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Christian Music - Reviews, News, Interviews


  • reviewed by Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2002 1 Nov
Sounds like … the extremely melodic, British-influenced rock bands such as Oasis, The Elms, and CadetAt a Glance … though Ian retains All Star United's original sound, fans of the band are bound to be disappointed with Revolution, which falls short in songwriting, sound quality, and overall length.

I was ecstatic when I learned earlier this year that All Star United was still alive and kicking, with plans to release their third studio album, Revolution. Here was one of the best bands from late '90s Christian music, back from the missing-in-action list. At the heart of the band is Ian Eskelin, who began his music career as an early member of Code of Ethics and who later released two modest solo efforts. Those albums painted Ian as a Christian version of Howard Jones and Erasure – melodic electronic pop – so it was a pleasant surprise when Ian re-emerged in 1997 as frontman for a guitar-based modern rock band. All Star United's self-titled debut remains one of my favorite albums of the '90s, balancing wit and humor that rivals Steve Taylor and Newsboys with vertically focused lyrics that express adoration to the Lord. The band was capable of rocking hard and loud while retaining strong pop sensibilities and impossibly catchy melodies. They were Christian music's answer to Oasis and Third Eye Blind, with more fun and purpose and a sound truly their own. All Star United went on to release 1998's International Anthems for the Human Race, which although less edgy than the debut, still proved to be an almost equally satisfying effort. Yet despite considerable success, the band completed their Essential Records contract with a silly two album retrospective and disappeared from the public eye … until now.

Actually, it's inaccurate to say "the band" is back. Ian has always been the core to All Star's sound, and he is really the only connecting thread between Revolution and the previous two albums. His absence in the Christian music scene over the last couple of years can be largely attributed to courtship and marriage, though he has also been busy working on new material. Joining the All Star United family for this recording are brothers Matt and Mike Payne from Rockford, Illinois (who play drums and guitar respectively) and Seattle native Jeremy Hunter (who serves as bassist and recording engineer on Revolution). Richard Evenlind, who also played guitar and co-wrote a number of the new tracks with Ian, co-produced the album with Ian. After recording Revolution independently, All Star United finally found a label home in UK-based Furious Records, founded by Delirious. Now that Furious has found Stateside distribution, and after a seemingly eternal four years, fans finally can relish in a new album from All Star United.

The question is, was it worth the wait? As a long-time fan, I can't help but be disappointed with this project, but not because All Star United has changed its style. In fact, Revolution bears more resemblance to the raw sounds of the first album than the polished follow-up. The problem is the quality of the final product. Four year of waiting, and all there is to show for it is a 10-track, 30-minute album – half of the songs are less than three minutes long, none of them run more than four. There are EPs of similar length on store shelves that are half the price of this album. Length wouldn't matter so much if Revolution ranked with the band's previous work. Unfortunately, the songs feel underdeveloped and the final mix is muddy. Instruments that usually add color and variety to the album such as piano and strings are almost completely buried in the overall sound. The album was mixed by Ian's longtime friend Mark Greegard, who mixed All Star United's first album as well as projects by Del Amitri, The Breeders, and Manic Street Preachers; his experience and credentials only make the poor sound all the more inexplicable.

It also should be noted that the band lineup I described earlier must be in reference to the touring band. The foursome only play together on the album's "Let It Rain (I'm Gonna Shine)," a peppy rocker that bears resemblance to the previous hit "Bright Red Carpet." As you might guess, it's a song about keeping the faith through the darkest times. Ian, drummer Matt, producer Richard, longtime friend Steve Hindalong (The Choir, City, on a Hill) and a number of other studio musicians perform the rest of the album. Not that it makes that much difference – you wouldn't be able to tell if you didn't read the production credits. "Kings and Queens" also sounds a lot like "Bright Red Carpet," metaphorically explaining that we are heirs to God's kingdom because of Christ: "I was the epitome / The jester of stupidity / Until you turned my life around." "Made in Heaven" is virtually a thematic and melodic remake of the last album's "If We Were Lovers," romantically expressing our eternal relationship with Jesus.

"Making It Beautiful" is a forgettable two-minute ballad that prayerfully asks God to change our hearts and be more like him. Then there's "Weirdo," which shows some of the old band's spark and silliness, but its message is certain to confuse most listeners. The verses express a number of popular urban legends, only to lead to a chorus that states, "I'm a weirdo for knowin' what I know / I'm a weirdo, whatever floats your boat / I'm a weirdo, I know I believe in You." I can only assume Ian is trying to liken faith in God to belief in other mysteries in life for the sake of non-believers, but the connection is poorly made. Better results are found in the title track, which has as infectious a melody as anything on the first album, though the lyrical content is little more than a wake-up call for the world to find Jesus. "Sweet Jesus," the album's first single, is a prayer of healing that's also vintage All Star United. It's good, but it's similar to past hits "Savior of My Universe" and "Thank You, Goodnight."

Revolution's faults lie mostly in the songwriting, which is surprising since Ian displayed so much wit and savvy on the previous two albums. One might try to attribute the difference in song quality to Ian's former co-writing partners, but the fact of the matter is that he is the primary songwriter for all the songs, co-writing credits or not. There's just no explaining why these songs aren't as good as All Star United's past work. The other problem the band faces is context, not just comparing Revolution to All Star United's past work but to the music industry today. Their 1997 debut was ahead of its time, but today we have similar projects from bands such as The Elms and Cadet. I know Ian Eskelin is capable of far better than this, so my hope is that the new All Star United will gel together as a band on the road, write better songs along the way, and eventually record a new album through Furious with a superior production quality. I can only recommend Revolution if you're looking for another melodic British-rock band, and if you don't expect this to live up to All Star United's past glory.