Sounds like … the guitar-driven pop of Steven's last few albums,ballads and rockers, united by the universal theme of love.At a Glance … though Steven again slips into his formulaic sound,All About Love is more fun, insightful, and broadly appealing than one might initially expect from an album about romance.
On the surface, it might be tempting for some to peg the latest from Steven Curtis Chapman as a hastily written, sappy love letter to Mary Beth, his wife of eighteen years. After all, it's only been a year and a half since the release of Declaration — much of All About Love was written while on tour. Though Steven is typically slow and meticulous when recording and producing an album, he laid down the rhythm tracks in a four-day marathon with a number of well-known LA studio musicians and acclaimed engineer Jack Joseph Puig (John Mayer, Sheryl Crow, No Doubt). Steven then finished the album in Nashville with long-time producer Brown Bannister. The ultimate decisions, however, were made by Mary Beth, who marks her debut as executive producer with this album. With all that in mind, this easily could have been a ten-song
album of silly love songs interspersed with bits of wisdom on how to best love one's wife.
Actually, that's not far from the truth. The surprise is that Steven delivers an album of sixteen songs (!) that displays much musical variety and insight. All About Love may conjure images of jazzy slow dance standards, but it's actually more like Speechless or Declaration with a theme. Granted, there are a couple of overly schmaltzy moments. "11-6-64" is a charming acoustic flavored ditty that commemorates Mary Beth's birth date and the profound effect it would have on her husband's life, but the suggestion that the two-year-old Steven probably "laughed and
played harder on that day" is a bit much. While "We Belong Together" is a fun rocker about the day the two met, the "I am Tarzan, you are Jane" chorus is pretty corny. Neither track is bad, so if you can tolerate those, you might be more receptive to the other treasures to be found.
The beauty of All About Love is that it's an album that explores the human experience in a way that a wider audience can appreciate without resorting to clichés. This is not a niche album like a disc of lullabies or wedding anthems. Just start with the opening title track, an energetic pop/rock tune similar to "Dive" and "Live Out Loud" (complete with Steven's signature chromatic guitar riff), which simply reiterates the importance of
love in all spheres of our lives. Similarly, "Moment Made for
Worshipping" is a pop/rock anthem about the simple joys of daily
life that sounds like "Speechless" or "Not Home Yet." The upbeat
pop drive of "You've Got Me" is about unconditional love: marital, parental, or otherwise.
Of course, there are still plenty of songs that are specifically written about true love, marriage, and Mary Beth. It's Steven's poetic perspective that elevates them above simple love ballads. "Echoes of Eden" is a terrific example, a flowing acoustic ballad that explores how men and women were created for each other
according to God's beautiful plan. The up-tempo "Holding a
Mystery" delves into the lifetime exploration of another person's
life through marriage, and "Your Side of the World" questions
what life is like through a spouse's point of view. The same
subject lies at the heart of the exciting "With Every Little
Kiss," reflecting on the endless power and appeal of a simple act
of affection. The marvelously produced pop/rock of "Miracle of
You" relishes in the exclusivity of a lifetime marital relationship. "We Will Dance" is a stirring orchestrated ballad about the different seasons of marriage and the commitment to carry on through all times. My favorite line of the album appears in the prayerful bouncy shuffle of "How Do I Love Her?" — "Well I know it's gonna take a lifetime to answer this prayer I pray / But that's okay, 'cause I've given You and her my lifetime anyway."
All About Love is completed with four cover songs, two of which are previously released tracks by Steven. The inclusion of "When Love Takes You In" from 2001's Declaration album demonstrates that this album is about more than marital love, as it was written for the baby girl that Steven and Mary Beth adopted from China in 2000 — fans can rejoice in the news that they are
planning to adopt another daughter later this year. Not
surprisingly, Steven has also included a new version of his
greatest hit, the wedding anthem "I Will Be Here." The
arrangement this time is free, gentle, and lushly orchestrated, a
beautiful improvement upon the standard pop production of the original. The other two covers were specifically requested by Mary Beth because they have long been favorites of the couple. Steven's
faithful-yet-different version of The Proclaimers' hit "I'm Gonna
Be (500 Miles)" lacks some of the charming spunk of the original
(as well as its verse about drinking and "havering.") It's still
a good rendition that sounds a little more aggressive and a lot
bigger. More in step with people's initial impression of this
album is a romantic slow jazz cover of "I'll Take Care of You,"
originally sung by Ronnie Milsap.
The only thing to be said against All About Love is that in many ways, it's formulaic Steven Curtis Chapman — it sounds too much like the music of his last few albums. Now in his 40s, its becoming increasingly unlikely that Steven will attempt anything out of step with his successful sound, nor does he have any reason to deviate from something that's worked so well for him. For this reason, All About Love falls short of Speechless and Declaration, but it's surely not a disappointment. Its weaknesses are handily outweighed with the success of creating a pleasant and thoughtful pop album that explores earthly love with honesty and spirituality. Some will shy away from what they assume to be a sappy romance album, but Steven's latest is actually a lot of fun, with something to say to all of us about love.