Sounds like … vertically focused post-grunge pop that combines elements of Creed, Matchbox Twenty, Third Day, and LifehouseAt a Glance … the music is rather derivative and the album doesn't vary enough, but Stay is still a catchy, rocking, and inspiring debut from Jeremy Camp.
Were you moved by the story behind Jars of Clay's hit song "Fly?" Or did you shed a few tears at the end of Nicholas Sparks' A Walk to Remember (yes, the book that became the Mandy Moore movie)? Jeremy Camp can relate – he's lived the same stories. A number of years ago, the 24-year-old Lafayette, Indiana native left home for Bible college in Southern California. Jeremy learned the guitar at an early age from his father, so in addition to being a student, he also became a popular worship leader both on campus and throughout the area. It was during one such worship concert that he first met Melissa, who caught his attention because she "obviously loved Jesus so much." The two met and dated for four months before Melissa suggested they break-up, saying she needed to spend more time with the Lord, and that "He was preparing her for something." The heart-broken Jeremy continued to develop his music ministry, traveling across the country and overseas. It's worth mentioning here that Jeremy's musical influences include Matchbox Twenty and Creed, and both are strongly evident in the sound of his music.
One fateful day, Jeremy was summoned to the hospital to see Melissa, who had just been diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Despite the ominous diagnosis, Melissa remained positive, trusting God and confident he could use her illness as a testimony to bring others to Christ. In the days that followed, Melissa confirmed her love for Jeremy and the two married within a matter of months, despite the difficult road ahead of them and the possibility that Melissa could die from her condition. While Melissa seemed to be on the road to healing after chemotherapy, the couple's happiness was short-lived. During their honeymoon, Melissa exhibited symptoms of the cancer's return. She passed away a few months later. During their time together, Jeremy remained devoted to his loving wife. Though the road has been difficult, God taught him a lot about faith and obedience. The experience obviously has made a significant impact on Jeremy's songs, which may well be fulfilling Melissa's wish for her death to impact others for Christ.
Understanding Jeremy and Melissa's sad and inspiring story is an important part in appreciating Jeremy's debut recording, Stay. However, it's only an enhancement to the listening experience and not essential to appreciating it. These are somewhat worshipful songs of faith and perseverance that are certainly a tribute to Melissa's unwavering faith, but you wouldn't know they were about the couple's story if I didn't share it, or if you didn't read it in CCM Magazine or in the CD booklet. Nevertheless, a few songs are especially personal. "Walk by Faith" was written during the Camps' honeymoon and has been a comforting source of faith for Jeremy ever since: "I will walk by faith even when I cannot see / Well, because this broken road prepares your will for me." Then there's "I Still Believe," the first song Jeremy wrote after Melissa's passing, and also a source of faith and comfort, though it deals a little more with pressing on despite the pain and grief. It doesn't help that these songs sound similar lyrically and musically, sharing the same ¾-time pop ballad sound that recalls tunes such as Michael W. Smith's "This Is Your Time" and Daily Planet's "Six String Rocketeer," among others.
That gets to the only significant problem with Stay. Though it's well performed and inspiring, it's nothing new — at least not to mainstream music. Many of the songs sound similar to each other, and they all generally say the same thing. God understands all our pains and frustrations in "Understand." We're reminded to walk the road set before us "One Day at a Time," despite the trials: "I've been burnt out, broken, torn out, torn down, in ways I never knew I would / But I can feel your fullness in my life." Like the classic "In the Light," the title track reminds us to spend time daily with God in order to remain accountable to him: "How easily you sway, but easily he takes all those heartfelt cries / And broken pride and walks along this hill not far away." I could cite other examples, but they feel like variations on a theme: expressions of unwavering faith despite any hardship.
Nevertheless, Stay remains an inspiring and catchy album. Jeremy's Scott Stapp-like vocals will lure Creed fans longing for more spiritual substance to the rocking modern-pop sound. He's backed by a strong band, especially the solid drumming of Adam Watts. "All the Time" in particular shows off the musicians' considerable skills. Songs such as "Take My Life" and "One Day at a Time" are heavy into the post-grunge rock sound, while others such as "Breaking My Fall" and "In Your Presence" suggest more of a Third Day or Hootie & the Blowfish sound. The Matchbox Twenty modern-rock sound is what ties it all together, and you can almost imagine Rob Thomas and his band singing the slow roots-rock shuffle of "Right Here."
When you think about it, Jeremy's a prime example of an artist hitting the Christian scene two or three years after the genre hit its zenith, and five years after it was first introduced (in this case, when Creed and Matchbox Twenty first appeared on the music scene in 1997). Meanwhile, the band Lifehouse already has shown signs of moving away from the post-grunge formula, which has over-saturated the radio waves. Jeremy also will need to gradually change his sound if he intends to stay in the music business for more than two albums. He's certainly capable of it, if this debut is any indicator. Don't go into Stay expecting a new musical sound or deep and poetic lyrics. Instead, appreciate it as a strong musical expression of faith in the face of sorrow and brokeness. While Creed and Lifehouse's music is focused on the emotions of those coming to and struggling with faith, Jeremy Camp's music points directly to the cross. Thousands of Christians have been waiting for a solid grunge pop/rock project from a Christian with inspiring and transparent lyrics. If you're among them, this is your album.