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Christian Music - Reviews, News, Interviews

I Wish We All Could Win

  • reviewed by Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2005 1 Feb
I Wish We All Could Win
Sounds like … a mix of straightforward modern rock (Sanctus Real, Vertical Horizon, By the Tree) with Brit rock (Delirious, Coldplay, Jason Morant) and alternative pop (Sleeping at Last, Smashing Pumpkins) leanings.At a glance … The Afters end up sounding a tad generic by patching so many familiar styles together without a unique sense of artistry, but there are enough positives here to make it a promising beginning for a good band. Track Listing Beautiful Love Until the World Someday Love Lead Me On All That I Am The Way You Are You Love Will Make You Beautiful Wait Thank God I'm Not the One

Have you ever noticed that bands and artists often follow a preset cycle, especially in the close-knit community of Christian music? A band usually begins life as an independent act. If they develop a strong enough following, they likely sign with a record label to take their music to a wider audience. Then if the band does well enough at that level, they broaden into the business side by starting a record label or producing other artists—kind of like actors who say they really want to direct.

It's a circle of life applicable to so many, including the mega successful MercyMe. Lead singer Bart Millard and producer Pete Kipley have formed the unfortunately named Simple Records as an imprint of INO, and The Afters represent their first signing. Formerly known as Blisse, this Dallas band got its start seven years ago after lead singer Josh Havens played some informal gigs at the Starbucks where they worked together, and then later at a missions conference. Bassist Brad Wigg and drummer Marc Dodd soon joined after an early positive response. After successfully working the indie circuit and eventually attracting the attention of MercyMe, The Afters now have a record deal, a prominent opening tour slot with MercyMe and Jeremy Camp, and a co-distribution deal with Epic Records for potential mainstream crossover.

With many career developments similar to MercyMe's history, it's easy to understand why The Afters are being heavily hyped as one of the next big potentials in Christian music. I Wish We All Could Win features the production of Brown Bannister (Steven Curtis Chapman, Avalon) and Dan Muckala (Joy Williams, Mandy Moore), who both have successful track records without fully proving their rock ears so far. But The Afters come off strong and varied, combining several contemporary rock traits that keep them from being pigeonholed to a single sound.

If you like the Brit rock of Delirious and Jason Morant, "Love Lead Me On" and "Love Will Make You Beautiful" fit the bill, and there's some of that majestic Coldplay simplicity heard on "Wait," written by Wigg some years ago but that Havens says reminds him of his father, who died recently. Both "Someday" and the first Christian radio single "You" combine the dreamy alternative pop sounds of Sleeping at Last and Smashing Pumpkins with the punk-influenced driving rock of Sanctus Real. Fans of generic, radio friendly rock by Vertical Horizon and By the Tree will enjoy "The Way You Are," and of course, there's an obligatory worship anthem reminiscent of MercyMe with "All That I Am."

Listeners will likely be more surprised by the lyrical content one way or another, depending on how they perceive The Afters. Some of the songs are overtly Christian, like "You," "Love Lead Me On," and "All That I Am." The album's title is a reference to 1 Corinthians 9:23-25and serves as the underlying theme of "Someday," while "Thank God I'm Not the One" is clearly a response to The Passion of The Christ. Conversely, mainstream radio single "Beautiful Love" was written for Havens' wife, though it's abstractly intimate enough for spiritual interpretation too. "Until the World" likewise seems to be about losing ourselves in Jesus, though with no specific Christian references, some could perceive it as romantic in intent.

This isn't a deeply poetic or creative album, but it does manage to straddle the fence between what Christian and mainstream radio is willing to play. With so many Christian bands today trying to sound like MercyMe, it's kind of interesting and ironic that Millard believes the Christian industry needs more bands like The Afters. He probably means that we need more bands like this that are clearly grounded in their faith while still capable of branching out to secular audiences, and in that regard I'm inclined to agree.

Yet are The Afters really the band to do it? They're not a breakthrough act like Switchfoot, but considering the lackluster music on mainstream radio nowadays, anything is possible. To show how confident INO is, they've included a satisfaction guarantee with the CD—if you dislike this album, you can send it back to INO with your receipt to exchange it with another of the company's recordings for the cost of shipping. That probably won't be necessary, with enough here that's likeable and catchy, topped by occasionally impressive vocals and strong playing. I Wish We All Could Win doesn't take home top honors, but it still places admirably for a debut.