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Sounds like … the adult contemporary pop sound of Savage Garden, The Corrs, Point of Grace and 4Him, plus some of the soft-rock edge of Kelly Clarkson and Michelle BranchAt a glance … Avalon's typically glossy pop gets a catchy rock makeover, but that's not enough to disguise the manufactured style or mediocre songs. Track Listing The Other Side Love Won't Leave You Orphans of God Somehow You Are Slowly We Will Stand Jesus I Survive When the Time Comes Where Joy and Sorrow Meet
Since its 1996 debut, Avalon has seen a number of lineup changes, bidding farewell to three other singers while singing pop songs written by other people. Based on their success, the fans don't mind, accounting for over 3 million albums sold and 20 No. 1 radio singles. Like The Jackson 5 and Point of Grace, Avalon is best at delivering highly produced pop, a trend they continue for Stand, their seventh proper studio album.
Though the group—currently comprised of Janna and Greg Long, Jody McBrayer, and Melissa Greene—has experimented with everything from dance, worship, teen pop, and Euro pop, Stand shifts Avalon to a decidedly more aggressive brand of pop/rock, the kind popularized by Kelly Clarkson, Ashlee Simpson, and Lindsay Lohan these days. It's a shift that means dismissing heavy programming in favor of live instrumentation, even during the album's liveliest moments ("Love Won't Leave You," "The Other Side"). As a result, the music packs a heavier punch, almost sounding too aggressive by Avalon standards. But at its core, it's still very much pop—glossy, clean, clinical, and harmless.
Lyrically is where Stand doesn't rise to the task. You can tell there's a lack of creativity when the album title is derived from a hit from the '80s—the classic Russ Taff anthem "We Will Stand," which Avalon covers here. They do a decent job of it, but both that and the hymn-like "Where Joy and Sorrow Meet" contain the strongest lyrics on the album. Nearly everything else could be classified as obvious generalities and platitudes about the Christian walk. A children's song like "Jesus Loves Me" offers more poignancy and depth than this simplistic line from "Jesus"—"Jesus, Holy One who took my sin/Who shed His blood and rose again/I love You." In "Love Won't Leave You," we learn that "Love is always true/God is love and love won't leave you." Or how about the self-empowering "I Survive," which sounds like a Successories calendar—"I survive/Life keeps comin' at me/Doesn't break me/I'm never going down/Anytime."
That's not to say there aren't any meaningful tracks. Amidst the predictably dramatic balladry and the lightheaded pop revelry, "Somehow You Are" is an absolute guilty pleasure—not a particularly profound track, but with a melody and ear-candy factor so strong it can be irresistible. Equally enjoyable is "When the Time Comes," a downtempo power ballad fronted by Janna Long that's also her strongest since "I Don't Want to Go." Last up is the aforementioned "Where Joy and Sorrow Meet," a stunning modern hymn that looks at both the despondency and the glory of the Cross, perhaps a potential Easter selection.
But that's it for depth. What's frustrating is that Avalon did once have something meaningful to say, especially during the years that they channeled the work of great Christian pop writers like Grant Cunningham, Matt Huesmann, Stephanie Lewis, and Ty Lacy. Avalon has never been known to write original tunes, but at least the foursome knew how to pick meaningful songs. By contrast, Stand's sparse running length of 40 minutes offers nothing that displays the intellect of "In Not Of," the brokenness of "Adonai," the biblical depth of "Always Have, Always Will," or the potency of "The Glory," all beloved hits for the group.
Instead, we're left with more filler than substance. It's a bit surprising that Avalon is still making music, considering the changes in lineup and the responses to their last two albums. Is it possible that Christian music listeners are growing weary of manufactured pop, or will groups like Avalon always have a loyal following? Stand is positioned for Avalon's enduring fans, but only time will tell if it's built to last, able to truly connect with them like past efforts.