Sounds like … highly produced '80s pop, sometimes reminiscent of artists such as Erasure, Don Henley, Michael Bolton, and David Bowie, but mostly just typical late '80s Christian pop.At a Glance … the highlights of There I Go Again are lost among a series of Christian '80s pop clichés.
If VH1 ever decided to extend the scope of their program "Where Are They Now?" to include Christian artists, David Meece would be an ideal subject for the show. To be sure, David was one of the biggest Christian artists during the '70s and '80s. Regarded as something of a child prodigy, David wrote the Christmas song "One Small Child" at the age of 14, a small but nonetheless classic hit that's still performed today (see Rebecca St. James' Christmas). He went on to become a classically trained pianist, a respected composer, and a significant pop artist—more of a "Christian Barry Manilow" than Michael W. Smith ever was. His energetic pop sustained his career through the '80s on Myrrh records. The '90s, however, were far more spotty for David, who released only two albums during that decade. He spent most of his time following what he believed to be God's calling—to step away from the music industry and spend more time with his family and with the Lord. Now 7 years since his last album, David returns to his music career via Aluminum Records with the release of his 13th album in a 25-year career, There I Go Again.
Things start off promisingly with the powerful pop of "No Other Hope." This is contemporary pop/rock at its finest, recalling David's classic sound or perhaps '80s icons such as Howard Jones and Whiteheart in their glory days. Pointing to Christ as the only way to salvation, the catchy verses segue into a thunderous chorus that infuses the song with a lot of power. It may have been awhile since we've heard from David, but he demands your attention with this strong opener. This is followed by "Dancing with the Enemy," a danceable Euro-pop track with a strong '80s vibe. A little reminiscent of Michael W. Smith's "Love Me Good," it's got a lot of Nik Kershaw, David Bowie, and especially Don Henley to it. The Don Henley comparison is the best fit because it sounds like something off of his Grammy Award-winning Building the Perfect Beast album, and David likewise takes aim at everything wrong with our fallen society: "Corporate executives slug it out / debating which pig has a bigger snout / using words like power, prestige, and clout dancing with the enemy." Then there's "I Just Want to Be With You," a smooth, R&B-flavored pop ballad similar to Charlie Peacock's late '80s hit "Almost Threw It All Away," in which David expresses a simple longing to be with Jesus, our true source of comfort: "Only you can turn this night to day / Only you can love this hurt away / Only you can put together what's undone / You and no other."
Are you noticing a pattern yet? There's definitely a retro mid-to-late '80s pop sound to this album. This could be enjoyable if David and producer Brian Hardin somehow made it sound a little more timeless or gave the '80s sound a fresh twist. Sadly, it sounds like a Christian pop album circa 1989 that utilizes modern recording technology. "I'll Be Waiting for You" is vintage David Meece, complete with drum programming, choral keyboard pad sounds, and DX7 synthesizer bells. The same sounds are characteristic of the slick ballads "Things You Never Gave Me" and "Help Me Stand," which both play like old 4Him or Michael Bolton songs. "Raise These Arms" could be mistaken for a song by Go West or Erasure with its cheesy electronic pop sound. Even worse is "Run," a fast and overly dramatic '80s disco/dance track reminiscent of Jim Steinman (Meatloaf, Bonnie Tyler) at his worst; this is the kind of music European countries make to imitate the United States. The press materials say the music on There I Go Again was created to sound like today's hit radio. That's true if you're listening to your local station's "'80s at Eight."
There I Go Again is not completely stuck in the past or bogged down in schmaltz. It may be a cheesy ballad, but "Things You Never Gave Me" is also a smart song of thankfulness. Recognizing God's will is sovereign, David notes that some of the best answers to prayer are the things God refuses us for our own good. The title track has a much more timeless (though still generic) guitar pop/rock sound and seems to draw upon Romans 7 to reflect upon the ease with which we return to our sinful nature: "I keep rejecting the truth, refusing reproof / repaying the dues of my reckless youth / while you guide yours to prove all the promises true / to the ones who need you as much as I need you."
There I Go Again concludes with the beautiful piano ballad "By the Waters," which ranks among Michael W. Smith's prettiest works. It occurred to me while listening to this track that David probably should have stuck to a more mature and timeless piano pop sound. He would have avoided sounding out of touch with the music scene while treating listeners to his considerable piano skills. As it stands, There I Go Again offers little evidence of David's classical training. He at least remains in good voice and offers some occasionally strong lyrics. I also believe producer Brian Hardin should be praised for so faithfully recreating the classic pop sounds of the '80s; he has a good sense of pop/rock hooks, especially on "No Other Hope." If only he and David hadn't gone overboard with the retro production, sounding as if they're stuck in the past or else hoping big glossy keyboard pop will become big again; then we truly could herald the triumphant return of a classic Christian artist.