All That Is Within Me
- reviewed by Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
- 2007 1 Nov
- Goodbye Ordinary
- Time Has Come
- I Know
- God with Us
- You Reign
- Grace Tells Another Story
- All Right
- My Heart Will Fly
- Finally Home
It's rather remarkable that aside from 2003, MercyMe has released a new album every year since their 2001 debut Almost There. Though they've never matched the runaway success of "I Can Only Imagine" and taken their share of critical lumps with the accolades and accomplishments, the best-selling band has managed the rare feat of improving (however slightly) with their first five albums. You'd think that such relentless recording coupled with a grueling tour schedule would take its toll on their creative process, not enhance it.
Alas, some wear and tear was only inevitable, and it begins to show with MercyMe's sixth album. It's only been 18 months since the release of 2006's Coming Up to Breathe, yet the band was pressured to record another project immediately after their spring tour with Audio Adrenaline. Family obligations and the daily grind of the road prevented MercyMe from sitting down long enough to focus on songwriting, leaving them to scramble together new material just weeks before entering the studio.
Nothing motivates quite like the eleventh hour, and in this case, it still led to a passable effort. But All That Is Within Me demonstrates why artists shouldn't be rushed: the album simply doesn't live up to the better moments from MercyMe's previous recordings.
All That Is Within Me has been described as "deliberately worshipful," made "especially for the church." Lead singer Bart Millard succeeded in accomplishing that with Hymned No. 1, but this effort is only occasionally corporate in scope—and predictably so in such instances.? The lead single "God With Us" considers why God would bother paying attention to us, but it's not as thoughtful and poetic as, say, Casting Crowns' "Who Am I." Instead it resorts to familiar lines of undeserved love and grace, leading to an "Emmanuel" chorus that could qualify the song for a future Christmas compilation. Then the second radio single "You Reign," with its familiar proclamation of God's sovereignty: "Every knee will bow and every tongue proclaim that Jesus reigns." That's the chorus to probably at least 100 worship songs, right?
Truth be told, most of the songs here aren't really any more "worshipful" than usual for MercyMe—at least not in the corporate sense. Even if you apply the broad interpretation—that all music is worship if offered as a love response to God—it only goes to prove this album is worshipful in the most general sense. Songs like "Time Has Come" and "I Know" start with verses that provide general one-to-one comfort for those who are hurting, but then unfold into praise choruses directed to God. Worshipful for some, perhaps, but they certainly won't be adapted to worship in the same way as songs by Third Day and Chris Tomlin. Some might even accuse MercyMe of going secular with "Goodbye Ordinary," a "live like there's no tomorrow" anthem that makes no reference to God, more in step with seeker songs like Switchfoot's "Meant to Live" and Stacie Orrico's "(There's Gotta Be) More to Life".
And remember how the last album featured a song called "One Trick Pony," which MercyMe used to respond to people accusing them of repeating themselves? Turns out there's some truth to it. With "Finally Home," we get another heaven song from the same guys responsible for "I Can Only Imagine," "Homesick," and others. The flowing acoustic pop style sets it apart from others, but seriously, can we expect a heaven medley from MercyMe in concert someday? Also, last album had "So Long Self." This album has "Goodbye Ordinary." Can "Bye Bye Bad Stuff" and "See Ya Later Sinful Nature" be far behind?
Aside from worship, MercyMe views this album as a reflection of who they are as a band, both lyrically and musically. And at least in this regard they seem to have gained ground with confidence and polish. As far as AC pop/rock goes, MercyMe is a well-oiled machine and one of the best out there. They're a lot of fun when their sound is playful and densely layered, such as the aforementioned "Goodbye Ordinary" and its big production packed with enough harmonies, guitars, distorted B-3 organ, strings, and horns to make it their equivalent to The Beatles' "A Day in the Life." There's also a vaguely Keane-ish Brit-pop quality to "Grace Tells Another Story" that seems to change the mood between verse and chorus, giving it an interesting overall vibe while setting the record straight on God's love.
Sounds good, sure, but this album is more a side-step for MercyMe. There's an overall thrown-together feel to All That Is Within Me. Even the cover art is merely a muddled collage assembling the various things that matter most to the band. That, along with the songwriting, suggests MercyMe simply didn't have enough fresh ideas to further their polished sound. Of course, there's still enough to satisfy the most devoted of fans—it's more of the same, but nothing more.