Waronker). The verses sound like a Green Day ballad; the chorus sounds like Bon Jovi. The lead songwriter? That'd be the guitarist from the Go-Go's. In other words, this one's catchy as all get-out.

Right Behind You (Prince Villiam, James Durbin). This one starts with a quick-repeating acoustic guitar pattern but builds throughout the song. By the time they hit the chorus, James and producer Benson are all in, with cannon-blast drum fills and chiming bells.

Love Me Bad (Marti Frederiksen, Mark Holman). This one's got all the trappings of a vintage hair-metal anthem -- quiet verses leading to an explosive chorus with hooks that just don't stop. Would've fit right in on an early episode of MTV's Headbanger's Ball.

Deeper (Grady Benson, Aidean Abounasseri, Joao Barao Neto). A relentlessly propulsive groove emphasizes the lyrics' nightmarish quality: In the chorus, James sings, "I've tried so hard, but I can't wake up." Songwriter Aiden Abounasseri plays guitar on the track.

May (Doug Brown). This heart-tugging, piano-based ballad, written by Safetysuit's Doug Brown, shows a completely different side of James. It's about a widowed husband trying to raise his daughter by himself. Of course, she looks just like her mom. Plenty of lines here can make eyes misty, but the one that gets me every time is "I tried my best to raise her right, I just couldn't braid her hair."

Screaming (James Durbin, Gregg Wattenberg, Ryan Star, Bobby Alt, David Cook). Most acts won't cop to having favorites on their albums. James does, and this is one of them. "When fans of mine, even people that don't like me, see the title Screaming on a James Durbin, they're probably thinking something completely different than what it is," he says. "And I like that, because it throws them off." Well, maybe it sounds a little like you'd expect it to, but it's also an anthem for outcasts, the ones who got "kicked out but never caved in." Oh, and check the writer credits: Yep, it's that David Cook.

Outcast (Magnus Andreasson, Martin Sandvik, Mick Mars, James Durbin). If you know Mötley Crüe records at all, you won't even need to be told this track is the one that features Crüe guitarist Mick Mars. The whammy-bar squeals during the solo should say it all.

Everything Burns (Ben Moody). James turns the volume back down, at least in the beginning, with this minor-key cut from We Are the Fallen guitarist Ben Moody.

Stand Up (Paul Trust, Clifford Newton). James saves his fist-pumping, foot-stomping rock 'n' roll anthem for last, literally ending the album on a high note.

My favorites:Love Me Bad, May, Love in Ruins