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Christian Music - Reviews, News, Interviews

All Things New

  • reviewed by Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2004 1 Sep
All Things New
Sounds like … Steven Curtis Chapman's familiar approach to pop/rock songwriting, shaded with elements that recall Coldplay, Five For Fighting, John Mayer, Michael W. Smith, and Matchbox TwentyAt a glance … Chapman doesn't stray too far from what's worked for him over the last ten years, but that yields another solid entry in his long successful list of albumsTrack ListingAll Things NewMuch of YouOnly Getting StartedLast Day on EarthWhat NowPlease Only YouComing AttractionsBig StoryBelieve Me NowAngels WishI Believe in YouTreasure of Jesus

Over 9 million total albums sold, 41 No. 1 radio hits, 47 Dove Awards … not bad. There's no question that Steven Curtis Chapman remains Christian music's most heralded artist, but there's no pleasing everyone. Some critics of Chapman's music complain that he's been recycling the same songs over and over throughout his career.

There's perhaps an element of truth to that in the sense that songwriters usually write the same way for most of their careers. Should we expect otherwise from the McCartneys, Dylans, Stings, Smiths, and Chapmans of the world? Besides, Chapman's artistic evolution since his 1987 debut is evident by simply contrasting his last five years with his work ten years ago. Amazingly, the now 41-year-old artist says he has continued to find a new season of artistic and spiritual inspiration, and it's reflected in his latest project, All Things New.

Honestly, this guy sounds like he's getting younger with age. Maybe he's been listening to his kids' music for ideas … or maybe he's just developed more of a taste for modern pop/rock. (And to think he once leaned more towards country pop!) Part of the reenergized sound can be attributed to a desire he and producer Brown Bannister to step outside of their comfort zone. Chapman wrote much of the new album on piano instead of guitar, and recorded it in Los Angeles, limiting himself to a month to finish the album. Rather than use the usual crowd of Nashville musicians, they utilized an impressive band of L.A. studio musicians, along with a handful of cameos ranging from predictable (Third Day's Mac Powell) to subtle (Lifehouse's Jason Wade) to impressive (a guitar solo by blues-pop wunderkind Jonny Lang).

All of that has yielded an album that combines Chapman's familiar approach to song craft with echoes of other contemporary pop/rock acts. "Angels Wish," for example, finds Chapman affecting the same melodic falsetto that's signature for Five For Fighting. "Please Only You" has the same bouncy acoustic-based shuffle that's oft associated with John Mayer. "Believe Me Now" is like a slightly softer, AC-friendly version of Todd Agnew's "This Fragile Breath." And yes, like seemingly everyone these days, Chapman reveals a love for Coldplay's dreamy Brit rock ambience in "Last Day on Earth." There's even a playful nod to the Beatles on "Big Story."

Thing is, while all these influences are fairly obvious, they don't dominate Chapman's songwriting, but instead carry it in a refreshing new direction while retaining Chapman's style. The title track is a hit radio anthem in the tradition of "Heaven in the Real World," "Speechless," and "God Is God." With "Much of You," Chapman offers another classic monster ballad, resembling Michael W. Smith's "Live the Life" and his own "No Greater Love." The veteran artist seems to have the most fun with "Only Getting Started," a buoyant hybrid that Chapman dubs "swamp-hop." Combining Southern flavored pop/rock with modern hip-hop record scratches and beats, not to mention some killer guitar work, it's a throwback to Chapman classics like "Lord of the Dance" and "Live Out Loud," yet still different and one of the year's liveliest new songs.

As good as the album sounds, Chapman's primary strength remains in his thoughtful and accessible words. All Things New finds him contemplating eternal life in heaven, and considering what that means for us here and now on earth. Are we serving God faithfully by simply existing, or are we called to serve others? Are we the focal point of existence, or do we serve a greater purpose? These themes recur in most every song by exploring God's sovereignty, our mortality, the nature of servitude, living a life that reflects the love of Christ, and much more.

These themes have been explored by Christian artists before, but Chapman deals with them in his own voice. Instead of rehashing Scripture or relying on tired rhetoric, he offers thoughtful ideas—the mark of a good songwriter—using personal examples, catchy turns of phrase, and introspective questioning. You wouldn't think this would be a rare trait, but so much of today's Christian music relies on worshipful platitudes and generalities. Here's a guy expressing faith amid everyday living with lyrics that are all his own. The difference is like cool water in a desert.

All Things New doesn't take Chapman in a radically new direction like 1999's Speechless, nor does it impress on the same scale as 2001's Declaration. In some ways, it's less a matter of "new" and offers more of the same, but if "the same" refers to impressive production, fresh lyrical perspective, a keen sense of melody, and catchy pop/rock, is that such a bad thing? For what it is and what Chapman has become in the last 15 years, this is still a strong entry in his catalog that stands up with his best work.