- Welcome to the New
- Gotta Let It Go
- He’ll Finish What He Started
- New Lease on Life
- Wishful Thinking
- Burn Baby Burn
- Dear Younger Me
‘…at 41-years-old, I feel like I am just starting to grasp who I am in Christ. I grew up in a somewhat legalistic environment where the harder you try, the better God likes you. It was about two years ago a dear friend of mine reminded me I cannot do enough great things to make Christ love me more than He already does. Not to mention, I can’t sabotage this relationship and be taken from His hand. In other words, all the work was truly done on the cross and I cannot mess it up! This is not a new season in my life, it is my life! Everything has changed from this point on, and I want to tell this to anyone who will listen and be the first to welcome them to the new…’ A fantastic quote by lead singer Bart Millard with regards to the journey of himself and the band as they embark on releasing their new album Welcome to the New on the 8th April 2014; MercyMe have continued to prove to their fans and their critics alike that their music is possibly one of the most unique, powerful, emotional and heartfelt bands within the CCM genre currently. While not to discount the work of other CCM veterans, like Newsboys, Third Day, Casting Crowns, Delirious?, TobyMac or Audio Adrenaline; Bart Millard and the rest of the band members have continued to stretch their own musical and lyrical boundaries to continue to deliver powerful melodies, from ‘The Hurt and the Healer’, ‘You Are, I Am’, ‘Only You Remain’ and ‘Bring the Rain’, to ‘You Reign’, ‘God With Us’, ‘Spoken For’ and of course, ‘I Can Only Imagine’. With the band possibly one of the only bands within the CCM genre to carry its original lineup of band members from start to current status (aside from Jim Bryson, who’s currently taking a leave of absence from the band, and Barry Graul, who came into the band during the creation of their 2004 album Undone), MercyMe have created one of their most mature and lyrically profound of their career in Welcome to the New. I know I said that phrase about The Hurt and the Healer too, but this time, I think they have outdone themselves with their latest music offering. With the central theme of the album being to step into the new that Christ has for us and walk as if Christ has finished the work on the cross and believe that nothing can make us earn the salvation, and nothing we can do will make us lose it; Bart, Barry, Nathan, Robby and Mike have worked, experimented and toiled, and what has resulted is out-of-the-box songs lyrically and musically, and their most un-CCM-like album that they’ve ever done. From the dance-pop radio single ‘Shake’, which encourages us to dance about in light of our thankfulness of us being sanctified and adopted as children of God, to the country inspired ‘Greater’, emphasising that God who lives inside of us is greater than anything that this world can throw at us; we are able to rest assured with confidence through these ten tracks of our salvation, knowing that even if we travel through ‘…hard times, it’s just part of life, don’t let that moment blind you and don’t let it define you, take heart, that’s not who you are…’ (‘He’ll Finish What He Started’).
Easily the most out-of-the-box and unique single they have released so far in their career, ‘Shake’ is a fast paced, upbeat, three minute song about us shaking and dancing about as an act of gratitude and thanks about what Christ has done for us. Borne out of a season of joy and celebration, and realising that we are indeed made complete in Christ Jesus, the first radio single, while creating some controversy in the corresponding music video that show them dancing in a 1970s way and bringing to the fore topics like dancing in the church, and whether the dancing shown in the video is ‘worldly’ or not; is one to enjoy when you hear it. Standing at a short yet catchy 3:12 minutes; lead singer Bart Millard and the rest of the band give some of the best musically crafted songs of their whole career, with ‘Shake’ capturing the enthusiasm, joy and theme of what their entire album Welcome To the New is about. As Bart relays to us that ‘Shake’ ‘…is about enjoying the fact that we’re changed- this is about having the joy and living life that way – Christians are supposed to have joy…’, we are reminded that whilst this song (and in fact the album as a whole) is possibly the most unique and un-CCM-like album the band has ever done, the song nevertheless is still very much radio friendly, and something that gives us listeners are reminder of why MercyMe still continues to be a formidable and lyrically poignant band, just as much currently as they were back when they wrote ‘I Can Only Imagine’. ‘Shake’ is a song about freedom, and whether or not we decide to shake like how the band was shaking in the video is virtually irrelevant- it is when we realise that we can dance before the Lord in freedom and in any way we choose to express our love for Christ, that we can realise that this song, though in some parts are lyrically cheesy, still has that unique MercyMe flair- giving us motivation and encouragement that ‘…no matter when it happened, at 7 or 95, move your feet ‘cause you are free and you’ve never been more alive…’ Well done guys for such an infectiously enthusiastic and enjoyable song, and one of the standout radio singles of 2014 so far.
One of my favourite songs on the album, and possibly one of my favourite songs by MercyMe since ‘You Are, I Am’ a few years ago; ‘He’ll Finish What He Started’ is a powerful standout, and a big ballad destined to be one of the MercyMe classics as months and years progress. With the electric guitar riffs by both Mike and Barry starting up what I knew was a powerful and emotional melody even when I heard it the first time a week or so ago, Bart relays a theme of Christ finishing the work of our salvation on the Cross, and that as we delve deeper into Christ and foster the relationship like how an earthly father fosters his relationship with his child; we are given a great reminder that ‘…no matter what you’ve done, grace comes like a flood, there’s hope to carry on, He’ll finish what He started…’ Whatever Christ has begun in us, whether it’s a change in character, in relationships, or even in our spiritual walk with Him, He will finish, giving us confidence to trust that everything that is happening in our lives has something beautiful that is certain to arise from it as we trust the Father in what He’s doing. Emotional, heartfelt, and maybe even the most personable song Bart has ever sung since The Generous Mr Lovewell’s ‘Beautiful’; Bart and the rest of the band have managed to make a great change from the quirky and upbeat ‘Shake’ to this mellow, encouraging and uplifting second single. ‘Greater’, the most electronically unique and country inspired track (and the third promotional single after ‘Shake’ and ‘Finish What He Started’), continues the theme from ‘He’ll Finish What He Started’, that God who is great in us is greater than anything else vying for our attention, and that because we have the Spirit of Christ inside our hearts, we can accomplish and overcome the tasks set before our pathways. Fear no longer becomes a viable option when we know and understand that the God in us is greater than all the obstacles we seemingly see as mountains in our way. With gang vocals, looping percussion and a twanging electric guitar riff that reinforces the musicality of the song; Bart underpins the theme of us believing into the fact that God is greater, in our lives, but also through our lives as we pour out the love of Christ to others. As Bart proclaims in the chorus of how ‘…I hear a voice and He calls me redeemed when others say I’ll never be enough…’, we are able to remember how Christ has redeemed us and called us out of the darkness to give us a calling and a purpose to show His greatness to whomever we meet. The extra electronic effects in the bridge where the layered vocals of Bart and the backing singers/guitarists Barry, Nathan and Mike declare out ‘…I am learning to run freely, understanding just how He sees me, and it makes me love Him more and more…’ is one of the highlights of the song, and possibly the most musically stretched MercyMe have been since they recorded ‘Time Has Come’ on All That is Within Me. A great song to encourage us to see God’s greatness and His greatness working in us, the band ought to be commended in delivering these three songs, the thematic anchors of the album as a whole.
The title track and first song on the album, ‘Welcome to the New’ is an electric guitar driven song full of powerful drum beats, guitar riffs and a pace that can sometimes seem unbeknownst to the group, compared to the style and type of music they have done in the past compared to their new collection of songs. Certainly something they haven’t really delved into before, rock is something MercyMe have seemingly left to bands like needtobreathe, Rhett Walker, Third Day or even Newsboys…until now. Their song that encourages us to step out from the old and be embraced by the new life Christ is offering is as great as a first song can be- catchy, meaningful, inspirational, and above all- fun-filled and engaging (because if a first song can’t draw you into the album, then what’s the point in listening to the rest- first impressions are the key right?). As Bart welcomes the listener in the chorus- ‘…let us be the first to welcome you, welcome to the life you thought was too good to be true, welcome to the new…’, listeners are able to grasp the understanding, that moving from old to new needn’t be daunting, especially when we know that Christ is here with us, giving us the comfort we need with the transition from an old creation into a new one. And whilst there may be some times where we falter, stumble and even revert back to our old selves at different points in our lives, herein lies the point in MercyMe’s most meaningful song (for me personally), ‘Flawless’. Track 6 (following my favourite three songs ‘Shake’, ‘Finish What He Started’ and ‘Greater’), this song rounds out my top four songs on the album, speaking about how no matter what scars, hurts, mishaps and inconsistences we have in our own lives, what Christ has done on the Cross has made us flawless in Him. With an electric guitar riff to bring listeners into the album, Bart surmises that ‘…there’s got to be more, than going back and forth, from doing right to doing wrong, cause we were taught that’s who we are, c’mon get in line right behind me, You along with everybody, thinking there’s worth in what we do…’, and right from the outset, we are presented with a song that shows us that we are flawless in Christ, but also paints how we really feel at times- in a constant need to prove ourselves to others and to God. With this song acting as a hopeful life-changer to those who hear it, MercyMe have uncovered a gem of a song that could even be as popular (or even more so) than ‘The Hurt and the Healer’ with such a profound truth. While not necessarily the most musically inventive melody of the album (with electronic effects, looping percussion and a choir at the end of the melody a la Third Day’s ‘Children of God’), MercyMe nevertheless pour out poignancy in the words of how ‘…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…’, making this my favourite song on the album! Kudos to the band, for creating my favourite song on the year so far, and my favourite MercyMe song since ‘Beautiful’ in 2010.
Throughout the rest of the album, the band experiment with a myriad and variety of musical styles, and each of them seem just as much enjoyable as the next, with each of the styles experimented with executed with perfect style, accuracy and, no pun intended, are seemingly ‘flawless’ when we hear them. A bit over 3 minutes (3:02 exactly), ‘New Lease on Life’ explores the genre of electronic grunge music with layered vocal effects as Bart provides us with the knowledge that because of our move from old to new, and the flawlessness we are gifted with by Christ, our lives are new, and have a new lease to them. Knowing that our sin is at the cross and died with Jesus, we have, as Bart declares, ‘…a new lease on life, you see, I only lived once, now I live twice…’ ‘Gotta Let it Go’ harkens back to something Third Day or the Newsboys would experiment with, but never MercyMe… not true with this song. Also standing at 3 minutes, MercyMe tackle the issue of letting go of the things that hold us back from the life Christ has intended for us to life right from the beginning. With powerful words of how we are Christians are ‘…here to let you know, you just gotta let it go, something more so let it go…’, and instrumentation like hand claps, ‘ooohhhh’ sounds, and electric guitar work that would make genius guitarists like Stu G., Dr Mark Lee and Lincoln Brewster jealous; ‘Gotta Let it Go’ is the most edgiest melody on the album, and perhaps, one of the most musically diverse songs the band has ever done.
Overall: From singing to Bart’s younger self in a diary-letter-song about all the lessons learnt and tips about what would happen when he grows older in ‘Dear Younger Me’, and the encouragement to other fellow Christians through 80s retro style music, proclaiming that we are the light of the world and that we should ‘…light up the night, when will we learn, now is our time, now is our turn to burn baby burn…’ (‘Burn Baby Burn’) to providing us with a heartfelt nearly 5 minute synth prominent song about the fact that ‘…on my worst day, how You love me simply will not change, what if it’s really not about what I do but what you did…what if this ain’t wishful thinking, it’s just how it is…’ (‘Wishful Thinking’); MercyMe’s array of songs on this 10 track album have given me confidence to declare that this band has delivered one of their most musically diverse and one of the most heartfelt, emotional and encouraging albums from them to date. A standout release in April 2014; MercyMe have crafted 10 tracks that take us on a musical journey that is one of the most rewarding of 2014. With plenty of rock songs to please the alternative genre, Welcome to the New stretches musical boundaries to boldly assert its authority as one of this year’s standout albums. In the same calibre as Peter Furler’s Sun and Shield, Rend Collective’s The Art of Celebration and Jason Gray’s Love Will Have the Final Word; this album is not to be missed. Well done MercyMe for such a captivating musical experience!
RIYL: Newsboys, Third Day, Tenth Avenue North, Matthew West, Sanctus Real