- reviewed by Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
- 2001 1 Jan
For those who have been living in a cave or haven't bought dc Talk Solo since its release in April, the members of dc Talk are taking the time to pursue solo projects (and yes, they still plan to record together again in the future). Michael Tait's release marks the first of three solo releases this year (and now makes your purchase of the Solo album 1/3 obsolete). Actually, Michael's album is less a solo album than it is a side project. Tait refers to a complete band (named in honor of Michael's father) and is comprised of drummer Chad Chapin, his brother Lonnie on bass, and well-known guitarist Pete Stewart (formerly of Grammatrain).
dc Talk's Toby McKeehan said these solo projects reveal the ingredients to what makes the trio's sound work. If that's the case, then Michael is clearly responsible for the classic rock sound of the group. Michael Tait met Chad in Nashville, and they played a bit together with the band Curious George; Michael eventually met Lonnie through his brother. Pete became a friend of Michael's through their collaboration at Forefront Records, and their love of rock and roll led to their continued collaboration as songwriters and producers, most notably on Pete's own solo album. In fact, if there's one album that Empty resembles most, it's Pete Stewart's solo project (if you like Tait's sound, rush out and buy Pete's solo album).
This is where Tait begins to disappoint me. Pete Stewart is an accomplished guitarist, but he's more adept at creating a heavy "wall of sound" or a rhythmic guitar riff than he is at writing memorable guitar solos. He does give a couple of good solos on "American Tragedy" and "Tell Me Why," but not enough of them. Chad and Lonnie are equally capable musicians, but none of the three do enough to let their musical virtuosity stand out. In other words, this is a solid and tight-rocking band that sounds more like a really good garage band than a power trio. Musically I think they're capable of much more, and Empty would have greatly benefited from an outside producer at the helm, instead of Michael and Pete.
The lack of musical hooks and instrumental variety gives Empty a somewhat homogenous sound that makes it a little boring overall. This is unfortunate, since there are some diverse elements to the band's rock/pop sound, which shows hints of funk, rhythm and blues, and soul. Some tracks stand out a little more than others, such as the "Jesus Freak" intensity of "American Tragedy" and "Carried Away," which sounds like The Doors classic "People Are Strange." But much of the album fails to diversify its sound enough. There are natural comparisons to Lenny Kravitz and Living Colour, but Tait never approaches the same rock edge of those artists. I'm not saying the playing on Empty is even remotely close to bad, but you won't walk away from listening to this album remembering the instrumental work.
What you will walk away remembering after listening to this album are the songs themselves, particularly the passionate lyrics, and Michael's typically wonderful vocal work. Michael contributes to the songwriting on every track, but he does not write any of them by himself. Every song is a collaboration with a variety of songwriters, including Pete Stewart and the other members of Tait, Toby McKeehan, Kevin Max and even Larry Norman. Though the album's opener, "Alibi," comes across lyrically as too similar to dc Talk's "It's Killing Me," Michael handles the subjects of unwarranted suspicion ("Spy") and persecution/racism ("American Tragedy") with a little more weight than dc Talk does. The album's title track is a little monotonous in its lyrics (verses 1 and 2 are the same), but its message of placing our priorities in the right place is not easily dismissed. "Looking for You" is a far more passionate and meaningful plea for God's presence than most modern worship songs today, and what could have been a simple song about spending more time with Jesus is written far more interestingly on "Bonded."
Michael's not as clever as Toby McKeehan in his lyrics, but he does seem to display a little more lyrical maturity and passion. He's serious and down-to-earth when it comes to songwriting, though that might be more attributed to what was going on in Michael's life when he wrote these songs. The album's best songs are those born out of Michael's personal grief. One of the album's few quiet moments, "Unglued," is a piano-based outpouring that deals with Michael's grief of losing a father, brother, and sister all in the same year (read more about it here. You can feel the emotion when Michael sings, "Sometimes it's hard/ most times I cry/ but God holds this heart of mine/ and He fills the pain inside." Couple that sentiment with the words to "All You Got," and you've got an intimate album born out of sadness and grief, but leading to peace and hope through God.
You oughta know
there's a reason for these changing seasons
God only knows how much that you can bear
so don't you let go
everybody has their up and down times
everybody needs to know how much they're loved"
Empty is a promising start to a promising new rock band. Tait has taken the first step, but I wish they'd taken it a little further. I wish the group played with the same funkiness as dc Talk, Living Colour, or even the song "Salt and Light" that Michael performed with Ashley Cleveland for the Roaring Lambs project. As well-known as dc Talk is for their pop songs, I think a lot of people take for granted how much their music can rock. And though it rocks in a different vein, dc Talk can still rock harder than Tait. There's no question that Empty is a good rock album—my only complaint is that this could have been a great rock album. For this reason (though I'm relieved he's still recording with dc Talk), I'm looking forward to Michael's future albums with Tait—which will only get better with time.