To Start Again or Anew | Posted August 08, 2013 Staff Reviewer
For Michael Tait, Jody Davis, Jeff Frankenstein and Duncan Phillips, better known as pop/rock outfit the Newsboys, "restart" isn't just a practical term for change. It's been the story of their lives these last four and a half years.
Hard to believe it was 2009 when the Christian music world was rocked by the news that former 1/3 of legendary group dc Talk, Michael Tait, would be filling the vacant frontman shoes for one of CCM's highest standing bands. Yet here we are: two studio albums, a handful of #1 hits, and 600+ shows later, and not only has the band proven to the skeptics that this new brand works, they've also shown longtime fans that they can successfully reinvent themselves.
Reinvention was on their mind once again as they took steps towards conceiving their 16th studio project. Following the massive success of 2010's Born Again and 2011's God's Not Dead, the pressure was on to create something truly magical. If there was ever a time for a band to stick with a working formula and let someone else push the envelope, this would've been it. However, Newsboys are not most bands.
Taking note of current mainstream music trends, their goal was simple: create art just as relevant, if not better, and do it for the Kingdom. The end result is a collection of 11 tracks that are unlike anything they've done before, diving headfirst into new territory both musically and lyrically.
Restart brings together the "who's who" of CCM. Songwriters/producers such as Chris Stevens, Seth Mosley, Joshua Silverburg (Edison Glass), Kipp Williams, David Garcia, and Jon White (Capital Kings) are just some of the big names that have played a part in the development of this album. Needless to say, this isn't a one man show.
"At the start of this record two years ago, we knew we'd be taking great risks," Michael Tait says of the musical community behind the project, "but people will be excited about this album because we've pushed through the music and taken it further than we've ever taken it before."
A massive statement requires massive follow through. The question on all of our minds: does it live up to the hype?
"That's How You Change The World" offers the listeners their first taste of a fresh Newsboys. Immediately met with throbbing, glossy EDM, the lyrics ride on a theme that you'll see touched on throughout the entire album: love, and what it means to truly live it out loud. The title track "Restart" appears next and draws you in with its industrial, electronic melody. You’re sure to be belting out the catchy chorus not long after your first listen
"Love Like I Mean It" has all the makings of a future radio hit, and for good reason. Built on an offbeat synth pulse that rivals secular counterparts, the slick melody is backed by the age old message that love isn't a fleeting whisper of sweet nothings, but a verb meant for action. The album's first single "Live With Abandon" continues the flow of the album, and serves as a prayerful heart cry to die to self and live for Christ.
Delectably modern pop, "Go Glow" re-introduces the use of some organic instruments after an upbeat synth assault during the first few tracks, showing fans that while the band might be testing new waters, they're still excellent musicians to boot.
"That Home" completely switches gears and attempts something Newsboys have yet to do in their nearly three decades together: a piano ballad. Backed by some of the strongest vocals Michael Tait has cut in recent years, the song tells the tale of a life affected by a mother's selflessness and the legacy of love she left behind: "In that home, we knew we were safe to be young enough to dream, find the faith to believe / In that home, love, it had no end, it's where we learned to forgive / In that home."
"Disaster" presents more of the EDM aspect the project is sprinkled with, but follows along the same lines as the previous tune with its darker vibe. Comparing our soul's need for God to that of a fatal sickness in need of a cure, it's one of the strongest cuts on the album: "Since the day that I was born, I was broken and torn, so human, so incomplete / But You never give up, never lessen Your love, that's the way that You'll always be."
Infused with a bubbly Britt rock vibe, "Fishers Of Men" will undoubtedly become an instant fan favorite and a fun track to hear live. The clever line "seven billion people on a spinning ball, and they all mean the world to You" opens the song and invokes an urgency to go out and live the great commission. "One Word" is the only track that sounds remotely similar to anything on their prior two albums, and although a great song in its own standing, doesn’t necessarily click with the rest of the project.
"Enemy" sounds like it would fit right in with anything on secular radio from a musical standpoint, while the lyrics are that of raw self-confession and the desire to kill our pride: "Who was I to sit and judge? Always pointing my crooked finger, holding tight onto a grudge, all along, I was the chief of sinners."
Declaring the striking lyric "let our faith be more than anthems," the album's final track "We Believe" makes a bold declaration of faith in Jesus, mixed with a cutting honesty that still makes it feel real. It wouldn’t surprise me at all to see this become a go-to for corporate worship.
For fans who are a little more dedicated, the deluxe edition of the album costs a few dollars more and boasts an impressive five B-sides that didn't make the album, including the rocker "Man On Fire," featuring vocals from fellow dc Talk-partner-turned-Audio Adrenaline frontman, Kevin Max, and a remarkable remake of Mike & The Mechanics 80's classic "The Living Years" that is sure to leave you wondering why it didn't make the final cut. This song alone is worth the extra $5.
Let's be frank: this isn't your classic Newsboys record. You won't find quirky lyrics or any trace of an accent-laced tongue twister, nor will you hear much of the musical blueprint that garnered them most of their past success. This is a deliberate departure from anything Newsboys have ever done, and I'm here to inform, the risk has paid off.
Restart is an album that possesses as much truth as it does talent. The production quality is nearly flawless, and lyrically, working with some of the best songwriters in the industry shows in the quality of the work. While the lyrics take the band to a whole new level, the group's journey into uncharted sonic waters is the real game changer.
What sets this project apart is an evident lack of formula. For some, that's a death sentence, yet somehow, Newsboys turn it into a buffet of melodic diversity that completely allures you and leaves you wanting more. My only objection is that "The Living Years" should have made the final cut on the standard edition of the album. However, the clever placement offers all the more reason to spring a few more dollars to experience the five bonus songs.
There is no denying it: Michael, Jody, Jeff and Duncan are at the top of their game, and if this offering is any indication of what the future holds, we have much to look forward to for many years to come.
Songs to Download Now:
"Restart" and "The Living Years" (Deluxe Edition Only)