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Sounds like … simple pop/rock, mostly worship inspired, along the lines of Forty Days, According to John, By the Tree, and Among Thorns.At a Glance … this is another worship band album that doesn't quite distinguish itself from similar releases this year.
Unlike so many other worship band debuts this year, MercyMe is something of a veteran with six independent projects under the band's belt. They were waiting for the right time and the right circumstances to sign with a record label (In Not Of Records in this case) and release their national debut. For years, MercyMe has traveled to churches around the country from their base of operations, which has changed from Oklahoma City to Nashville to Dallas. Almost There marks the band's seventh release as well as their national debut.
Almost There is something of a mixed bag with its songs. MercyMe is primarily a worship-oriented band, and the members don't hesitate to call themselves one. I found this surprising since the first two songs don't fit the worship mold very neatly. "I Worship You" seems more about our feelings and reaction to what God has done, rather than the specific things God does for us — "I could never live without it, and I'm never gonna doubt it / Every day is new / There's nothing any better, I'll be singing it forever / I worship You." If this is considered a worship song, I would argue that any song about God's goodness is worship regardless of lyrical context. Likewise, "Here Am I" is more a story song (about people who are not being ministered to) and doesn't feel personal enough to be considered worship. The album also features a newly recorded version of "I Can Only Imagine," one of the band's more popular songs that looks ahead to the day when we meet Jesus face to face. The song will also be covered on Amy Grant's forthcoming album. It's a beautiful and inspiring song, but is it worship?
Make no mistake, the remainder of the album is very worshipful. One of the better examples includes "On My Way to You," a song that asks for wisdom, purity, and humility in our pursuit of holiness. "How Great Is Your Love" features a very cool sounding drum part and has a beautiful melody, and "Cannot Say Enough" has a powerful chorus of Hallelujahs and an ambient sound that reminded me of Third Day's "Your Love Oh Lord." One of the more rocking songs on the album is "House of God," a call to worship that leads into (appropriately enough) "Call to Worship," a slightly less rocking mid-tempo guitar-strummer that feels a bit like The Cure. And then there's the album's first single, "Bless Me Indeed," the second of this year's crop of Jabez-inspired songs. It's one of the album's more up-tempo songs, but I didn't find it particularly remarkable. To me, According to John's "Song of Jabez" is a better song.
Interestingly enough, I don't really have anything particularly good or bad to say about Almost There - it left me that indifferent. I think Bart Millard is a good lead vocalist, and the rest of the band - Jim Bryson (keys), Mike Scheuchzer (guitar), Nathan Cochran (bass), and Robby Shaffer (drums) - plays along competently enough. At the same time, MercyMe doesn't do much with their instruments to set them apart either. The word "bland" comes to mind when I try to describe their sound - nothing stands out in the way of a solo or a musical hook. Their sound is a little too mellow to be rock, and a little too heavy to be pop. They obviously have a lot of worship music traits to their songs, but sometimes they almost strike me as country too (mostly because of Bart's vocal delivery on a couple songs). This isn't really a case of a band with a unique sound as much as it's an album that straddles a lot of musical fences, not because of eclecticism but because their particular style doesn't stray from a middle of the road sound.
I don't want to leave the impression this is a bad album, but I didn't find it to be a very interesting one either. Almost There doesn't stand out very well, partially because it sounds more like an independent release rather than a major label debut. Nowadays, it seems like a new worship band is debuting every week. I would rank MercyMe squarely in the middle. They're better than some because the worship songs are original in content and not clichéd. On the other hand, I don't think their sound is as good as Among Thorns or By the Tree, and not nearly as good as a band such as Delirious. If you're into the worship band sound of such groups, then I can mildly recommend MercyMe's new album to you.