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Christian Music - Reviews, News, Interviews

Business Up Front/Party in the Back

  • reviewed by Andree Farias Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2006 1 Mar
Business Up Front/Party in the Back
Sounds like … rap-rock with programmed '80s elements, reminiscent of Beastie Boys, Linkin Park, Limp Bizkit, Kid Rock, Marilyn Manson, and Rage Against the MachineAt a glance … the fresh sounding debut by this Atlanta quintet is infectious and novel on the surface, but some may ultimately deem it too mundane and juvenileTrack Listing Cadillac Phunque Kountry Gentleman X-Girlfriend Drama Queen Put Ur Hands Up Love Addict Earthquake Replace Me Lose Urself Peachy Supersonic Numb

It's doubtful that most teens in Family Force 5's core audience are likely to recognize the band's name as a reference to a line in the film Pulp Fiction, or for that matter, the fact that the title of their debut, Business Up Front/Party in the Back, pays homage to everybody's favorite haircut, the mullet. But aside from those little factoids, subtlety isn't exactly one of this Atlanta band's strong suits.

At the core are Jacob, Joshua, and Solomon Olds, who released an eclectic pop/rock album in 1995 as The Brothers. (Their father Jerome Olds was also a Christian artist in the late '80s who got his start with Bill Gaither.) A decade later, the boys have teamed up with two friends and taken the aliases Soul Glow Activatur, Crouton, Phatty, Nadaddy, and Chapstick for their new band. Family Force 5 has accomplished plenty in short time, amassing a massive army of fans through MySpace and generating buzz among critics and industry professionals with their electrifying live show. Yet even though they were offered various mainstream contracts, the band's heart remains with the church. They insisted on waiting for an agreement that would allow them to reach the Christian market as well, eventually finding a dual deal with Maverick and Gotee records that allows just that.

It's easy to hear why labels are clamoring just from FF5's style, a hybrid they half-seriously call "crunk rock"—crunk is a euphemism for a certain faction of Southern hip-hop—but in reality it's more like stock rap-rock, the type made popular by Limp Bizkit and Linkin Park at the turn of the millennium. It would indeed be "business" as usual if the comparisons ended there, but thankfully the band uniquely livens up the sound with '80s pop. For every hackneyed rap-rock riff, rhyme, and rhythm they churn out, they throw as many synthesized elements into the cauldron, sounding like a mix betwixt Kid Rock, Beastie Boys and, oddly enough, Duran Duran. Regardless of whom they're trying to emulate, the resulting blend is ridiculously fun, if not fairly original.

If only the same could be said about the lyrics. For all the entertainment the music provides, its effect is nearly cancelled out by dumb lyrics. I guess it's silly to expect anything more from a band that goes around saying they're "crunk rock." By definition, crunk may very well be the lowest form of hip-hop there is; forefathers Lil Jon and the Ying Yang Twins are prime examples of the genre's inanity. Even in all of their suburban, pretty-boy efforts, Family Force 5 has trouble raising the bar for crunk, with lyrics that are extremely abstract, if not nonsensical and embarrassing. "Rolling around, serving it up / Bringing ya'll some Cadillac Phunque," they sing in the opening track, but is that also their mission statement? Who knows.

In "Kountry Gentleman," the group talks about being raised in the "durty south" by their mama, namedropping Scott Stapp, soul food and other icons from the Confederate states, but what does it all mean? Is the song meant as an autobiography or are they just trying to be funny? Fine if it's the latter, but there's a slim margin between attempting funny and actually being funny. Nearly the whole of Business Up Front simply tries to be comedic, from the vocal inflections and the misspelled song titles to the pop culture references and choreographed moves. By the time the album's done, you wonder, "What was the point of all this?"—only to realize there was none to begin with.

Then there's the problem of "secularity." There's nothing wrong with a band's desire to stay up all night and party themselves silly; as the Beastie Boys would say, they can fight for that right, if they want. Limp Bizkit and Sugar Ray can get away with that. But once partying and silliness become the main focus for a Christian band—without a trace of redemptive qualities—their bohemian intentions can belie, or even blur, their own claims to spirituality. Why not straddle both continuums? Can't fluff and religious fervor coexist? Steve Taylor, early newsboys, All Star United, Five Iron Frenzy, and Relient K all proved that faith and fun don't have to be mutually exclusive.

With the exception of "Replace Me" (a song of surrender) and "Peachy" (about finding faith), there's precious little indication Family Force 5 has anything substantive to say. For a band this entertaining, you'd think they'd at least spell out the source of such levity. What we're left with are the disco balls, confetti, dance routines, and the band's Dirty South heritage. It's fun, for sure, but disappointingly meaningless.

© Andree Farias, subject to licensing agreement with Christianity Today International. All rights reserved. Click for reprint information.