Stephen Petree is the latest artist to join the roster of the relatively new Dream Records. His name may not sound too terribly familiar up front, but if you liked listening to mainstream alternative radio stations in early 2007, you just might be a fan of his work. It just so happens that he co-wrote songs like "Le Disko" and "You Are The One" for alt/indie group Shiny Toy Guns. Three years later and here he is with a new band and a new message to go with his new album Weakness Makes You Beautiful.
What's sad about the album is that it could very easily be summed up by calling a hybrid of MuteMath, Shiny Toy Guns and Muse, with various sounds of the '80s tossed around (Michael Jackson and Depeche Mode come to mind). And that's not too far from an accurate description. "Weakness Makes You Beautiful" and "Normal Life" are almost carbon copies of Muse songs, the former being like one of Muse's operatic epics. Petree's cover of "Right Here Right Now" does retain a bit of the original sound as made famous by Jesus Jones, but it also reminds me a little of MuteMath. It's hard to pick out a song here and not compare it to another band's sound. Even the pop rock sound of "It's Always Been You" faintly brings to mind "There She Goes" by The La's (that one is quite a stretch, but now that you think about it, listen to "It's Always Been You" and you'll probably start singing "There she goes, there she goes again."). The fact that the majority of Weakness Makes You Beautiful sounds so much like previous artists' material really makes the album feel very unoriginal - and somewhat obnoxious at times.
Now, to Petree's credit, not every song on this album sounds completely identical to another. When it's not sounding like someone else, it usually ends up sounding like Shiny Toy Guns, but in all fairness, that technically is his sound. Album starter song, "Someone To Make Me High," does borrow a little from MuteMath again, but it's mostly Petree's own and makes for a highlight musically (the guitar work in particular). The album's first single, "She Set It," despite carrying a minute Bee Gees feel, is a middle-of-the-road track. The funk sound and happy, fairly well-written lyrics are positives, but the "la la la" portions are a little annoying and the chorus' sound change makes it feel sort of misplaced. The final song also has an original sound (in context of the rest of the album). Featuring Shiny Toy Guns vocalist Sisely Treasure, "I Can't Wait" features subtle guitars over tribal drums, but a well-overdone chorus of Petree shouting "I can't wait!" It's a nice display of hope for God's coming Kingdom, but I think the album may have been better if "I Can't Wait" were left out and "It's Always Been You" was the album finale.
I'm not one who generally adheres to the belief of an album needing to be completely original sounding to be good. But it's a different story when the album is pretty blatantly using the sounds that belong to modern musical pioneers. Petree's Weakness Makes You Beautiful has its moments of goodness, for sure, and really, it's not too bad of an album. "Someone To Make Me High," "Weakness Makes You Beautiful," "Normal Life" and "It's Always Been You," regardless of what other band they sound like, are all pretty good songs that deserve at least some credit. But, overall, I think Petree needs to focus more on songwriting next time instead of who they're going to sound like. They obviously have the lyrical and musical talent, now they just need the originality to help them stand out from the pack.- Review date: 5/14/10, written by Scott Fryberger of Jesusfreakhideout.com
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