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Intersection of Life and Faith

Illuminate

  • reviewed by Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2003 9 Sep
  • COMMENTS
Illuminate
Sounds like … Dave Matthews Band meets Sonicflood, blending acoustic jams with driving modern rock and DJ effectsAt a glance … though some of the album is clichéd modern worship, Crowder and company also demonstrate genuine creativity and artistic growth

In the year-and-a-half since the release of their best-selling national debut Can You Hear Us?, the David Crowder Band has enjoyed remarkable success, reaching new audiences through their particular style of modern worship. The band from Baylor University was one of 2002's most successful debuts—Sparrow's biggest selling debut ever, in fact. David Crowder is undoubtedly bewildered to some degree by all the attention, overwhelmed by the opportunities with which God has blessed his music ministry. Others are bewildered over how incredibly well-received the album was, as though it was the most revolutionary work in modern worship since Delirious' Cutting Edge.

If the buzz is to be believed, and it was right the first time, then Illuminate will generate similar, if not greater acclaim from fans and critics. And why not, since the album has more promotional gimmicks than the typical album. Most notable is the inclusion of the nifty M-Audio Reason software by Propellerhead, which allows fans to see and mix the album's tracks on their own computer. (Now that's interactive!) Illuminate also includes a song named by fans via a poll on the band's website. The results were a tie, reflected by the title "O Praise Him (All This for a King)," and it is the first radio single. Infectious in its driving rock sound while carrying lyrics of joining the heavenly praise chorus of angels, the hoopla is fun but a little puzzling—all this to name such a simply worded worship song?

Then there's the presence of Zach Lind, drummer of the Platinum-selling secular rock band Jimmy Eat World. A fan of the David Crowder Band, Lind e-mailed Crowder, formed a fast friendship and leaped at the opportunity to play drums and produce for one of the album's tracks, "How Great." The rest of the album is ably produced by the great Charlie Peacock (Nichole Nordeman, Switchfoot) and Mitch Watkins (Joe Ely, Abry Moore).

One of the things I appreciate most about Crowder is the desire to be creative and innovative with his art. The opening rocker, "Revolutionary Love," combines acoustic rock with techno dance, expressing the need for us to come together in worship as a community of believers with simple phrases that speak volumes: "Reparation leads us here … Liberation meets us here … Jubilation brings us here." Even better is the Dave Matthews-styled alternative funk of "Intoxicating," which features poetic lyrics and impressive production effects; there are some excellent changes in rhythmic feel during the song, with some great interaction among the musicians. The same could be said of the densely layered and intricately performed "Heaven Came Down."

Another standout is the thrilling rock worship of "How Great," a humble song of praise for God's grace. Featuring strong melodic hooks, guitar riffs, and an attention-grabbing rhythmic interlude before the bridge, the song builds tension in the verses and releases it gloriously in the chorus. At the other end of the spectrum is a beautiful, stripped-down guitar ballad called "Only You," sure to be a classic in churches because of its simplicity. Rich and darkly colored ambience is created with "Deliver Me," a song popularized by musical theater pop star Sarah Brightman in recent years.

There's some great stuff to be found on Illuminate, but also a few weaknesses. The album includes a handful of short throwaway tracks, probably intended to be creative, but ultimately distracting. As cool as much of the production is, some of it is really tired and overused—am I the only one weary of record scratches and vocal samples? Other songs ("Open Skies," "No One Like You") seem to revolve around monotonous melodies that consist of two notes. And while it's an improvement upon the band's arrangement from their last album, do we really need yet another version of "All Creatures of Our God and King" in such a short time?

Perhaps most frustrating about Illuminate is what might have been. Much is made in the press materials about the theme of light that drives this album, but the songs only make occasional mention of words such as "illumination" and "reflection." They certainly don't explore the themes to the depth that Crowder does in the press kit—the closest he comes is the folksy "Stars," and it's likely most will miss the supposed presence of the theme, simply regarding them as songs of praise. That's not a bad thing with the David Crowder Band, a worship group popular with "fringe Christians" and the college crowd. Some will say I'm being too picky in these criticisms, so let me be clear. This is a fine album that shines more brightly than the average modern worship disc; it simply could have been better. If the success of their last album is any indicator, Illuminate is bound to be a smash.