Who We Are
- reviewed by Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
- 2007 1 Jun
- First Time
- Whatever It Takes
- Who We Are
- The Joke
- Easier to Be
- Make Me Over
- Learn You Inside Out
Hopes and expectations for Lifehouse have been wildly varied since debuting in 2000 with No Name Face. Pegged as a softer alternative to Creed crossed with Jars of Clay, the band seemed to instantly arrive out of nowhere. Some heralded them as the next big cross-format success. Others presumed the band would quietly fade away as a one-hit wonder with other grunge-lite acts.
Yet here we are seven years later still going back and forth. Critics in the media assumed Lifehouse was a has-been, mostly ignoring their 2005 self-titled release. It ended up going Platinum. Skeptics still balk, saying it was only because of the hit ballad "You and Me." But how is that different from No Name Face going multi-Platinum because of "Hanging by a Moment?" Cynics say Lifehouse is for teenyboppers who think singer/guitarist Jason Wade is cute. They fail to note the sold-out concerts packed with men and women of all ages.
The reality is that Lifehouse has always been the prototypical band for the "Hot AC Rock" format, much like Matchbox Twenty, Smash Mouth, and Nickelback. Some tastes may find the accessibly grungy sound a little passé, but Lifehouse hasn't survived this long by relying on trends. Instead, they focus on things like melody and performance, touching on a variety of pop and rock approaches. Their fourth album is no different, to the delight of fans and chagrin of critics, making Who We Are an appropriate title.
Granted, the drab album cover is unimaginative, looking more like an indie project than a major release. Yes, the overall sound is familiar, maybe even a little routine. And sure, some songs like "Easier to Be" and the title track resemble previous songs like "Somewhere in Between" and "Spin," respectively.
But let's also give credit where it's due. Jason Wade has a terrific rock voice, and it's never sounded better ranging from heavy growls to soft-spoken falsetto—he even goes a cappella for the impressive start of "Storm." Moreover, decent melodies are becoming more of a precious commodity these days, and Wade proves time and again throughout his albums that he knows how to write a memorable chorus.
For those who say Lifehouse is sonically stuck, the band mixes it up pretty well here between guitar rock ("Disarray"), upbeat pop (radio single "First Time"), and ballads ("Broken"). Tracks like "Mesmerized" and "Learn You Inside Out" resemble the acoustic Brit pop that characterized Travis and early Coldplay. And "The Joke" stands out as bouncy pop/rock with a razor-sharp dark side—naturally, since it's inspired by a tragic news story about a boy who committed suicide after being bullied by schoolmates.
Before you think the album is a complete downer, Who We Are is still rife with love songs, including the generic "Easier to Be." But "Whatever It Takes" is commendable for showing the need to remain committed and open to sustain a relationship. And though "First Time" is about the early stages of romance, you can't help but wonder if Wade is singing about sacred romance from the way he sings about renewal: "Feeling alive all over again/As deep as the sky under my skin/Like being in love she says for the first time."
Which brings up the subject of spiritual content, which is subtle here, but as present as it was on No Name Face. "Disarray," according to the album's press notes, stems from Wade's upbringing in a strict Christian home, with shades of the same disillusionment-meets-hope theme heard in U2's "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For." A similar conflict between fear and hope is found in "Broken," written for a friend waiting on a kidney transplant. You can't help but assume Wade is singing about how faith in Jesus carries us through the tough times: "In the pain there is healing/In your name I find meaning … I'm hanging on another day just to see what you will throw my way/And I'm hanging on to the words you say."
Then there's the contemplative and prayerful ballad "Storm," a concert favorite dating back to the band's worshipful early days as Blyss. It ranks up there with their classic "Everything," drawing heavily on faith-based metaphors: "If I could just see you, everything would be all right/If I'd see you, this darkness would turn to light/And I will walk on water, and you will catch me if I fall."
Lifehouse certainly doesn't reinvent the wheel with this one, but when have they ever been innovative? Sometimes pop/rock is simply enjoyable because t's well written and performed. Call that a guilty pleasure, but it's great news for the faithful fans, who will likely find that Who We Are comes close to matching the sound and range of Lifehouse's first album. Sometimes, more of the same is a good thing.