Album Review: ‘School of Roses’

COLLISIONRECORDS Christon Gray experiments with different genres in his album, “School of Roses,” but struggles to compete with similar, big name artists.

COLLISIONRECORDS
Christon Gray experiments with different genres in his album, “School of Roses,” but struggles to compete with similar, big name artists.

★★☆☆☆

Christon Gray, after some sucess the previous year, fully entered the public eye after the release of “Church Clothes,” an album released by Lecrae in 2012 on which his vocal talent was featured. The album was a huge hit in the Christian hip-hop genre, but it was also known for allusions to controversial topics such as corruption within the Catholic Church. But it was with the release of his own album “Even With Evil With Me” in 2011, which draws on several musical influences including rap, gospel, R&B and jazz, that he first gained recognition. Now, Gray is back to try and confirm his place in the music world with the release of his new album.

“School of Roses” continues the trend of borrowing from several genres. The album demonstrates Gray’s incredible range, his vocal abilities and his rapping skill. More impressively, Gray shows off his musical talent without succumbing to the all-too-common pitfall of many other rap artists: becoming vitriolic and abrasive in his lyrics. Unfortunately, the impressive vocal stylings on the album are not enough to elevate it from the pool of average rap or R&B albums released every year. Frankly, “School of Roses” sounds remarkably similar to something we’ve all heard a lot of recently, Justin Timberlake’s “The 20/20 Experience,” but sadly it comes in as a second-tier version.

First, “School of Roses” covers the same mix of genres as Timberlake’s last album. It follows so closely on the heels of “The 20/20 Experience” that there is no room for both albums. Gray is a truly impressive vocalist, but he utilizes his range in mostly the same way as Timberlake. They both tend to start off slowly with a falsetto as they beg they girl they’ve lost to come back. They both often use short, clipped phrases and both tend to be a bit repetitive in some of their lyrics. In short, “School of Roses” attempts to be the next “The 20/20 Experience” but falls short because of Timberlake’s range of songs. It’s not just that Timberlake’s album was released first, it’s that he includes something from every genre of music — even a country song in “Drink You Away” — while Gray fails to take the leap to the next level, making his album is comparatively safe and boring.

“Moving On” is the song that sounds the most like it came off of a Timberlake album. It has the staccato vocals, the music that echoes the rhythm of those lyrics and some rap thrown in. The song has the same subject as a lot of other songs of the same genre — resilience — but it lacks the stylish flair of Timberlake, the earnestness of Macklemore or even the passion that Eminem delivers.

“Convenient,” a track featuring Wes Pendleton, is just confusing. Gray’s vocals and rapping take on the rough texture offered by Wiz Khalifa, and Gray starts to lose a bit of the positive image that Christian music is known for. There’s even a reference to “No Church in the Wild,” the Kanye West-Jay-Z compilation from “The Great Gatsby” soundtrack that makes little sense in context. It seems lost in the album.

There are a few bright spots on the otherwise perfectly average album. The first is “Roses 101 – After All” with its melodic opening, the infusion of some a cappella singing and some great piano. The song is original, even though it’s about a lovelorn man, and its anthem-like quality could really get anyone to sing along. “Windchaser” is another gem. It opens with an angelic-sounding chorus and a dub-step-like beat, but somehow it works. In a way, it’s reminiscent of some of Jason Derulo’s music, but it maintains a sense of uniqueness. The last of the bright spots is “Vanish (feat. Swoope).” Combining some ballad-like qualities with clever lyrics and easily understood rapping, “Vanish” makes the audience wonder why Gray didn’t put a few more ballad-like tracks on the album, as it’s where his skills seem to lie.

“School of Roses” is an average album. It has a few flops and a few gems. Gray clearly has impressive vocal skill, and it’s a shame that he doesn’t show it off to the best of his ability with more ballad tracks. For fans of Justin Timberlake and Jason Derulo, this album will sound a bit familiar. But if you’re looking for some clean, R&B-style music, “School of Roses” is for you.

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16 Comments

  1. This reviewer “Charlotte Glasser”doesn’t know what he or she is taking about. This album is pretty close to being a classic on it’s own merit, Especially if you listening to what is standing on the top ten right now on itunes. He only has one song that is similar to a “Timberlake song” (Super Dave where he sings in a high pitch) In my opinion Mr. Gray has a better voice and more range than Justin Timberlake; he is a dual threat with has rapping and singing skill. I’ve heard Timberlake’s album and it has nothing on this (really generic to me compared to his entire catalog of music), I’ve heard Ocean’s album and once again nada. If any thing Timberlake’s latest release was second rate compared to Mr. Gray’s album. The passion I hear from S.O.R. is unlike most in this genre. Justin T’s album sounds like it was cranked out once again by timberland and few high end features. Don’t listen to this reviewer. The majority of other reviewers have gone in the exact opposite direction and I think they just might be right. And for your reference Body art was his rap album (second record). And Even with evil in me was mainly singing (his first record). I sense alot a hate when it comes to this “just average album” (I hope this isn’t because he’s christian) If this is a “just average album” than ocean’s album and Tmberlake’s album are a few steps below this average album. I don’t even think mr Legend album is as good or as diverse as S.O.R. It’s my opinion but give it a listen and see what you think!

    • I concur 100%. Beautiful album.

    • Ben Judah says:

      Mr. Brain you are right. We have freedom to express our opinion and think for ourselves. But this article was written as if we were to just accept it.

    • Thank you. This is album equal to or above JT’s album. The reviewer is making a point to bash this album but I seriously consider this as a classic. Nostalgious shows Christon Gray to be just as good rapper as singer. He covers worship music which JT doesn’t cover as well as dives deep into the roots of soul. This reviewer for whatever has made a point to rate this as a second rate.

  2. Clifton Means says:

    This is a terrible review. This is some of the best music I’ve heard in a long time. This is a joke. Check what twitter is saying and not some wanna be critic.

  3. This review is HORRIBLE. Some of the references that he makes are “confusing” or doesn’t make sense?? No way! You really have to understand the time and thought it took to create this album. The last thing an artist like Christon wants to do is try to be like another artists. Now I will say School of Roses is a little bit more pop and R&B than Even With Evil With Me, and it may be a little less “scriptural” but you HAVE to understand where he is coming from and what he is talking about in this album! Even With Evil With Me was a pure gospel album it referenced the bible a lot and flat out told you about Jesus Christ but School of Roses took another direction. It wants us to take everything he songs about in EWEWM and apply it to everyday day to day mundane life situations. This album addresses our own wants and selfish desires as humans and how we need to face this and the issues we deal with to come to closure. The only way we are able to do that is through Jesus Christ. The song Windchaser directly address an issue many people deal with which is chasing the wind, found in Eccelsiastes 2:11 in the bible. Sooooo much thought when behind this album. It was very intentional. I feel like the reviewer merely skimmed or just heard it. This is an album not to hear this is an album to listen to. You HAVE to listen or else you will miss everything. This review is going off sound and not lyrics. This reviewe is going for he surface level reaction of someone who maybe listens once or twice and says “this sounds cool or sounds nice” vs. the person who listens front to back, takes the titles into consideration, listens again and tries to dig for the content to understand what Christon is talking about. He poured his whole life into this album. I highly doubt there was a lot of thought being “Don’t Hold the Wall” and “Suit and Tie” by JT! Don’t get me wrong I looooooooove Justin Timberlake and his album was my absolute favorite last year but if we want to go line for Line JT addresses sex, dance, fame, and lust. Christon addresses love, morals, issues and selfish desires, closure, grief, marriage, fatherhood, and faith. There is no comparison here. School of Roses is the best album I’ve heard since Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.

    • Ben Judah says:

      I 100% agree… This album is as fresh to the music scence as Musiq soulchild first album was back in 2000.

  4. The “No church in the wild” actually does make sense. The first verse of the song is a girl saying to a guy “You only keep me around when it’s convenient” the second verse talks about his father being the leader/preacher at a church and how people need his time, money, advice, and comfort but as soon as he takes a different direction people leave his church hence “You only keep me around when it’s convenient, now you got me hanging when you’re all alone and need it” He says “No church in the wild” because church people can get caught up in their own selfishness and wants and needs and step all over somebody to get what they want. It makes perfect sense By the way you can say JT and C.Gray SOUND the same all you want but they definitely are QUITE different!! Christon talks about a lot of life struggles. Selfishness, wanting to do things that aren’t good all the time even though he is a Christian, he and his wife arguing because they want different things, grieving and loss, being dissatisfied even after getting what you want, grieving the loss of a love one, some days waking up and trying to find the Lord and other days not, seeking God and realizing it’s only through Him where you can solve all of these issues and problems you face. To say he is losing the positive image Christian music is known for is a little biased. Christians aren’t always happy go lucky, yay everything is perfect, I’m perfect, and my life is perfect too. He is trying to be honest. Showing us that Christian people struggle too, we are human and only human and we need to understand that in order to seek God and know who God is and how much power He has. He made this album so non Christians can listen and be like yo I feel you, I struggle too, maybe I do need the Lord. And so Christians can be reminded that they do need the Lord and their life isn’t all peachy and perfect because only God himself is perfect. Did you listen to Arena at all? Did you listen from start to finish? I think not. Listen again. School of Roses baby!

  5. Yes I have to disagree with you here. I hear a little bit JT but second-tier? This production was excellent.it was lush full and diverse. The album itself was very well structured. Like you could tell there was a purpose. Maybe you’ll have a different opinion on the album if you listen to a videohe made explaining the album. The real question: could you find yourself listening to the music over and over? I believe alot of ppl could.

  6. 2 stars!!!!? Craziness! This project is easily 4.5 stars!!! This is probably one of the most horrible reviews I’ve read in forever! It reminds me of the second verse in Derek Minor’s “Hot Air Balloon” the online blogger that’s a hater cause they never made it. This review makes me question if they really heard what I heard and truly listened to the project.

    Anyways I need not to rehash what the replies have already pointed out. This is a classic and must have.

  7. Review is horrible. This author just sounds like a Justin Timberlake fan to be honest ah

  8. I’d have to agree with the consensus here in the comments. Initially I was looking for a lot more doctrine and theology embedded in the lyrics, like the “Even With Evil With Me” LP, but I was pleasantly surprised how authentic he kept this project. Like another commenter mentioned, I can see how he made this album universal, to both the Believer and the non-Believer to grasp something from any particular song and totally relate. As a married woman, myself (and a Christian), I can definitely relate to the songs that are in relation to his marriage and the true struggle it is in becoming ONE flesh. Listen. its HARD! And as corny as it might sound, but his trials expressed lyrically encouraged me all the more to hang in there. Also, “Burning House” is AH-MAZING! Now, I don’t know of anyone who could not relate wholeheartedly to the lyrics in this masterpiece. There’s seriously something for EVERYONE! And lastly, I can touch on all the songs but I’ll conclude here, “Hello or Goodbye”….like, WHAT?! That song is so powerful! I’m asking JT, who? Nah, 2nd tier my tail! Now is this was a poor review? Meh. Maybe you were expecting something totally different in comparison to EWEWM, Body Art or his features, and that’s understandable. But to totally dismiss the artistry and to compare him to JT, I think that’s where you missed it.

  9. Another mediocre review. This review doesn’t give S.O.R the credit it deserves, like one of the earlier comments mention, I haven’t heard a piece like this since “Mis-Education of Lauryn Hill” This album is solid! Who cares who he sounds like, listen to the words!
    I even vouch for Gray’s first album “Even With Evil With Me” oh…and have you heard Body Art? Gray gives you the best of both worlds, but both worlds point to Jesus….we all have some baggage we need to deal with and only one person can help us with that (Jesus Christ). Christon Gray puts it all on display on this album and the outcome is….we need a Savior to mend our past failures, pains, relationships or whatever it may be. From experiences I can relate to a lot of the songs on this album and I’d looking forward to more albums from this guy and his camp.

  10. Kabalock says:

    Currently listening to the album, could write a School of Roses myself because it relates so much to what I have been trough these times around. His music is flawless, I would not skip to another cause it bores me, it is sooo authentic. Well I don’t know what kind of music JT is doing right now but it’s gotta be close to perfect because this album is dope!

  11. Album is a CLASSIC, point blank, period. Best album this year.

  12. I agree a lot with the fact that the album is average. I don’t agree with the albums School Of Roses was compared to. I found the production sub-par, and agree that as a whole the album was a confusing mish-mosh of genres. I think people just appreciate Christon’s talent and WANT his album to be “the best of the year”… but IMO it doesn’t stick out to me at all. It’s not that I’m comparing it to other things, outside of that track “Nostalgious” there was nothing that I want to go back to.

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