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O How the Mighty Have Fallen

  • reviewed by Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2005 1 Apr
O How the Mighty Have Fallen
Sounds like … dreamy alt pop/rock that is in the same company as The Violet Burning, The Flaming Lips, Starflyer 59, The Cure, Cool Hand Luke, GlassByrd, and Jars of Clay.At a glance … the band's usual sonic ambience and the overall theme help carry this album, though many of the songs sound like tired retreads of previously released material by The Choir and their followers.Track Listing O How the Mighty Have Fallen Nobody Gets a Smooth Ride She's Alright Enough to Love Terrible Mystery We Give We Take Fine Fun Time How I Wish I Knew Mercy Will Prevail To Rescue Me

This isn't a particularly commercial album. No major announcement or marketing campaign. No publicized story or tie-in. No potential hit single to shop to radio. Chances are you'll even have trouble finding it at your local Christian bookstore (much less at Best Buy and Wal-Mart).

No, this one was made purely for the enjoyment of creating and performing, and The Choir couldn't be happier with that. But, then again, this band has never been one for prominent commercial success, operating under the radar and yet regarded as one of the most important and influential bands in the history of CCM. Though more than four years have passed since the band's last release—the Grammy-nominated Flap Your Wings—the members have kept busy working as studio musicians, record label execs, and producers (most notably the City on a Hill albums).

2005 marks the twentieth anniversary of the release of their first album as Youth Choir, and they celebrate the occasion with their eleventh studio album, O How the Mighty Have Fallen. The four central members have all returned: vocalist/guitarist Derri Daugherty, drummer Steve Hindalong, bassist Tim Chandler, and sax man Dan Michaels. And since he's worked with them on enough projects, the band has also officially added Marc Byrd (GlassByrd, Common Children) to the line-up, who serves as guitarist and producer for this album.

The title originally comes from 2 Samuel 1:1-19—David lamenting the death of King Saul and his son Jonathan. That's not a direct inspiration here, but the phrase sets the melancholic tone for the album, which thematically focuses on our need to experience humility and brokenness before we can fully understand mercy and grace. To the band's credit, they keep it real by not trying to overshadow sadness with the joy found in Jesus.

The opening title track in fact points the finger of shame inwardly, recognizing that pride comes before the fall: "Like the snake who calls the lizard a reptile/Like the chimp who calls the jester a clown/When I tell you, 'You oughta be ashamed of yourself'/I've gotta set my knees on the ground." Elsewhere, the band members seem to lament failed relationships (perhaps divorce?) with "Terrible Mystery." "We Give We Take" complements it by expressing desire to make love work at all costs. The atmospheric gentle art rock of "Enough to Love" is an album high point, pondering whether we would truly trust God enough to live and die for him even if we experienced him with all five senses like the Apostle Thomas.

Though The Choir doesn't leave listeners with easy answers, they do conclude appropriately with faith. "Mercy Will Prevail" looks at the world with disdain and plainly lays our fears and uncertainties on the table: "Divine love never fails, mercy will prevail/I wanna swear it's true but it's hard to believe it." It's immediately followed by "To Rescue Me," a modern hymn that shows where to place hope: "When I can't hold on much longer to a rope weathered and frayed/When I can't find hope and I'm losing faith/The savior reaches in to still the howling wind/To calm the storm within."

However, the album works more strongly as a thematic whole than the sum of the individual songs. The words don't probe deep enough with insight or poetry, often relying on simplistic lyricism. Granted, sometimes it's hard to say to right thing during times of grief. But "She's Alright" ultimately proves an unsatisfying song about finding love amid pain, and the nearly identical "How I Wish I Knew" fumbles awkwardly to find words of comfort: "It's a cruel thing you're doing/Depriving my soul of your smile today."

Also, while The Choir excels at creating dream-like alternative pop soundscapes, they too often resort to slow and ponderous ballads, which work well in small doses but become tiresome when they dominate the album. Only "Nobody Gets a Smooth Ride" and "Fine Fun Time" qualify as upbeat tracks, and they're too simplistic to be highlights. Part of the problem too is that bands such as Starflyer 59 and Cool Hand Luke (produced by Hindalong) keep The Choir from sounding unique these days. One would hope that The Choir would take the opportunity for creative freedom to stretch themselves musically, but they seem content on riding out the same plodding shoegazer style of their last ten years.

This disc is not the band's strongest work, unlikely to win them new fans. But it's only mediocre at worst, and sure to satisfy their loyal core. The Choir is right to continue recording, and they certainly haven't fallen with their latest—they're just not flying as high as they could be.

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