ForeFront Records, 1999
REVIEW BY: Michael Ehret
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 11/09/1999
We all like to root for the underdog. It's part of the American psyche. We love it when David beats Goliath. Perhaps that's why CCM's Goliath band - Audio Adrenaline - named their latest release Underdog.
After the creative high they rode with 1996s' Bloom and 1997's Some Kind Of Zombie, expectations were high for Will McGinniss, Mark Stuart, Bob Herdman, Ben Cissell, and Tyler Burkum to take that next step to solidify their reputation. Maybe that's part of the problem - perhaps expectations were too high.
Whatever the reason, Underdog comes off as a half-baked attempt. Undoubtedly, because of the loyalty and the way the CCM industry works, it will be a huge success, but it's not the disc Audio Adrenaline should have made at this point. It's the "safe" disc.
Rumor has it the first single, "Get Down," has been given the prime end-of-the-concert spot previously reserved for their breakthrough hit "Big House." That's unfortunate because "Get Down" never really takes off and shifts into high gear - and it's not as fun to sing as "Big House." The lyrics, though simplistic, speak to the times in our lives when we're feeling overrun by the demands of our lives, but the music is lacking - something. It's just there, and that's not good.
"All I need's another day/Where I can't seem to get away/From the many things that drag me down, yeah/I'm sure you've had a day like me/When nothing seems to set you free/From the burdens you can't carry all alone/In your weakness He is stronger/In your darkness He shines through"
Musically, this disc is all over the map - from the pseudo jump, jive, and wail feel of the ridiculous "DC-10" ("If a DC-10 ever fell on your head and you're/Laying in the ground all messy and dead." What is that? Poetry by an 6th grade boy?) to the VeggieTales Silly Song reject "The Houseplant Song" to a bizarre cover of Pete Townshend's "Let My Love Open The Door" (what were they thinking?) - the guys never quite seem to pull their act together.
There are some highlights to the disc -- some very nice touches. The Charlie Peacock produced "Good Life" beautifully melds music and lyrics. Set to a full pop-music palette, the song gives testimony to how the bad things in our lives can lead us to "true riches." The chorus ("this is the good life, I've lost everything") perfectly captures the idea of giving up our own lives and the things we want for Christ, and His will in our lives.
"Loneliness has left me searching/For someone to love/Poverty has changed my view/Of what true riches are/Sorrow's opened up my eyes/To see what real joy is/Pain has been the catalyst/To my heart's happiness"
Another plus is the band's updating of the classic hymn, "It Is Well With My Soul," featuring the exceptionally gifted Jennifer Knapp, who has a sort of Tracy Chapman thing going on in this song.
"Jesus Movement" started off promising to be one of the most interesting pieces of the album musically with a harmonica leading into a mild calypso feel, but in mid-song all that dies as there's a complete music break and a Spanish-speaking woman talks for several bars before the music stumbles back in.
Thematically (the song is about coming to the realization that Jesus doesn't just belong to America) I understand what they were trying to do, but the break was unfortunate. At that point all interest in the song dissipates. Perhaps if they'd taken the time in the booklet to translate the woman's speech into a couple of different world languages so all those listening would know what she's saying it would have worked better. But, for all I know, she could be giving instruction in how to change a tire.
The title song also loses something because of a break mid-song to bring in a spoken passage. This one would have worked except the band brought the music back in before the speaker was done - and then you're trying to listen to two different messages and catching neither. dcTalk successfully pulled this type of thing off with their song "Mind's Eye" from Jesus Freak, but Audio Adrenaline is a bit off the mark.
This disc disappoints not because it's bad, necessarily, but because it's not what it could have been. Perhaps the problem lies in the fact the disc is mostly self-produced. The band needed someone to tell them, "Hey, guys, this really isn't working. Let's take a different approach." The three songs on the disc produced by those outside the band are the high points.