Prime Cuts: Ghost, Even If, Grace Got You
Overall Score: 4/5
After 23 years and 15 studio albums, MercyMe still has currency in today's music scene. Unlike many of their peers, they have never been blacklisted as an "oldie" veteran. Rather, they still have currency with today's youth as well as they have remained a constant favorite amongst their fans from twenty years ago. In fact, MercyMe has just scored their 23rd Top 10 song, making them tie with Casting Crowns as acts with the most Christian Top 10s. So, what's their secret? First, MercyMe excels in cultural hermeneutics. They have a great feel and understanding for what's current in terms of music's execution. They have never become too nostalgic over a by-gone era. Second, they are great exegetes of Scripture and doctrinal truth. Unlike some of their peers (e.g., Amy Grant and Crystal Lewis) who have gone soft on hard core truth in favour of more "inspirational" material, MercyMe has been consistently Bibline.
"LIFER" checks the two aforementioned categories with flying colors. On one hand, their sound is non-embarrassing for a teenager to listen together with his dad. Second, their lyrics are evangelically solid and spiritually challenging. While their previous effort "Welcome to the New" deals with our identity in Christ, the bulk of this album speaks of living out the faith with a practical boldness. Thus, many of the songs deal with how faith applies to real life situations. Case in point is the current single "Even If." Co-written by Bart Millard when he discovered that his 15 year-old son was diagnosed with a chronic disease, "Even If" is essentially a heartfelt affirmation that God still remains the greatest even when our circumstances aren't.
The album's most triumphant moment is buried at the album's end. Album closer "Ghost," a gorgeously simple but affecting acoustic guitar-led ballad, is one of the best treaties on the Holy Spirit encapsulated in song. Utilizing language that appeals to even the "greenest" of Christians, this lofty issue is expounded with such an air of affection and elegance. Ballad wise "Grace Got You" is another highlight. Featuring big electronic percussion undergirding a melody that bears all the hallmarks of a great MercyMe ballad, this is a fine example of how the band can integrate with the times yet still retain their greatness.
Fans of Bruno Mars will be clapping along to the title track "Lifer;" a brassy nod to 70s soul pastiche. Though lyrically light weighted and highly repetitive, the swirling "You Found Me" has a sparking groove that ought to court the favors of Christian radio. With "Happy Dance," the boys lampoons the word "dance," making it a jam pack session of blasting synth funk. Yet, if all of this is too radical for the traditional MercyMe fan, "Hello Beautiful" is redemptive. Less dependent on steely instruments, "Hello Beautiful" is the closest you get to hear the boys sing in stripped-down harmonies.
"LIFER" is by no means perfect. But its utility is that it is an album for the now. With a judicious utilization of contemporary musical executions balanced with theologically rich lyrics, this is an album that understands the culture of today without selling out.