Prime Cuts: Live Forever, Oh, Me of Little Faith, Day One
Matthew West is the poster boy of Contemporary Christian Music (CCM). In many ways, West's music, particularly this new album "Live Forever," reflects the current persona of CCM today. Bright, sparkling, crisp sounding drums over hook laden choruses with a melody that charges out at you waiting to please the most casual listener, every song on "Live Forever" sounds tailor made for CCM radio. Even the themes that these songs address fall within the currency of what gives Christian radio its rhetoric. Here the lyrics fall comfortably (and safely) within the canon of what's being circulated on radio these days, covering the whole gamut, from grace ("Grace Wins") to carpe diem ("The List") to boosting our self-image ("World Changers" and "Anything is Possible"), and to restoration ("Menders"). There's nothing wrong with these thematic emphases. It's just that you won't find any surprises either.
Taken for what it is, "Live Forever" is essentially a safe and predictable affair. This is not to say that there's no redeeming value in the disc. Though, lyrically, the title cut "Live Forever" spins around the well-worn theme of carpe diem, the song is helped by its attention grabbing lines: "I want to make it count, I want to live forever...86,400 seconds, make em count, make em matter, we can now live forever." "Day One" continues more or less on the same propulsive beat and theme. But the ultra-busy traffic of crashing drums and laser-sharp guitar pricks create an artificial gulf between West and us. And we don't really get to hear West's heart with "World Changers." Frankly, the song recycles through so many clichés (case in point being: "don't you ever lose that fire in your soul") that you wonder if West has been hearing too many Joel Osteen's sermons.
Again the rhetoric that floods many evangelical sermons these days are found in "Grace Wins." Not that there's anything wrong with "Grace Wins," in fact, the whole song's so glib and smooth that it just doesn't gain any traction with the soul. Despite gathering letters from hundreds and hundreds of fans for the inspiration behind "Anything is Possible," there's not enough particularity in the song that grounds it with enough grit to make the point that there's no hopeless cause in Christ sing and sting. The song, like many songs here, lack identity. The best song on the record is "Oh, Me of Little Faith." Here the polished artificial sheen at least is removed and we get to hear something personal of West on this stripped down acoustic ballad as he wrestles with trusting God.
Maybe it's because West is the major writer of these songs, there's a same-ness that make these songs sound like pop tarts made to feed CCM radio. And the glossy production sound really gives West excuse not to surface his true emotions in the songs. Shoot the production team. Get songs from other writers. And work on songs that are aimed at the heart rather than chart positions and maybe the next album can "live forever."