Prime Cuts: Afraid, I Confess, I Have This Hope
The titular of Tenth Avenue North's fifth studio album "Followers" is most fitting for a couple of reasons. First, "Followers" is the CCM band's most cohesive album to date. Thematically, every song on the album gives exposition to the overarching theme of what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. Detailing issues of how we are to understand our human dignity ("Sparrow (Under Heaven's Eyes)"), faith in the midst of crisis ("Afraid" and "I Have This Hope"), what Christ demands of us ("What You Want"), this album gives us some practical handles of discipleship that are deeply enriching. In this regard, this record is more than just a collection of songs. Rather, each song function as a vital tool in equipping us towards becoming better disciples of Christ.
Second, "followers" is an apt title for this record because this album finds Tenth Avenue North following the current CCM of what's trending at radio now. Whilst their earlier records gravitates around an acoustic folk/pop sound narrowing them into a niche, "Followers" (like their previous album "Cathedrals") finds them exploring a more accessible radio-friendly sound. This is thanks in part to producers John Fields (Switchfoot), Jason Ingram (Chris Tomlin), Paul Mabury (Lauren Daigle) and Colby Wedgeworth (Jordan Feliz).
Such a deliberate act of polishing up their sound with elongated beats and heavier synth riffs have certainly been rewarded as their current single "What You Want" is currently lighting up many radio lines. With a pulsating beat coming from an electronic drums over a danceable tune, "Afraid" is tailor-made for the upper echelon of the CCM chart. More importantly, the song is rife with tweetable lines: "Fear never told the truth"... "With your kingdom, death will die..." However, with such pandering towards radio, the songs get formulaic too. "Sparrow (Under Heaven's Eyes)" has a great message of finding our dignity in how God values us, but the song gets too cluttered in its production for its own good. Furthermore, didn't Jason Gray just released a single titled "Sparrows" not too long ago?
Thinking perhaps that their high-energy EDM pop can cover up all their flaws, but it still cannot camouflage the fact that songs like "Overflow" and "One Thing" are quite thin in their melodic structures. And if you were to place them side by side with many songs on the radio, you can hardly single them out. Taking a recess from the high adrenaline sound are the album's only two ballads "I Confess" and "I Have This Hope." The latter is noteworthy as the song was written after band member Jeff Owen's sister-in-law was suddenly diagnosed with stage four cancer.
"Followers," in short, is filled with songs with great themes of discipleship. But, if the band were a little more adventurous and if they work harder on crafting more memorable tunes, this album would otherwise be excellent.