In Los Angeles, California, the Dream Center acts as a sanctuary for the hungry, homeless and the hopeless. Not only is it a place for the broken to go for a good night's sleep or a decent meal, but it's also a place of ministry. One of the ministry groups at the Dream Center is a young group called Press Play. The debut artist on the Dream Center's record label, Dream Records, Press Play took thirteen of the songs they perform live and put them together on one offering called Life Is Beautiful.
Life Is Beautiful gets off to a rough start with "Break It Out." It has somewhat of a boy band feel to it, except it consists of music that wouldn't even have been good back in the glory days of boy band pop. The chorus ends up being boring, and has way too much of a "hey-o, hey-o" chant in it. It's followed up by "I Give My Love," which pretty much continues in the N*Sync vibe, with even worse synth than before. Also, in part of the chorus, vocalist Dave Hanley tries to take his John Cooper-esque voice higher than the rest of the song, and it's apparent that he's not too capable of such a feat. It also becomes noticeable that female vocalist Paige seems to be trying to copy the vocals of Nirva Dorsaint from the TobyMac crew. What happens next is unbearable. "Say Say" is, I guess, a hip hop-ish song. There are a couple guest vocalists near the end that actually sound really good, even within the confines of the mediocre background music (which, in the chorus, includes an obnoxiously-played organ, like the kind you would hear at an old school baseball game), but Dave and Paige lead the song up until then, making it hard to stick around for the guest vocalists.
A decent sounding Spanish guitar brings in the next song, "I Love Who You Are," still retaining a pop sound, but very much unlike the first few. It actually is kinda reminiscent of something you might hear from Natasha Bedingfield. It fares better than the beginning tracks, then jumps into the album's first radio single, "Life Is Beautiful." It's an alright song, with some strange xylophoney music in the verses, but with the return of Dave's vocals, the overall sound quality drops a little. When the pianist Joel takes up main vocals on "Angels Sing," a heartfelt worship song that isn't really anything new to the genre but has some good lyrics along the way, it offers much better music than what we've been exposed to thus far on Life Is Beautiful. It's a possible album highlight, odd as it may be. Another change in music style brings us to "Sound of Love." A strange change, as well. The pre-intro could almost have been written by Danny Elfman, but about fifteen seconds in, the actual intro comes in, and then it sounds like it could have been written by And Then There Were None. From there, it just goes into a sound like any modern youth-oriented praise & worship group (SONICFLOOd and Hillsong United come to mind).
"Unashamed" brings back a little of the feel of "Angels Sing," just not as effectively, with Dave's vocals once again bringing things down (especially when he plays around with his voice at the end of each line), and then the beginning of "Fixation" is almost a spitting image of AFI's "Miss Murder" (also kinda resembling Family Force 5's "Radiator"), where his vocals are almost at the peak of annoying in the chorus (the singing of "I can't live without You he-yuh, I can't live unless I know You're ne-yuh" is like nails scratching on a chalkboard). By this time, I'm longing for the Nirva copycat vocals to come back. The annoyance, however, takes a backseat in another worshipful song, "Praise The Lord," a tone that continues through "Fill This Place" (thankfully featuring Paige on main vocals again). "I'm Alive" is also slightly worshipful, but more in an upbeat style similar to Jeremy Camp (with a touch of Stellar Kart to add some sugary pop/punk to it). Oddly, Press Play chose to follow up such an upbeat song with one of the slowest tracks on the entire album. "One Life" starts with nothing but a piano and Dave singing rather quietly (and way too breathy). It's not until about two minutes in that it picks up at all, and when it does, you would almost wish that it didn't, just so the vocals wouldn't sound the way they do.
To sum everything up, there's two main problems with Life Is Beautiful. The first being that it seems like Press Play doesn't quite know what genre they're going for. The album jumps all around the board, with some pop, some hip hop, some alternative, some dance and even some modern praise & worship. The second problem is that whatever style they're doing at the moment, they're most likely not doing a good job of it. As mentioned, there are several times where it isn't so bad (The beginning of "I Love Who You Are," or the worshipful ballad "Angels Sing" are good examples). But for the most part, Life Is Beautiful just feels like AC radio's failed attempt to be edgy. But in reality, the music is less than mediocre, and is sometimes painful to listen to. Lots of respect to Press Play for the work they do at the Dream Center, but they definitely need to get things together before they can even think about a sophomore project.- PReview date: 4/29/09, Review date: 5/13/09, written by Scott Fryberger of Jesusfreakhideout.com
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