Beach Street Records, 2003
REVIEW BY: Daniel Camp
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 06/23/2008
Most albums by Christian bands contain messages of praise, faith, and hope, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But the thing that makes Casting Crowns, the Southern soft rockers’ debut album, so unique is that the strongest songs exude a far different emotion: frustration.
Indeed, the opening two tracks of the album (including my favorite, “If We Are The Body”) emote a message that many Christians would do well to hear: shape up or shut up. “What If His People Prayed” acts as a call to action for every lazy, apathetic Christian willing to complain but unwilling to ask for help from the Father. Similarly, “If We Are The Body” brilliantly cries out against Christian inaction in lines like “If we are the body, why aren’t His arms reaching? Why aren’t His hands healing? Why aren’t His words teaching?”
Later in the album, “American Dream” derides the idea of money equaling success through a story about a man consumed by a desire for material things, a desire that eventually leaves him empty. The tale is truly heartbreaking the first time you hear it, and lead singer Mark Hall’s voice convinces you of his message’s sincerity.
The theme of frustration with the status quo essentially concludes with “Here I Go Again,” a song that appropriately shifts the negative attention from others and shows that the band’s dissatisfaction is not simply an exercise in self-righteousness – that they, too need to make changes. The song deals with a seemingly incomprehensible inability to pay witness to others and the ensuing aggravation of such a realization, employing beautiful harmony and instrumentation along with Hall’s vocals to deliver the message.
The rest of the album drifts from this theme, but most of it is nonetheless solid. “Voice Of Truth” and “Who Am I?” are both excellent praise songs and wisely received the most airplay after the album’s release. Both highlight the glory of God, and “Who Am I?” in particular brings with it the kind of humility that made songs like MercyMe’s “I Can Only Imagine” hits.
“Your Love Is Extravagant” is the made-for-church worship song that concludes the album with a whisper, but not a whimper. The simplicity of the solitary guitar with Hall’s voice carries Darrell Evans’ melody to new heights. It’s difficult not to stop what you’re doing and pay attention when this track begins; it’s that kind of experience listening to it.
The remainder of the album, unfortunately, is simply average, especially in comparison with the previously mentioned songs. “Praise You With The Dance” doesn’t even sound like Casting Crowns due to backup vocalist Megan Garrett being given the lead. “Glory” is a subpar effort, and “Life Of Praise” doesn’t bring about the energy it intends to. These three selections do tend to cause the listener to skip to the closing track the second time around, but do not hurt the album in the long run.
Overall, CCM fans can hardly ask for more from a debut album. Casting Crowns has yet, in my opinion, to reach the level of excellence shown in this first album. The group may have been frustrated with Christian listeners, but upon listening, you’ll find yourself unable to reciprocate the feeling.