Sounds like … extremely melodic pop/rock that recalls the Beatle-esque sound of PFR, as well as The Elms, Steven Curtis Chapman, and Jars of ClayAt a Glance … the catchy songwriting and pleasant guitar pop of Broken makes it at least as good as Joel's first solo effort, if not some of PFR's finest work.
Ah, PFR … how we miss thee. After calling it quits in 1997, the Beatle-esque trio came out of retirement in the middle of 2001 to release their fifth studio album,Disappear, on Squint's record label. Sadly, the album didn't capture the public's attention like PFR's previous efforts (it's no secret that I was disappointed with it either). When Squint was fully absorbed and restructured by Word/Warner later that fall, PFR said goodbye once again, returning to the other careers that have been filling their time. Drummer Mark Nash (married to Leigh of Sixpence None the Richer) is busy with television soundtrack work in Nashville. Bassist/vocalist Patrick Andrew is the worship leader for McDowell Mountain Community Church in Scottsdale, Arizona. As for primary songwriter, vocalist, and guitarist Joel Hanson, he's been actively involved with leading worship and working with a camp in central Minnesota called Camp Shamineau (which you can learn more about at www.shamineau.org). Joel also has been the only member of PFR actively recording, independently releasing his first solo album, Captured, at the same time as PFR's Disappear. Featuring an acoustic rendition of PFR's hit "Missing Love" and the title track (which was covered by worship leader Chris Tomlin on his debut), Captured was surprisingly better than the collection of songs presented on Disappear.
Just one year later, Joel has released his second solo effort, simply titled Broken – and once again he's released an album that's every bit as good as typical PFR. It's more thoughtful and memorable than the band's Disappear, and more electric than Joel's Captured. Co-produced with Justin Korhonen, who plays drums and percussion on the album, Broken is a bit like a worshipful version of PFR. The title track was co-written with Rebecca St. James and acclaimed producer Tedd T. With a wonderful melody you can almost imagine Rebecca singing, it's a prayerful song of confession and surrender that's about as good as "Missing Love." "Thanks Be to God" is a simple acoustic pop song of praise about Jesus conquering death for the salvation of mankind, and "Who I Am" is a vertically focused pop song about the eternal sovereignty of God.
"I Will" is a simple testimony of Christian faith set to dreamy guitar pop. Similar ethereal guitar sounds are layered over a programmed rhythm in "Sing Your Name," about a changing, broken heart that's coming to know Christ. "Make Things Right" feels like a long-lost gem from PFR's acclaimed album Them; it's a terrific melodic rocker in which Joel sings, "In the sea of dissolution, love always seems to be the thing we're losing / What if we turned the tide? What if we reached for peace instead of pride? / In this ocean of confusion, it's hard to find the shores of reason / I've always heard the truth sets you free, so bring truth into the light." The worshipful "Still Greater" is vintage PFR, rocking and melodic, celebrating God's boundless love. A similar theme is expressed in "Fly," co-written by Gordon Kennedy of Whiteheart and Dogs of Peace, though one easily could interpret it as an earthly love song, too: "If I never see another morning sun, please don't pity me / I'm the lucky one / If not for you, I'd have never known all the love I do / All the love you've shown." The pretty acoustic ballad "Count the Ways," however, certainly seems to be about Joel's wife. The title draws inspiration from Browning's classic poem ("How do I love thee?"), and it bears resemblance to Richard Marx at the peak of his career.
Though independently made, Broken is a terrific solo album, beautifully recorded and produced. It's surprising Joel hasn't signed a new recording contract, though perhaps the choice to remain independent is his. As with Captured, Broken is filled with quality music that deserves wider exposure. No, Joel doesn't reinvent the wheel here with ten songs that easily could be included with any other PFR album's worth of songs. At the same time, this is the joy of Broken, reminding us how good Joel and his pals were at writing melodic pop/rock.