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Sounds like … Christian music's primary alternative to the Backsteet Boys, N'Sync, and O-TownAt a Glance … a slightly more developed and intelligent Plus One offers a sophomore album filled with sugary-sweet pop grooves and juicy dance jams.
Why do they call them boy bands when they don't play instruments, and why are they still so popular these days? Well, I can't answer the first question for the life of me, but all I need to do is turn to Plus One's sophomore effort, Obvious, for the answer to the second. After listening to it time and time again, it's, well, obvious that smooth harmonies, tight dance beats, melt-in-your-mouth pop songs, and even good looks are the reasons the genre has lasted this long.
These boys have been on their way to manhood since 2000, the year their debut, The Promise, released to gold-selling status thanks to hit singles such as "Written on my Heart," "Last Flight Out," and the title cut. Following the public's embrace of the album, the five guys hit the road with Jaci Velasquez for an extensive tour, which was followed the next year with a headlining tour. Such travels have fine-tuned the group's vocal abilities as well as their friendships and faith. On their sophomore album, Plus One had a lot more control and creative output, co-writing 10 of the 12 songs and varying their pop sensibilities throughout the 43-minute disc.
As with The Promise's enthusiastic opener, "Written on my Heart," Obvious begins with a vibrant dance blast called "Camouflage." Forceful studio-generated beats meet head-on with fire-filled guitars and keyboard-driven sound effects to create an infectious groove destined to get even the shyest listeners on their feet. Chances are they'll continue standing for "Use Me," a funky rap-inspired tune crossing the beats of Craig David with the vocals of O-Town. Clearly Obvious' first two songs are much more attention-grabbing than those found on The Promise, where the energy level plummeted after "Written on My Heart," thanks to the slower ballad "God Is in This Place."
The third song on Obvious, "Let Me Be the One," may be on the slower side, but the transition from "Use Me" is fluid. As the flavor fades out of "Use Me," listeners' ears are able to adapt to the jazzy balladry of "Let Me Be the One." The group harmonizes during the easy-to-memorize chorus, "Let me be the one / Leading you through the night / Sharing the smiles and tears you cry / "Let me be the one / Lovin' you when you're weak / For all the strength you need / You can come to me." Those lyrics are the earliest example of the group's ability to feature songs influenced by faith without being overly spiritual, thus avoiding the risk of turning off nonChristian listeners. Instead, the words boldly speak to those who share Plus One's views, and are a much safer choice than the often sexually-driven lyrics of mainstream boy bands.
Other examples of that approach come during the richly melodic "You" and "Forever," the album's most catchy and radio-friendly cut. "Forever" blends the acoustic stylings of BB Mak's soothing hit "Back Here" while hinting at the urgency of O-Town's "All or Nothing At All." The quintet sings, "You have faith when I'm faithless / Strength when I don't / You believe in me when I won't / You are patient, you are true / Your love is what gets me through." Again, the words are neutral, allowing room for interpretation from a Christian or non-believer's point of view in the context of either a spiritual or earthly relationship.
Despite the emotional and stylistic highs, Obvious isn't loaded just with winners. "All of the Above" follows the perfect cookie-cutter formula when it comes to churning out a boy-band hit. And "Under the Influence" is the antithesis to the catchier robust pop tunes throughout the rest of the album. The flat dance beats sound uninteresting as the chug of a drum machine and acoustic guitar create a monotonous sound.
But Plus One has enough of the right formula this time out to lead the pack of Christian teen pop acts, while also proving they're in the running for major mainstream attention. Parents can rest knowing the messages sung by Plus One are wholesome and not contrary to their Christian faith. The lyrics also allow fans to reach out to friends who may not share their beliefs. For the most part, you don't have to be a teen to "get" what this disc is about, thanks to the vocal and instrumental maturity on Obvious. Then again, it's best suited for the younger set, who will no doubt be influenced positively by these five young role models.