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Christian Music - Reviews, News, Interviews


  • reviewed by Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2002 1 Oct
Sounds like … the modern pop/rock of Newsboys, Delirious, By the Tree, and Coldplay, but not like the boy band pop of N'Sync or Backstreet BoysAt a glance … Plus One still needs to further develop their sound in the years ahead, but the dramatic change in style works surprisingly well.

Forget the Plus One you knew. Sure, they sold well over a million total copies of their albums in just three years; their debut, 2000's The Promise, went gold in just ten months. They were Best New Artist at the 2001 Dove Awards. Then, in the fall of 2002, Jason Perry left the group to pursue other opportunities. Jeremy Mhire left a few months later after marrying. Add to those departures a mounting public disenchantment with the boy band sound, and you have a group with an uncertain future. Nevertheless, the three remaining members—Nate Cole, Gabe Combs and Nathan Walters—have soldiered on and made a departure of their own—a stylistic one, anyway. Hence the title of Plus One's fourth album, Exodus, their first with Inpop Records.

They could have just as easily called this disc Transformation or Rebirth. Before Exodus, Plus One's music was written for them, their sound determined by producers—they were a self-described "fad band." Now they're writing the material, presenting nine original songs for this project. They're overseeing the production, with aid from Newsboys' Peter Furler and Jeff Frankenstein. They're even playing their own instruments, aside from the rhythm section. Cole handles lead vocals, while Combs and Walters play guitar and keyboards, respectively, while adding backing vocals. Yes, Plus One has actually put the band back in boy band.

Plus One's publicity people have compared the new sound to U2 and Coldplay. Skeptical? So was I initially, but after repeated listens, I'm becoming a believer. Though generically similar to Coldplay at times, it's probably more accurate to liken the new sound to Delirious, By the Tree, and especially the Newsboys (for obvious reasons). The modern pop/rock of the lead track, "Outlaw," draws comparisons to Furler's well-known band. Inspired by pressure to change the "Plus One" name, the song is about embracing our past, including mistakes that have helped shape our lives: "You don't have to change your name/You can outrun your chasing blame." It's followed by the driving rock of "Tonight," about taking a leap of faith and putting the future in God's hands: "Shine your light, put your heart in mine/Cut the cord from this empty life." The closer "Like a Kite" is a "coming back to God" song that resembles innumerable Newsboys anthems.

Listeners will be most surprised by the rocking intensity of the chorus of "Poor Man," a song about focusing on heaven's eternal riches instead of earthly treasures. Another highlight is the infectious "Sea of Angels," clearly recalling Coldplay's "Clocks" in its rhythmic triple pulse drive. It offers a theme of abandoning fear in light of God's sovereignty, similarly expressed in the awkwardly titled but beautifully rendered ballad, "Quest of Many Trails." The catchy first single "Be Love" simply reminds us of God's greatest commandment, and "Circle" is an arty ballad of faith and trust that incorporates an erratic array of keyboard sounds.

Despite the successes here, Plus One still needs to further develop their new pop/rock sound. Cole's vocals work well on some tracks and lack rock edge on others. At times, it's like listening to Justin Timberlake trying to sing rock—i.e., just a little too pinched and pretty. Walters' keyboard skills are fine, but the piano sound often seems second-rate. Most impressive are Combs' guitar skills—according to the credits, it's all him. Like their playing, the trio's songwriting is better than you would expect, but sometimes it sounds like they're trying to emulate instead of originate—the aforementioned "Sea of Angels," for example. Maybe the biggest fumble on Exodus is yet one more rendition of Tim Hughes' "Here I Am to Worship." They do it adequately, but it's nothing you haven't heard on dozens of other worship albums for the last couple years.

Exodus is by no means a revolutionary modern rock album, but it proves it's possible for a boy band to evolve into a rock band. After all, The Beatles pulled off a similar feat by evolving from pinup cover band to rock geniuses. Such lofty ambitions aside, Plus One told us this is something of a transition album, hastily recorded to demonstrate what they're capable of—a launching point for the years ahead. If that's the case, it's obvious Exodus marks the start of a promising new career.