Tuesday, August 2, 2011

ALBUM REVIEW: Greyson Chance - Hold On 'Til Tonight

Just over a year ago a twelve year old unknown named Greyson Chance was thrust into the limelight when his cover of Lady Gaga's hit"Paparazzi" went viral and attracted the attention of none other than American talk show host Ellen DeGeneres. The following day he was already taping both interview and performance (of Paparazzi) for her show, on which he received a telephone call from none other than Lady Gaga herself, who called him her inspiration. Two weeks later he was once again on Ellen (DeGeneres' highly rated show), where he performed his original song "Broken Hearts" and was announced as both the winner of Ellen's Wonderful Web of Wonderment contest and as the first signing to her eleveneleven record label. During those first two or so weeks Greysib's rise to international notoriety was so sudden than many a cynic cocked an eyebrow at what seemed to them very much like a surreptitious PR campaign. 

Be that as it may, what was immediately endearing was Greyson's seemingly pure, untainted and self-honed God-given talent; a voice that soared and glided hitting every note on the head accompanied by nothing other than a piano. There was no Usher/Ludacris or any other rent-a-rapper faffing around with gyrating sweaty-bodied video hoes behind him; there was no need for him to get up and dougie to make things passably interesting. The reason people wanted to listen to him sing over and over again (as evidenced by the popularity of his videos on YouTube) was not because he was purportedly dating the latest Disney star or posing scantily-clad in some Terry Richardson photo shoot for Rolling Stone; it was because he was talented. Plain and simple, the kid was talented  and that talent came through loud and clear. No gimmicks, no props. 

In the subsequent year Greyson has been busy being honed by savvy industry experts into the global star his early promise had earmarked him to be. In-between touring with the likes of Miranda Cosgrove, Shane Harper and Cody Simpson, high profile television appearances and foreign excursions (he briefly toured in both Paris and London) Greyson was in and out of the studio in LA working on his debut album, titled "Hold On 'Til Tonight", which is released today (August 2nd) through Interscope/Geffen. 

What's disconcerting about the finished product - by which I mean both the album itself and the slightly older, slightly reworked Greyson that is now out and about promoting it - is the shocking and entirely unwelcome feeling that transpires of being utterly, incredibly "gimmicky" from head to toe. Gimmicky, insincere and contrived. The center piece here is not Greyson's talent - which is, nevertheless, readily apparent - but some fifty year old music exec's cringe worthy idea of what a viable alternative to Bieber fever might be. Where there was no dodgy looking forty-something rent-a-rapper, we now have the ever smiling Ellen DeGeneres looming in the background as benevolent benefactor. Where there is no dougie-ing or crumping, there is enough forlorn tween melodrama certain to make you want to slit your wrists in despair. And of course there's that the awkward bit in "Cheyenne" where it sounds like he's saying "making you my whore" where ACTUALLY he's singing "making you my whole world". (Phew - whilst the whole affair is age inappropriate, it doesn't go quite as far as that). 

Overall, "Hold On 'Til Tonight" is by no means a bad album - indeed, it's pretty damned good debut, and would be decidedly awesome if only Greyson were a few years older and sounded like he actually meant the words coming out of his mouth. Interestingly, the album opens with Greyson at his very very blandest: first single "Waiting Outside The Lines" (think thirteen year old kid mimicking Kelly Clarkson's "Already Gone") followed by second single "Unfriend You" (think thirteen year old nod to popular social media whilst mimicking Coldplay's "Viva La Vida"). Things pick up somewhat with third track "Home Is In Your Eyes" which features Greyson strumming on his guitar lamenting (among other things) how much colder his nights are now that his baby's gone. (Erm, what?). Like a lot of the music here, it's good, but just doesn't fit the profile of a thirteen year old kid who very obviously still lives with his parents and most likely isn't sexually active - his girlfriend dumping him or not, the temperature of his nights remain unaltered. If she's gone, she's just standing at the other side of the playground, not leaving their shared home. 

The upbeat title track is the first high point - the obvious single choice that for some unfathomable reason has been unused thus far. Naturally, Greyson is once again complaining and lamenting about his terribly complicated love life. But it's neither as bland or dreary as previously. The LP segues into the forlorn "Heart Like Stone", where Greyson is once again bemoaning his bad luck in love, his incessant tears (pretty much every song seems to reference him crying at some point) and what-not. The less said about  creepy emo lyrics like "late at night when I'm at parties my gloom fills the room/late at night when I'm dancing with other girls I pretend it's you" the better.

Track six, "Little London Girl" marks a sudden about-face which sees Greyson rising from the depths of depressive solitude to Radio Disney sing-along uber-cheese. It's a welcome change in tempo, no doubt,  and perhaps the most fitting song in the whole collection. Even so, one can't help but find it a somewhat odd, last minute addition spliced into the track listing to ensure there would be at least one song in the whole collection Radio Disney could comfortably play. It follows into another high point in "Cheyenne", which would be perfection if it were the only song of it's kind on the album. Unfortunately, it's not, and whilst Greyson sounds great pleading for the lady in question not to break his heart, it's become impossible to take him very seriously at all by this point. The airy "Summer Train" (another musical gem and my personal pick for single #4) and cheery Jason Mraz B-side-sounding "Stranded" follow. It is therefore a terrible shame that the album closes with the utterly inane "Take A Look At Me Now", which has NOTHING to do with the similarly titled Chris Brown ghetto anthem and perfectly embodies everything that is wrong with the project. 

In conclusion - Greyson does a damned good job mimicking the likes of Vanessa Carlton/OneRepublic/Kelly Clarkson/Snow Patrol and serves up a solid Pop-rock offering. Unfortunately, not every great song suits every great talent and in fleeing from Justin Bieber and the growing number of Bieber wannabes, Greyson - or rather, his A&R people - venture far too far into dreary, overly depressive adult material. The end result showcases Greyson's big voice in a tiny karaoke frame. "Little London Girl", "Cheyenne", "Summer Train" and "Stranded" provide a glimpse into what an entire album made up of both good and appropriate Greyson Chance music might sound like, something like a preview of a more age-appropriate sophomore LP I hope he gets a chance to record some time soon. In terms of talent Greyson undoubtedly has "IT", but his lack of obvious in-your-face charisma is only exacerbated by the odd/bland/neither here nor there image crafted for him and by the actual material he's being given. 

The album is now physically and digitally out - check it out iTunes, Amazon, Walmart and pretty much every other digital retailer. It's a worthwhile acquisition and musically the standard is high; if you can phase out Greyson's age whilst listening to the songs there is no reason why this won't end up one of your favorite releases of the  year.

Check his Official website for more information. 

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