House of Praise
- reviewed by Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
- 2003 1 Sep
Carman is to Christian music sort of like Notre Dame is to college football—people seem to either love him or hate him. Though many revile his garish style, the best-selling evangelistic veteran from New Jersey clearly has a strong audience. Carman's greatest strength is also his greatest weakness. Some feel he is an extremely diverse artist able to emulate any style of music; others believe he lacks focus, attempting to imitate any style for the sake of evangelism—regardless of whether or not he's convincing. It's why I agree with those who compare Carman to Elvis—he's the rocker, pop star, gospel singer, lounge act, and campy film actor all rolled into one.
It's been five years since Carman's last all-new recording. In the meantime, he's released a worship album, a movie, and a hits anthology.
Carman and producer Joe Hogue (dc Talk, Gary Oliver) have attempted to make an "interactive" worship album that captures the energy of a live concert without the noisy distractions; an "audience" was recorded in the studio as backing vocal tracks. Improved recording technique or manufactured adulation? I'm not sure it's either. It sounds more like a group of enthusiastic backing vocalists serving as both choir and cheerleaders, similar to what you might hear on a jazz or gospel recording.
Carman's always been least persuasive when he tries hip-hop. Fortunately, he only tries it once here—on the funky urban-flavored titled track, which resembles Kirk Franklin's work as Carman offers small doses of worship leading against a gospel choir. He's much better at Latin songs, and
Carman first accepted Christ at an Andraé Crouch concert in the '70s, and that soulful pop/rock influence is evident on two songs. "Overcomin' Child of God," originally from Carman's early
Things are more predictable with the album's ballads, offering the hackneyed pop of a Branson or Las Vegas act. "My Pledge" is a dated sounding inspirational ballad of surrender, and "Always Will" offers an honest plea for God's comforting presence with an acoustic pop style similar to Keith Green's "Your Love Broke Through." These tracks are better than two hymn covers, "Just as I Am" and "I Have Decided," which both sound tailor-made for altar calls, featuring Carman praying while a gospel choir sings the familiar words.
The album's most banal track is easily "Red, White and Blue," a well-intentioned anthem of unity inspired by the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The patriotic fervor might have played well on 9/12, but it's a terribly clichéd orchestral pop song featuring sound clips of President Bush and trite sentiments: "Let nothing separate us, let nothing here divide/Let nothing come between, the bond we have inside/Let the black and white unite, with the yellow and the brown/Together we will stand and fight, until the enemy comes down." Sorry, Carman, but we can't all be Lee Greenwood.
Half of this album features some of Carman's best work in a long time, and some of the best new worship songs all year; the other half includes some of the year's worst Christian pop. The positives generally outweigh the negatives, offering plenty for Carman's fans to enjoy, and I think most people would be surprised to hear how palatable some of these songs are. To buy or not to buy? You know who you are.