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Sounds like … melodic power rock that shares the traits of Foo Fighters, Jimmy Eat World, Weezer, Switchfoot, U2, and PFRAt a glance … Fight the Tide is not so much a profound artistic statement as it is an enjoyable rock album that is meaningful, catchy, and loud, performed with musical excellenceTrack ListingEverything About YouThe Fight SongAloneThings Like You (Everyone's Everything)CloserChange MeThe ShowMessageDeedsYou Can't HideWhere Will They GoSay Goodbye
Toledo, Ohio's Sanctus Real emerged on the national Christian music scene in early 2003 with Say It Loud, quickly earning widespread acclaim while building considerably on their already strong fan base. Touring relentlessly as far back as their independent days, 2004 promises to be equally busy between the summer music festivals and a high-profile tour with Jeremy Camp.
You'd think such a busy slate would slow down the recording process for Sanctus Real, but that's not the case. The band spent the first couple of months of 2004 quickly writing and recording new material, so one might think Fight the Tide would sound hackneyed or rushed—but it manages to avoid the dreaded sophomore slump. Like the themes at the heart of its songs, the album battles against any complacency or negativity with feel-good charm, offering infectious power pop of the same breed as Foo Fighters, Jimmy Eat World, and Weezer, with splashes of the anthemic (U2, Live) and the Beatle-esque (PFR).
Not to say that Fight the Tide is a brilliant artistic statement. In many ways, Sanctus Real comes across as a less intellectual version of Switchfoot—musically and lyrically. This is a band that likes to convey their faith simply and clearly without using tired spiritual rhetoric. "Things Like You" is inspired by Matthew 6, addressing the material things that distract us from God: "Everyone wants everyone else's everything/Sometimes the more we have the less we really gain/And I'm tired of loving all that money has to buy/Get you out of my heart out of my mind, leaving you behind." James 2 is the source for "Deeds," exploring the relationship between faith and works. "Closer" is a prayer to remain in a daily love relationship with God, and "Message" is a remake of one of their older songs about not being ashamed of the Christian faith.
Interpersonal relationships also play a prominent theme on the album. "Alone" is a simple love song, expressing longing during time away from a significant other, though much of it can also work as a spiritual love song. "The Fight Song" uses heavy power pop to remind us to choose our words carefully and reconcile broken relationships. "Change Me" prayerfully asks the Lord for more humility, patience, and gentleness in fostering these relationships.
All well and good, but Sanctus Real's greatest strength lies with their power rock sound, balancing the loudness with melodic pop sensibilities. Chris Rohman further reveals himself to be a diverse and promising guitarist, alternating between layered walls of sound, noisy experimentation, simple rhythmic chords, and the occasional classic rock guitar solo. Matt Hammitt, meanwhile, is an exceptional rock vocalist. He sings the melodies beautifully with his raspy tenor, then taking it into a metal-inspired stratosphere just short of a scream—listen to the choruses of "The Fight Song" and "Alone" and tell me those high notes aren't impressive. It's that much more amazing how he clearly rises above the powerful and steady rhythm section of bassist Steve Goodrum and drummer Mark Graalman.
The bombast only grows with producer Tedd T., who hasn't worked a rock album in years despite taking artists like Delirious and Rebecca St. James to new rock heights. Fight the Tide's sound is explosive and infectious, highlighted by "You Can't Hide" (a 12/8-time rocker about God's omnipresence) and the radio-worthy "The Show" (an incredible rock reggae groove about the manifestations of The Holy Spirit).
If there's a flaw here, it's that Fight the Tide rocks a little too much without allowing much room for variation. The initial temptation is to peg the whole album as simple driving rock, such as the catchy-but-routine first single "Everything About You." The album is actually more nuanced than that, despite a consistently powerhouse decibel level. Both "Things Like You" and "Where Will They Go" remain surprisingly loud despite their softer pop base and sweet acoustic guitar riffs. The beautiful closer "Say Goodbye," written in memory of Rohman's great-grandmother, is the softest track on the album, but despite its sparseness; it remains the closest thing to a ballad, yet it's not much slower than the other tracks.
Sanctus Real will improve over time by adding eclecticism and headier themes. For now, they remain a strong rock band that has focused on their strengths, thus offering more of the same while trying some new directions. Fans can't ask for much more than that.