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Christian Music - Reviews, News, Interviews

A Place Where You Belong

  • reviewed by Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2002 1 Feb
A Place Where You Belong
Sounds like … modern pop/rock, sometimes ethereal and sometimes folk-sounding, recalling artists such as Travis, The Wallflowers, Sting, U2, and Peter Gabriel.At a Glance … as with their previous release, A Place Where You Belong is very textured, smart, and creative — another very satisfying album from one of Christian music's most underrated bands.

A Place Where You Belong continues where The Normals left off on their last album, Coming to Life. Burned out and road weary from touring, the band accepted an offer from producer Malcom Burn (John Mellencamp, Emmylou Harris, Midnight Oil) to stay at his New York home to write and record the new album. Over the course of six weeks, The Normals experimented with new ideas and technologies. The result is another album that's light years beyond the band's 1998 debut. Dark, beautiful, though-provoking, catchy, haunting, joyous … clearly, this is a moody album with a lot to savor.

The recurring theme of A Place Where You Belong is our desire as Christians to be at peace and at home-both physically and spiritually-with our loved ones and our heavenly Father. There just aren't enough albums that so candidly explore the role of our interpersonal relationships in our spiritual life — though Caedmon's Call's Long Line of Leavers and Charlie Peacock's Love Life come to mind. The album begins with the acoustic "I'll Be Home Soon," a song about homesickness that has the same soft, gentle pop sound as the band Travis. After such a gentle opening, the band launches into "Romeo on the Radio," an upbeat song simply about driving in the car with your windows down and the one you love by your side — many Christian artists have written similarly themed song before, but few have pulled it off with poetry.

Then the album begins to explore the temptations we face in our interpersonal relationships. The band mourns the loss of "Innocence" to sin in the dark alternative-pop song of that name. The bouncy "Less Than Love" reminds singles never to use loneliness as an excuse to settle and encourages them to let love birth naturally in their lives. Wedged between these two songs is the album's masterpiece, "Grace." The band borrows a little from the U2 playbook for this passionate and contemplative anthem that calls for single Christian men to remain physically pure in our relationships with women. Though lead singer Andrew Osenga often sounds like Bill Mallonee from Vigilantes of Love, he pulls off a performance that's part Bono (U2), part Peter Gabriel. It's perhaps the most passionate song the band has written.

With all of these struggles laid out on the table, The Normals offer encouragement with "King," written and sung by keyboardist Cason Cooley. The song reminds us that God's love is always there for us, despite our feelings of loneliness and inadequacy. "Happiness," a song about the alienation we often feel in our hustle-and-bustle society, features an awesome rhythm section in the form of drummer Mike Taquino and bassist B.J. Aberle. The sound is the same progressive pop/jazz Sting is known for. The Normals then use "We Go On" to address the need for faith in our everyday lives, not just the highs and lows but also the daily grind of the middle times that make life seem routine. Listen in particular for the garbage-can percussion and an interesting muffled staccato guitar part. The beautiful and catchy "On My Own," written by lead guitarist and vocalist Mark Lockett, is a personalized take on the prodigal son and lost sheep parables. "Brittle Bones" is an acoustic reminder to find peace and comfort in Christ our Savior through Holy Communion. In the same way the album opened somewhat oddly with the gentle "I'll Be Home Soon," it also ends strangely with the clamorous-yet-powerful "Epilogue," about God's grace and comfort sustaining us through our trials and fears.

I had to give an album overview to fully express this album's diversity in sounds and ideas. The Normals went to great pains to write songs that sounded different from each other on this album, as well as on their previous recordings. That's not to say you've never heard music like this before (note the aforementioned comparisons to U2, Travis, Peter Gabriel, and Sting), but these guys have succeeded in making an album that's both smart and catchy. The Normals also sound more like a unified band than ever before. Andy's songwriting continues to grow — he's truly becoming a brilliant songwriter, sometimes poetic and always thought-provoking. Granted, this album is not for all tastes. It's not a straight all-out rock-and-roll album, favoring edgy ballads and mid-tempo songs instead. The band probably could have used a couple more uptempo rockers to balance it all out. Also, the production, though very creative and interesting, is a little too thick and muddy-sounding at times. However, these minor criticisms are far outweighed by the album's strengths. While I wouldn't call A Place Where You Belong better than their last album, it is nevertheless an immensely satisfying recording from one of Christian music's most underrated and promising bands. They may be homesick, but they sound completely at home in the recording studio