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Sounds like … familiar Christian pop/rock adult contemporary,
resembling Mark Schultz, Chris Rice, and Nichole NordemanAt a Glance … though the production is pretty bland and generic,
Shaun's strong songwriting shines through most of Twilight
It's been a great couple of years since Shaun Groves's 2001 debut, Invitation to Eavesdrop. The album earned him widespread critical acclaim, a number of hit singles (including the hugely popular "Welcome Home"), and garnered five Dove nominations in 2002. Still, some considered the album only "average" and believed that, like any artist, there was room for growth. With the success of a debut comes the fear of a sophomore slump and the
eagerness to improve upon the shortcomings of the initial effort.
Perhaps many of you have read Shaun's monthly journal of "The
Process" of recording an album on our site and the challenges he
wrestled with along the way. This is a guy who's very sensitive
about his work and wants to improve.
Well, those challenges are now past. Twilight is here, and to be completely up front, I will say that Shaun has unquestionably grown as a songwriter. These new songs are generally more open, honest, thoughtful, and bold than the bulk of Invitation to Eavesdrop. Look no further than the title track for proof, a wonderful ballad that compares the struggle between sin and holiness with the in-between time of night and day. Shaun rightly
notes that it is not easy to cram theology into a three-minute
pop song. Nevertheless, he succeeds wonderfully with the
illustration presented in "Twilight," as well as the simply
titled "Jesus." Sparse and slow in arrangement, yet sophisticated
and artful in songwriting, it challenges us to love and serve
Jesus by loving and serving "the least of these": "Jesus brings a
meal for tips/Jesus trying hard to quit/Jesus raising two
alone/Jesus drives a heavy load."
Shaun brings many other great ideas to the table throughout Twilight. With "One of Those Days," he observes it is easier for some to be callous or indifferent than to be joyful, and yet we have so much more reason to be cheerful and content. A catchy
guitar riff accompanied by accordion and banjo underlie "Need You
More," which explains that the growing needs in life ultimately
point to a primary need and dependence for God. Shaun offers nice
contrast in the writing of the verse, chorus, and bridge of the
piano-driven "Blank Page," a smart prayer to clear out the junk
of life and focus on what God wants us to be. "To Be Honest"
calls for Christians to re-examine their lives and be more
vulnerable with their weaknesses, since that's when God's
strength becomes most apparent. Even "Without You," a simple love
song to Shaun's wife about the loneliness of the touring circuit,
overcomes cliché with truthful and effective sentiment.
Melodies, lyrics, and ideas are clearly Shaun's strength. If only the arrangements and overall musical vision were as inspired. Re-teaming with Monroe Jones (Third Day, Chris Rice),
Twilight is a more organic album than Shaun's first, favoring a live band sound over programmed loops and special effects. Still, Monroe manages to overproduce in a few songs, favoring a manufactured wall-of-sound approach to Christian pop/rock rather than encouraging brilliant and varied musicianship. It's not that Twilight isn't competently played, but the "who's who" roster of studio musicians doesn't offer anything distinctive either. The bland sound is a sharp contrast to the dazzling production by Monroe on Steven Delopoulos's solo debut.
Consequently, we get a song like "I Love You," intended to be the album's big rocker, but ultimately a stagnant bore because the band and the arrangement don't rise above anything an average high school garage band is capable of. The same could be said of the lead single, "See You," a likable rock song with poetic
imagery that is ultimately unremarkable, and it doesn't help that
there are already an abundance of songs about God exemplified
through nature. "To Be Honest" is plodding where it could
potentially be sophisticated or jazzy, and even "Twilight" is
slightly less mesmerizing because of its monotonous and distracting stick percussion, reminiscent of a metronome and propelling the song forward when it sounds just fine with piano and string accompaniment. The album sounds too tailor made for Christian AC radio.
In one of Shaun's journal entries on the recording process, he expressed a fear of sounding too much like other artists. While it's admirable to avoid comparisons to Matchbox Twenty or Dave
Matthews, it only hints at the one consistent drawback of Shaun's
two albums: a lack of ear-grabbing hooks and impressive
musicianship. True originality is nice, but hard to come by.
Dazzling performances can cover a lack of originality. I imagine
Shaun would really benefit from a strong and consistent backing
band (perhaps called The Shaun Groves Band or Shaun Groves and
The Eavesdroppers), as well as a producer who can take his music
into a fresh new direction. Twilight is a fair to good album, but Shaun's songwriting indicates he's capable of a truly great one.