Sounds like … what you get when you cross Nouveaux (or Jars of Clay) with Richard Marx or John Elefante. Also recommended to fans of Michael W. Smith, Steven Curtis Chapman, Vertical Horizon, and Matchbox TwentyAt a Glance … though it's not quite as good as Nouveaux, this is a no-brainer for fans of that band, as well as those who like Christian pop/rock with extremely catchy melodies and thoughtful lyrics.
Though I’ve been eagerly anticipating this album for the past three years, you may be asking, "Who’s Paul Alan?" Well, in 1996 a band called Nouveaux released the album And This Is How I Feel. After discovering it, I couldn't get it out of my CD player. The band's 1994 debut, Beginnings, was a rather forgettable project that seemed to relish in how much the band sounded like a cross between Def Leppard and Richard Marx (about eight years too late). Then the Elefante brothers produced the follow-up, and transformed Nouveaux into an acoustic rock band &emdash; Jars of Clay meets Kansas and Toto (two band names that should never be used side by side). The vocal harmonies were good on their first album, but the vocals shimmered on the follow-up once they dropped the pop-metal façade. And This Is How I Feel generated a slew of radio singles, including the #1 hits "If Only" and "Through Heaven's Fields," as well as a healthy number of sales. Then the band broke up, to the chagrin of fans everywhere.
Paul Alan was Nouveaux's lead singer and primary songwriter, so it's no surprise that much of the band's legacy remains intact on Paul's solo debut, Falling Awake. At times, the album recalls the same music as Nouveaux's last album, but this time there’s a bit more of an electric-guitar-driven adult contemporary/pop feel. Paul nailed the late-80s pop/rock sound that artists such as Richard Marx and John Elefante are known for &emdash; in fact, this sounds more like a John Elefante solo album than the Nouveaux album (which was produced by John and his brother). Producer Brian Hardin must have a similar ear to John Elefante &emdash; he also went with a semi-retro sound on Vicki Yohe's recent release. Not that Falling Awake sounds all that dated, since it also recalls the pop sensibilities of Michael W. Smith and Steven Curtis Chapman, as well as the guitar pop/rock sound of bands such as Vertical Horizon and Matchbox Twenty. It's a familiar sound that would have been improved by more instrumental solos and a more varied collection of instruments. It’s too bad this doesn’t have the guitar work from Nouveaux’s releases, but it’s nevertheless an ear-catching album.
Despite some small slips in musicianship, Paul’s lead vocals and catchy songwriting are still up to par. Though his voice can be a little whiny at times, he’s generally one of the better lead vocalists in Christian music. His voice has an impressive tenor range and it’s clear as a bell, rising above the instrumental mix nicely. As for the melodic songwriting, one need look no further than the first single, "She's the Reason," which is perhaps one of the catchiest and most radio friendly songs I've heard in a long while. The song reminds us that fame and fortune don’t matter since we are loved by Jesus and are the reason He came to this earth — you'll find yourself remembering the chorus long after you turn off the stereo.
Falling Awake features many other memorable songs, such as "The Road Will Lead to You," which, like the Nouveaux song "Maybe Tomorrow," is about waiting for the special someone God has planned for each of us . The equally up-tempo "The One Thing" addresses our common search and need for fulfillment as people and as creations of God. "No Ocean Deep Enough" deals with the familiar message of God’s unending faithfulness, as is "Carry Me," with its grassroots pop sound reminiscent of Steven Curtis Chapman. The acoustic "Big Day Tomorrow" is a tender and loving tribute to Paul’s mother, who raised him and his sister single-handedly. Though it's a tad hokey, "Have a Little Hope" is nevertheless touching in its illustration of sharing the Gospel over a cup of coffee at a café. There's also the very Nouveaux-sounding "Sarah," a personal song for a friend who’s grieving over her mother's death. These two songs are good examples of Paul's desire to communicate the Christian message to people with words they can understand. Much of the subject matter on this album is familiar, but expressed in a way that’s different than many other Christian artists. I respect that Paul recognizes that Christian-ese doesn't always reach the people who need to hear Christian truths most.
Despite the album's strengths, Falling Awake suffers from one of the problems Nouveaux had — many of the songs sound a little too similar to each other. In this case, the problem is a little more pronounced, with a good four or five of the songs sharing the same tempo and instrumental sound. It would have helped if Paul and Brian had varied the sound from song to song a bit more, but then again (like Nouveaux) the songs are catchy enough that most people won't care. Overall, I liked the songs with Nouveaux better because the musicianship was stronger and the songs were a little more memorable, which may suggest that Paul needs another songwriter to temper his writing skills or the right producer to shape the album more. Nevertheless, I think most fans of Nouveaux are going to be pleased with Falling Awake, as will fans of good melodic pop/rock. Paul Alan is clearly a gifted pop songwriter blessed with strong voice, and though his music isn’t always distinctive, it’s still irresistible to listen to.