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Chapter One ... a Decade

  • reviewed by Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2001 1 Jan
Chapter One ... a Decade
Sounds like … the inspirational pop that 4Him helped pioneer ten years ago, and has continued writing ever since despite small improvements to their production.At a Glance … 4Him has reliably churned out inspirational pop hits for more than ten years, as evidenced by Chapter One. Their tenth album, Walk On, promises to continue that trend without altering their sound.

4Him has a strong following in Christian music with twenty #1 singles, nine albums, and five Dove Awards to their credit. Chapter One … a Decade chronicles their success with 15 of their best tracks. The album adequately sums up the group's inspirational adult contemporary pop, but it feels a little extraneous since 4Him already released Best Ones just two years ago. That compilation features 14 of their #1 hits, and there's a 5-song overlap between Best Ones and Chapter One. It probably would have been smarter to come up with a collection of songs that complements Best Ones rather than duplicating it. While Chapter One is probably not a wise investment for longtime 4Him fans, casual fans will probably appreciate the partial summary of the vocal group's career.

That said, I found Chapter One personally useful for two reasons. First, it reacquainted me with 4Him's past music in preparation for a review of the new album, Walk On. Similar to Point of Grace and Avalon, 4Him is a group more notable for their slick but generic Christian pop production and their excellent vocal harmonizing than any innovative songwriting. They are yet another example of the quintessential Christian inspirational pop group — both fans and critics can read that as positive or negative. The second use for Chapter One is the inclusion of the hit song "The Only Thing I Need" from 1999's Streams album, a reminder of what producer Brent Bourgeois was able to do for the group's sound — Brent wrote the song and produced half of Walk On. "The Only Thing I Need" is, in my opinion, 4Him's most impressive song to date, thanks to the artsy pop production (not to mention the inclusion of legendary vocalist Jon Anderson of '70s progressive rock group Yes). Since Brent helped break Cindy Morgan out of the simplistic Christian pop mold, I hoped he'd do the same for 4Him — building on the groundwork laid in "The Only Thing I Need."

Walk On, however, is not a radical departure from 4Him's sound, barring a few minor exceptions. The production is as good as it's ever been, adding a little bit of guitar-driven pop/rock to the repertoire. The best example of this is found on "I Know You Now," a track overseen by the album's other producer, Mark Heimermann (Jaci Velasquez, Michael W. Smith, dc Talk). "One Foot In the Water" has a blue-eyed-soul groove to it, reminiscent of Paul Carrack, and "This Is My Declaration" rocks a little more than expected thanks to aggressive and swift strings, strong drumming, and a gritty B-3 organ — plus it has an interesting and catchy melody for its chorus. The rest of Walk On features the slickly produced ballads that have been synonymous with 4Him for the last 11 years. I'd personally like to see 4Him reach a little deeper lyrically, beyond the usual inspirational rhetoric. The title track refers to pressing forward on the road of faith chosen by believers, and "Surrender" is the kind of worship song that so many other Christian artists have written already. I was particularly struck by the group's use of lyrics from Michael W. Smith's "This Is Your Time" in their own song, "Who You Are" — "I'm ready to run and I'm ready to dance / live every moment, leave nothing to chance . …"

4Him hasn't changed their sound much over the past 11 years, and though some fans and most critics of the group will see that as a rut, many fans will take comfort in the fact that the group is dependable for inspirational Christian pop. In that sense, 4Him knows what their strengths are, and they handle the genre with the skill of seasoned veterans.

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