Sounds like … the roots rock/pop of Train, Steven Curtis Chapman, and Newsong combined with vertical lyricsAt a Glance … time will tell if Mercy Me can pull off another hit as huge as "I Can Only Imagine," but Spoken For is a much more cohesive and engaging pop album than Almost There.

Last year, some little-known long-time independent Christian band by the name of Mercy Me released its national debut on INO Records and had a little success with a song from the album. Perhaps you're familiar with it: "I Can Only Imagine"?

Okay, so I'm being a little facetious. The truth is there are probably few alive who haven't heard the song, between extensive radio play (four weeks at #1), three Dove Awards, and a high profile cover of the song by Amy Grant (as well as Rita Springer). I think it's reasonable to say the success of "I Can Only Imagine" is analogous to Bob Carlisle's "Butterfly Kisses" five years ago. In the same way, people rushed to buy Mercy Me's Almost There, primarily for that song. The frenzy helped make Mercy Me the best-selling and fastest-selling new Christian artist of 2001, certifying the album's Gold status in less than a year. Since it's still a high seller on the Billboard Top 200 albums chart, it's almost certain to achieve Platinum status within the next couple years. Mercy Me truly has come "out of nowhere" since the summer of 2001, going from an independent band with a fairly strong grassroots following to one of Christian music's best-selling artists today.

Few if anyone predicted this level of success for the band, and it makes me wonder if most of those who bought Almost There have become ardent fans of Mercy Me and their album, or if they just love that now-famous song about what it'll be like in heaven. Though I certainly didn't dislike Almost There, it didn't strike me as that different from the other praise and worship albums available today — little did I know. However, I've spoken with fans with reactions that range from calling Almost There the best album of last year and others who only enjoyed it for "I Can Only Imagine." It's probably telling that the album only spawned the solitary runaway hit, with nary a hit single since. Part of this is due to the longevity of the song, which stayed in heavy rotation for a good ten months; by the time radio stations were ready for a new song from Mercy Me, the new album was already on its way. Can Mercy Me live up to the hype of "I Can Only Imagine," or will they become a brief phenomenon known for one hit song? Time will tell, beginning with the band's anticipated follow-up, Spoken For.

p>A benchmark song like "I Can Only Imagine" is both a rarity and a blessing. Bob Carlisle has yet to match the success of "Butterfly Kisses," and as successful as Michael W. Smith has been over time, he always will be best known for "Friends." Any attempt to match the success of "I Can Only Imagine" will only sound forced, and all Mercy Me can do is continue to develop their songwriting craft. They done that much to terrific effect with Spoken For, and the press kit hits the nail on the head as to why I believe this is a much better disc overall than Almost There. The previous album was sort of an introduction for the band to a broader national audience, featuring a collection of songs drawn from Mercy Me's previous independent efforts. Although the songs were newly recorded for Almost There, it still was comprised of material written over a seven-year span. Naturally the songwriting varies greatly over that length of time. Spoken For, on the other hand, is a cohesive 11-track album of all new songs. It feels new and fresh with stronger songwriting than that found on Almost There. If you liked the previous album, I suspect you'll enjoy this one even more.