Also in Act 1, hip-hop duo GRITS livens up the pompous "Wedding Celebration" (Jesus in Cana), but their contribution is a pointless cameo that consists of no more than the empty line "C'mon, y'all, let's celebrate." Hero's mom (played by newcomer Nirva) is also introduced on this track, which prefaces "Fire of Love," a soft-rock tune about Jesus' first face-off with the Pharisee Kai (played by Skillet's John Cooper). Act 1's highlight and first rock single is the big-riffed rapcore of "Raised in Harlem," chronicling the healing of the daughter of an overzealous Jairus (played by rapper T-Bone); this song would've worked better if Jairus' claims regarding his New York origins weren't belied by his use of the oh-so-southern contraction "y'all." But I digress.

If Act 1 concentrated on the commencement of Hero's ministry and his relationship with his followers, the slightly less erratic Act 2 focuses more on his detractors and their plans to silence him. The '80s synth-pop (think Eurythmics) of "Leave Here" sees a bunch of annoying street youngsters mocking Hero and his friends, while Jude's "Intentions" sounds like Newsboys. Then comes the sinister "Shadowman," which, like Cindy Morgan's "Devil Man," looks into the betrayer's internal struggle to hand Hero over to the authorities; fans of Kevin Max may like Quinlan's vocal technique. All of this leads to the plotting of Hero's death (Secret Agent Hunter's "Murder on Their Minds"), his short but sweet farewell to his disciples ("In Remembrance of Me"), his anguish at Gethsemane ("Hero's Agony"), and a climactic, almost cinematic crucifixion ("Kill the Hero"), complete with hard-hitting fake drums, distorted walls of sound, and an operatic background choir.

The modern elements of this rock opera at times suffer due to the musical twists and turns of certain songs, especially when these step into unnecessary Broadway-styled territory. For example, the Hero and Mary duet of "Lose My Life With You," with its emotive piano and strings-drenched arrangement, is saccharine, if not terribly out of place amid the other selections. Hero's brief "Take My Hand" follows a similar pattern, this time using Casio strings and vocals that are too silky and Seal-like to be taken seriously. Not much changes on "I Am," an amateurishly written song that could very likely be bound for AC radio play: "I am, I am/the one to make a change/who's gonna do it if I don't step to it/I am."

Is !Hero: The Rock Opera worth your hard-earned money? Though it's evident that the album's creators tried to make it broadly appealing, it's this lack of focus that ultimately brings down its collective value. Which begs my next question: How long can one stomach a long-winded, thematic double-disc album, especially when only a few of the songs can stand on their own outside of the story's context? Is there any "replayability" value? You might be better off waiting for this fall's stage production before giving the album a chance. Who knows? Maybe enough suburban youth group kids will dig it to increase its hipness level, perhaps presaging the type of reception that the TRL-loving, unchurched populace will give it.