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Christian Music - Reviews, News, Interviews

Visible

  • reviewed by Andy Argyrakis Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2003 1 Sep
  • COMMENTS
Visible
Sounds like … sort of a male version of Point of Grace; also suitable for fans of Michael Bolton, Avalon, and Phillips, Craig and DeanAt a glance … 4Him may have 24 chart-topping singles, but aside from a few tracks, this is routine and unoriginal Christian pop

Within a 13-year stretch that's spawned 10 studio albums and a pair of greatest hits packages, 4Him has become synonymous with hearty vocal harmonies, soothing pop beats, and uplifting lyrics that will stand the test of time. Cuts like "For Future Generations," "Where There is Faith," "The Basics of Life," and "The Message" are now contemporary Christian classics, leading to career sales of more than 2 million albums. Following 4Him's mid-'90s heyday tours with Point of Grace (sold out coast to coast), the band chronicled its achievements on The Best Ones collection, followed by the return-to-roots praise project Hymns: A Place of Worship, and 2001's pop-oriented Walk On.

For Visible, the veteran quartet—Andy Chrisman, Kirk Sullivan, Mark Harris, and Marty Magehee—joined up with primary producers Pete Kipley (Mercy Me, Rebecca St. James) and Michael Omartian (Eric Clapton, Christopher Cross, Amy Grant). Magehee lends production assistance on one track, and Harris penned the title track and co-wrote seven others. On paper, this strategy may have looked solid. But on the disc, everything but the material produced by Omartian falls short of the quality of the group's past catalog.

Early evidence comes in the generic pop/rock of "Fill the Earth," where the same pool of Nashville studio musicians used on countless contemporary Christian projects (spearheaded by guitarist Chris Rodriquez) leads to uninvigorating and indistinguishable blandness. The similarly generic ballad "You Reign" includes sterile orchestration (a desperate throwback to "Great Awakening") and boring backing beats that go nowhere. The breezy cover of The Planet Shakers' "It's All About Jesus" could've been promising (the Henry Seeley-led Australian worship band is known for its innovative worship arrangements), but 4Him puts its predictable spin on the track, making it quite forgettable.

Praise-and-worship tracks "No Other Reason" and "The Promise" are both weighed down by lyrical clichés and uneventful sonic structuring. The first has a straight-laced contemporary tone fueled by early-'90s styled keyboards and guitars, not to mention the overly generalized Scott Faircloth-penned lyrics of "For no other reason but to love you/For no other reason but to say that you're my God/For no other reason just because, just because you are." The latter is a sappy, overdrawn finale with a trite message that would have been right at home in either the mid-'70s easy listening movement or Michael Bolton's Soul Provider era. Lines like "You may be waiting for the fire/When I'm calling through the rain/You may be listening for the thunder/While I'm whispering your name" are straight from the textbook of simplistic rhyming and freshman level structuring.

Despite my misgivings about the record overall, I'll be the first to applaud 4Him for its collaborations with Michael Omartian, which are the record's only significant stretches of creativity and arrangement intricacy. "The Final Word" gets a much needed funky facelift with brisk studio loops, a bustling bass line, and soulful harmonies, as does the mid-tempo pop of "Bigger Than Life," sprinkled lightly with a Chicago-esque horn section. "Candle in the Rain" makes a much more effective use of orchestration; instead of dripping with sap like "The Promise," it fits tastefully with the glorious piano arrangements and the vocalists' most consistent tradeoffs on the whole record.

Unfortunately, those three tracks' merit don't make up for the record's shortcomings and similarities, making Visible a tough disc to recommend to anyone but longtime fans. But even they will probably admit this batch fails to break much new ground and is highly derivative of past work. That's not to say that 4Him's best days are behind them. But this project would've been much better had the members and Kipley stretched their boundaries beyond Christian music comfort zones.


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