Invitation to Eavesdrop
- reviewed by Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
- 2001 1 Jan
Listening to the debut album from Shaun Groves, I can't help but make comparisons to other Christian artists in the industry. Like Mark Schultz, Shaun is an up-and-coming songwriter in his late 20s who writes songs based on his own experiences, mostly with his church's youth group. Though he's no relation whatsoever to new INO artist Sara Groves (a popular inside joke in the music industry), the title of his album is similar to her recent Conversations album. Invitation to Eavesdrop alludes to the private talks we share with others, including God. Musically, Shaun reminds me of a host of other Christian pop artists, ranging from Steven Curtis Chapman and Wes King to FFH and (more recently) Ben Glover. This all begs the question … just how original-sounding is Shaun Groves?
At times, Shaun Groves does offer a sound that's all his own. His guitar-based pop/rock sound is rather diverse, ranging from light adult contemporary to occasionally heavy rock. But Shaun's greatest strength is his lyrical content, with which he often displays a knack for taking the familiar and transforming it into something more fresh and poetic. "Should I Tell Them" describes the sense of insecurity we feel as Christians trying to spread the Good News to those who will listen—the fear that we will somehow mess it up because of our imperfections, even though those very failings make us the best ministers to others. "Damage Done" is another gem that deals with broken relationships and the chance we have to repair them through forgiveness. It can be interpreted as both an earthly relationship and our relationship with our heavenly Father.
The song "Two Cents" was based on a conversation with a youth in Shaun's congregation going through an incredible mess of problems. It's not often that a Christian song comes out and says that the Christian life isn't all sunshine and lollipops, but it's extremely rare for such a song to keep from sugar-coating the answers or to even acknowledge that there are no easy answers, other than asking for God's help. I'm thankful for Shaun's honesty. And then there's "Welcome Home," the radio single that seems to be making a lyrical impact on listeners everywhere with its simple and clever invitation for God to make himself at home in our rundown shack of a heart. The song is a perfect example of Shaun's gift for taking a simple Christian belief and expressing it with thoughtful imagery.
If only all of Invitation to Eavesdrop were as good as these songs. But, unfortunately, Shaun's songwriting doesn't consistently hold up through the album. Much of the album's second half features more simplistic and lyrically obvious songs. Not that a simple song can't be effective, as Shaun proves on the worshipful "Your Renown" as well as "Last Notes," a tribute to his late grandmother. Some of the other songs, however, just don't offer enough to satisfy those looking for more depth. For example, the rocking "Satellite" features the same astronomical metaphor of our relationship to God that has been used many times before in the songs of other Christian artists (not to mention the use of the same metaphor by non-Christians to describe other relationships). There's also "Abba Father," which was clearly written to be a simplistic worship song focusing on the paternal relationship we share with God. The song doesn't have much to say beyond "Abba Father, I love you Daddy". It would have helped if the "Daddy" metaphor was truly original, but it's been used many times by other artists (most recently Jennifer Knapp). If only Shaun had applied more aspects of the paternal relationship to make some memorable verses.
As for the sound of Invitation to Eavesdrop, it's certainly a well-made and performed album … and it should be considering the talent involved. Monroe Jones, the album's producer, is one of my favorite record producers today, coming up with a creative pop/rock edge for every recording he's produced in the last two years. Shaun seems equally capable of sharp creativity as a student of music, a songwriter familiar with many styles and genres, and a multi-instrumentalist who can sing and play guitar, piano, saxophone, accordion, harmonica, clarinet, flute, lute, sacbut (Medieval horn), and African thumb piano (phew!). It therefore stuns me that such a creative duo can come up with something that's so … routine. The album never strays from familiar Christian pop/rock territory, performed by so many other Christian artists. Why not capitalize on the talent involved to distinguish Shaun's sound more, rather than rehash FFH and Wes King? The album would have benefited from some saxophone and sacbut solos.
It's hardly a condemnation to compare Shaun's sound to such acclaimed artists. Indeed, many will read that as confirmation of Shaun's place in the Christian songwriting community. I've talked to some and read the opinions of others who have already crowned this one of the best albums they've heard in a long time—so perhaps I'm just being too picky when I say this album sounds too routine. Invitation to Eavesdrop is the sort of album I wish was the industry standard for an average Christian pop album. By average I mean a well-done but imperfect pop/rock album that's in equal parts a brilliant album and a little unoriginal or clichéd. The reality, however, is that your average Christian pop album isn't this good in terms of production or songwriting. So if you're grading on a curve, this album is above average, and many people are likely to consider it one of the better albums of 2001. Assuming you like the Christian guitar pop/rock sound, Invitation to Eavesdrop is going to please you to at least some degree. There is one thing that everyone can probably agree on—Shaun Groves will likely prove to be a burgeoning talent worth keeping your eyes and ears on.