James Durbin's latest effort takes a refreshingly honest turn toward pop. It’s a marked change considering that Durbin played the role of the rocker during his run on the 2010 season of American Idol. Sure, he had previously fronted the L.A. rock band Hollywood Scars, who covered Guns N' Roses, Iron Maiden, and Mötley Crüe, but he was no more Axl Rose than Adam Lambert was Freddie Mercury. Nonetheless, Durbin, with his hair spiked and eyes rimmed in kohl, could hit the high notes with enough resonant nasal squelch and stage passion to evince the stock character of the rock star, or at least the Broadway version of one. His post-Idol debut, 2011's Memories of a Beautiful Disaster, bore this out as it showcased his ability to sell both emo-inflected rock tunes, electronic-infused pop songs, and the occasional, obligatory ballad. Durbin's follow-up, 2014's Celebrate, finds him moving almost completely away from the faux-hard rock of Memories, and embracing a shiny, mainstream pop sound. Produced by Scott "The Ninja" Stevens, who previously contributed to Daughtry's 2013 album Baptized, Celebrate is in all ways a pop record. Cuts like the lead-off "Children Under the Sun," "Parachute" and "Issues" are shimmering, U2-influenced anthems arranged with sparkling guitars, exuberant synths, and in the case of "Issues," a string section. Similarly, cuts like "Fool for You," and "Live Right Now," mix Daniel Powter-esque aphorisms with catchy melodies and a mix of live and programmed drums. In that sense, the album feels a lot more in tune with Durbin's bright, positive-minded persona and huge voice. As he sings on"You Can't Believe," "You Can't believe/What people say about you/You gotta be/Yourself in your own virtue." Ultimately, by letting go of his outer rocker, Durbin is free to embrace his inner pop singer, and the result is definitely something for him to Celebrate.
by Matt Collar