Steven Curtis Chapman: All Things New
Sound/Style: Inspirational, commercial Christian pop/rock
By Steve Morley
(UMCom) -- For years now, Steven Curtis Chapman has been the standard for finely crafted contemporary Christian music. At his most inspired, he pushes the envelope – however conservatively – with songs that dig doggedly for truth and often possess musical bite in a comparatively bland genre. Chapman’s talent for constructing solidly written pop is such that, even at his least inspired, he hits his target virtually every time. Though this kind of consistency is laudable, it can cause one’s interest to wane over time in spite of the high-quality results. That said, All Things New is the solid record one might expect from the Dove Award winner. Expertly tweaked by co-producer Brown Bannister to sound as up-to-date as possible yet still remain within contemporary Christian music’s modest boundaries, the album upholds Chapman’s stellar reputation and boasts a few moments that arc higher still, like the Electric Light Orchestra-tinged “Big Story” and “Angels Wish.” The latter tune, reminiscent of early ‘70s-era Elton John, contains a powerful and unique concept – namely, that even the angelic hosts who exalt God endlessly can’t know God’s praiseworthiness like a mortal who has been forgiven.
Chapman’s affable, witty wordplay makes an appearance on “Only Getting Started,” a track appropriately featuring pop star and recent Christian convert Jonny Lang playing lead guitar against Chapman’s bluesy dobro work. The hook line – “I’m only getting started” – is introduced from the perspective of a believer who has much to learn about God. In the song’s revved-up chorus, the phrase flip-flops to God’s point-of-view regarding the work He still intends to do. Chapman’s artful use of verse/chorus contrast here heightens the meaning of his lyrics, as it does on “All Things New,” which blasts into its melodic payoff with chunky guitars blazing. This approach also maximizes his far-reaching appeal, as the aggressively noisy centerpieces on these and other cuts keep pace with the potent rock sound of Chapman’s younger chart mates while not entirely alienating his older listeners. At times, the use of various and sundry electronic effects and non-tonal sounds, such as whispers and scratchy record effects, seem a tad gimmicky amidst more sober and mature numbers like “What Now,” which poses challenging questions about encountering God in unexpected forms, and the uncharacteristically intense and atmospheric “Last Day On Earth.”
Even if Chapman is guilty of stylistic overextension or commercial contrivance, it must be said that he continues to grow as an artist but far more so as a Christian, arguably the more important of the two. His lyrics reflect the efforts of a man seeking to know and understand God, and his talent for sharing his own journey in a way that is both entertaining and inspiring makes All Things New a true, if sometimes overpolished, gem.
Steve Morley is a freelance music journalist living in College Grove, Tenn.
This feature was developed by UMC.org, the official online ministry of the United Methodist Church.