A Hearty Welcome | Posted March 31, 2014 Staff Reviewer
When you hear a band like MercyMe declare that it is “out with the old and in with the new,” there are several different things your mind can think.
Longtime fans of the group that has penned some of the most well-loved songs in CCM (“I Can Only Imagine”, anyone?) might worry that their beloved band has gone off the deep end and created something so far removed from their signature sound, that any trace of familiarity is gone. On the other hand, you have scoffers who can’t help but wonder if anything has really changed at all. I mean, how many musical bandwagons can you hop aboard before it starts to leave you a little cynical?
I admittedly fell into the latter group when I received my copy of MercyMe’s latest studio project, Welcome to the New. While I’ve always been a fan of their Adult Contemporary-friendly sound, I couldn’t picture this prestiged quartet doing anything differently, let alone doing it well. However, what I soon discovered upon listening was a series of songs that left my stuffy misconceptions utterly shattered.
“Welcome To The New” introduces the sonic shift, which is bent towards a balance of upbeat pop, and synth rock. They’ve always been something of a mature pop group at heart, but this completely renovates anything they’ve done before. Far gone are the days of sleepier jingles. This is something that stands up to the best of ’em.
The song also introduces the theme you’ll find tied into almost every song on the record, about how Christ has set us free from the laws of religion and offered us grace enough to repeatedly fall down and get back up again: “You broke your back, kept all the rules, jumped through the hoops to make God approve of you, oh tell me, was it worth it? / The whole time you were spinning plates did you stop to think that maybe He’s okay with just you? / There’s no need to join the circus.”
“Gotta Let It Go” blazes out of the gate and quickly sets itself atop a long list of some of the best material this band has put out, musically speaking. It carries a blisteringly powerful modern rock vibe, while somehow tipping its hat to the sounds found in much of the music birthed at the start of the millennium. Think Smash Mouth, without the cheesy nostalgia.
Another smokey rocker—no pun intended—is found on “Burn Baby Burn,” perfectly incorporating synth elements into the backdrop of a gritty anthem about shining boldly for Christ. It’s a theme that’s being touched on more and more in CCM lately, but yet have I heard it come from such a fresh perspective.
OK, so the band has clearly proven that you can indeed teach an old dog new tricks, but what about those fans who actually liked the old dog? Fear not! While Bart and boys have mastered the ability to reinvent themselves, fans who’ve been with them since the beginning with be glad to hear that worshipful and cutting MercyMe mainstays are indeed present here.
Lead single “Shake,” the folksy “Greater,” future radio darling “Finish What He Started” and open letter “Dear Younger Me” all return to the core of the group, which is to both challenge and inspire. Each song offers some of the strongest songwriting of their lengthy career.
One of the biggest gems will be found in “Flawless,” which was originally slated to be the title track. It sums up everything good about this album in just over four minutes. Old meeting new, incredible lyrics, and a message that sternly reminds us that God isn’t looking for our perfection, He just wants us: “No matter the bumps, no matter the bruises, no matter the scars, still the truth is, the cross has made, the cross has made you flawless.”
I could say Welcome To The New is a step forward for MercyMe, but that would be lie. It’s more like 12 steps and a giant leap. I’m thoroughly impressed by the production here, which is neither bypassed or overdone, something that has plagued some of their prior albums of the past. Bart Millard’s lead vocals are the strongest I’ve heard yet, and the band is all playing together better than ever.
I have few complaints about this album, other than it was a little shorter than what I’m used to from them, but as I always say, if you’re left wanting more, obviously they’re doing something right. This is one of the strongest albums Christian music has to offer in 2014, and a step in the right direction for a band who has clearly shown that they still have many years ahead of them.
Song To Download:
“Gotta Let It Go”