Steven Curtis Chapman

Sparrow Records, 1999


REVIEW BY: Michael Ehret


The industry buzz over this record as being a "breakout" project for Steven Curtis Chapman has me puzzled. It's being variously referred to as Chapman's "rock" album (it's not) or akin to recent projects by British alternative worship band Deliriou5(cq) (nowhere near their style).

So, I'm left wondering where all this hullabaloo is coming from. Does Sparrow really have so little confidence in their label leader that they have to "pre-sell" this project as something it's not to generate interest? Are they concerned Chapman's demographic is getting too old and they're seeking to entice a younger crowd? Are they worried about Steven Curtis Chapman over-exposure? Are they just foolish?

My advice to Sparrow executives, offered free of charge: Just leave the man be and let him make his music - you'll save a bundle on promotion costs. Chapman hasn't earned four gold records, 29 #1 radio singles, 3 Grammy awards and 38 (oh my!) Dove awards for nothing.

Speechless plows the same rock-pop-folk groove of his previous project Signs of Life - and that's not bad. In fact, it's really good. It's better than good - it's swell!

Yes, he does open the album with three pop-rock songs - but what did he do on Signs? He opened it with five pop-rock songs before slowing things down. Chapman's acoustic guitar still drives each song, thankfully, and his penchant for writing incisive and accessible lyrics seems undeterred.

As Chapman so rightly declared in his faux rap song "Got To B Tru" from The Great Adventure (1992): "It's got to b tru. I've gotta be living what I say I believe. It's got to b tru even when nobody but Jesus is watching me." Chapman has ever been true to who he is as a Christian and a musician -- and so he remains with Speechless.

Chapman opens his latest disc with the driving "Dive", a song he premiered at this year's Dove Awards ceremony in Nashville. The song is a musical representation of what it means to dive deep into the living water of Jesus. There's the apprehension as your toes grab the edge of the diving board before launching off. But then, apprehension and fear give way to exultation and joy as you realize that you have, indeed, succeeded in diving in.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

"My heart is racing and my knees are weak as I walk to the edge/I know there is no turning back once my feet have left the ledge/And in the rush I hear a voice that's telling me it's time to take the leap of faith/So here I go . . . sink or swim, I'm diving in."

This track percolates with the modern sound of some drum loops and other programming, but remains anchored with Chapman's acoustic guitar and dobro playing.

Chapman follows with the title track, and first single. Co-written with good buddy Geoff Moore (he and Chapman are touring together this year), this song is sweetened with some warm orchestration by the London Session Orchestra. Sonically, it reminds me of Chapman's "Great Adventure."

"The Change" asks the question: "Are we Christians because of our trappings or because of the change made in our lives?" Chapman is always up-to-date in his lyrics and in this song he pokes gentle fun at Christians who wear message T-shirts and those ubiquitous W.W.J.D.? (What Would Jesus Do?) bracelets.

He writes he has the T-shirt, "letters on my bracelet," Bible magnets, a Jesus bumper sticker and a fish outline magnet on his car, but then: "Even though that stuff's all well and good/Yeah, I cannot help but ask myself/What about the change?/What about the difference?/What about the grace?/What about forgiveness/What about a life that shows I'm undergoing the change."

In other words, you may have the "right" outside appearance, but what about your heart? What about the fruits of your life? Are they showing that you're a Christian? Nice touch: right in the middle of the song his children Will Franklin, Caleb and Emily quote II Corinthians 5:17 - "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!"

Yes, there are plenty of softly rendered acoustic ballads for which Chapman has become well known. "Great Expectations," "The Invitation," and another gorgeous love song written for his wife Mary Beth, that hundreds of wives will soon be wishing their husbands had written, "What I Really Want To Say:"

"What I really want to say/Is what the sun would say to the sky/For giving it a place to come alive/But my words get in the way/Of what I really want to say."

Also included is "With Hope," a song Chapman wrote for the families in Paducah, Kentucky, who lost children in a school shooting. He also sang it recently at the memorial service for Cassie Bernall, one of the victims of the recent Columbine High School tragedy, who was shot to death after professing her faith in God:

"This is not at all how we thought it was supposed to be/We had so many plans for you/We had so many dreams/ . . . We can cry with hope/We can say goodbye with hope/'Cause we know our goodbye is not the end"

Chapman has produced a wonderful album - and he's done it by remaining true to who he is: a talented, emotional, rock-n-pop family man, who is also a Christian. And that's not bad, it's good - in fact, it's swell.

Rating: A

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© 1999 Michael Ehret and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Sparrow Records, and is used for informational purposes only.