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Smell the Color 9

  • reviewed by Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2000 1 Jan
Smell the Color 9

It's great to see some of Christian music's most promising artists exhibit significant artistic growth with their latest releases: first Switchfoot, then Caedmon's Call, and now Chris Rice. Make no mistake, change is definitely a good thing in the music business. However, artists don't want to evolve too quickly and alienate their loyal fans. Like Caedmon's Call, Chris Rice keeps folk music at the core of his sound but stretches it a little further to make his latest project more than just a sequel to Deep Enough to Dream and Past the Edges — the result is Smell the Color 9.

I think Rocketown summed up the feel of the new album nicely with one word: whimsical. This is a very fun and smart album, in the same way a lot of the late Rich Mullins's music was, matched with the gentleness of Fernando Ortega's music. This feel is very evident on just the first track, "Questions For Heaven," a cute song about all the little things we can ask God about someday in heaven. It's a clever little tune set to circus music and featuring lots of little references to Chris' past songs in the lyrics.

Likewise, most of the other tracks aren't your usual Chris Rice folk songs. "The Face of Christ" is a nice shuffle-rock song based on the passage in Matthew 25 about "stooping down low" and serving others. Chris reminds us of the simplicity of faith in "Sailing With Russell," another fun song with a strong Bobby McFerrin influence on it.

There are also two particularly beautiful ballads: "Belong," about discovering that our true place in this universe is with God, and "Home Tonight," which takes the prodigal son's point of view, remembering how good things were at home with his father. The album's cover art (a man on a unicycle balancing on a high-wire) comes from the song "Life Means So Much," which deals with making the most of the time we're given every day through God's generosity — that balancing act in Chris' case is between being a Christian artist and a youth leader.

But my favorite song on this album is without a doubt the title track — a wonderful way to make the point that God's presence is sometimes strongest when we don't have the physical evidence, when we must rely on faith to sense him. We don't always feel the presence or hear the calling. Sometimes seeing God is like trying to smell the color 9, even though "nine's not a color, and even if it were you can't smell a color / That's my point exactly . …"

Brilliant stuff. We need more Christian artists like Chris Rice who look for new ways (new parables, if you will) to share biblical truths, rather than relying on the tired and recycled lyrics used by other Christian artists. Smell the Color 9 features more of the smart and fun songwriting that's made him such an endearing songwriter over the last three years. Chris may not be touring in support of this album (he's taking time to focus on his youth ministry), but I don't think that'll affect its appeal or success. Simple word-of-mouth and radioplay should be enough to confirm that Chris Rice is an accomplished, sometimes brilliant songwriter with yet another great collection of songs that speaks volumes to young and old.