Prime Cuts: I'm Letting Go, Beautiful, Beautiful, Free to be Me
Overall Grade: 4/5
"Greatest hits" collections are an interesting genre in themselves. They allow us to map the artistic evolution of a singer especially when the songs are arranged in a chronological order. This is certainly true of Francesca Battistelli's latest package. "Greatest Hits: the first ten years" puts us in the front seat as we witness how Battistelli starts to evolve slowly but surely from being a consummate CCM pop artist to become more of a contemporary worship artist. This CD is thus a retrospective journey where 12 songs are cherry picked from each of Battistelli's three regular albums. On top of that, one song has been included from her Christmas effort and for the sake of diehard fans two new songs are tagged towards the end of the record. All the songs that have found their way to the disc (save for the Yuletide track and the new songs) have had been big hits for Battistelli including six No. 1 radio hits, three top 5 hits, three top 10's.
Let's be honest: Battistelli's best works are in her first two albums. Here she really stands head and shoulders above her peers. Her knack for songs that have signature melodies with lyrics that allow her protagonists to bring engaging perspectives on glorious themes are just sublime. This means that the first seven songs on this set are untouchably superb. With a bouncy tune that does vertigo in your brain for hours and hours is "I'm Letting Go." "Free to be Me" is one of the most creative and poignant song about what true Christian liberty is all about. You can almost "see" the song progressing right before you when she sings: "'Cause I got a couple dents in my fender/Got a couple rips in my jeans/Try to fit the pieces together/But perfection is my enemy/And on my own I'm so clumsy/But on Your shoulders I can see/I'm free to be me."
While some have caricatured Battistelli's earlier efforts as bubble gum pop, such assessments are vastly unfair. "Beautiful, Beautiful" and "Angel By Your Side" are evidences that prove the contrary. The former is one of the most thoughtful reflection of how God can bring beauty out of a desert experience. And the latter is so heartfelt that you can feel Battistelli heart beating abreast to each note she sings. To show that she's not restricted by stylistic scaffoldings, the insanely catchy "This is the Stuff'" finds its character in its ukulele-led introduction. Even Battistelli's Christmas offering "You're Here" is not the typical "God With Us" tune. Rather quipped with lots of quotable lines, this is poetry at its best.
With album #3, Battistelli starts evolving. Though she still continues to command the charts, her songs have become less and less interesting. "Write Your Story" is a cliché-riddled ride on the current Christian storytelling trend popularized by many mega-church preachers. With "Holy Spirit" and "He Knows My Name," Battitstelli sounds more like Bethel Music and Hillsong Worship than herself. Gone is that witty and quirky Battistelli with the couple of dents in her fender. Rather, she has become a generic and smooth worship leader like the countless (and faceless) singers that front Hillsong Church and Bethel Church. And to add further fuel to the fire, her two new entries here ("There's No Other Name" and "Messiah") are downright awful. They are as vanilla as the million and one worship songs coming out of the CCM conveyor belt. Evolution is never a good thing, this album is proof.