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Christian Music - Reviews, News, Interviews


  • reviewed by Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2002 1 Dec
Sounds like … a cappella harmonies mixed with energetic contemporary pop, more exciting than True Vibe but not like the boy band sound of Plus One or N'SyncAt a Glance … a good adult contemporary pop album that lets the trio's a cappella stylings shine through more than on their last project, but still not nearly enough.

It's because of groups such as N'Sync and the Backstreet Boys that many are confused today about the difference between a cappella groups and boy bands. Some might smugly say it's a matter of talent, but more accurately, it's a matter of glossy pop songs, production, and image versus genuine vocal prowess. N'Sync actually got their start singing a cappella; true to the art form, like any good vocal doo-wop group, they sang in the bathrooms and stairwells of their school to develop their blend. In their rise to superstardom, however, they quickly ditched the a cappella format for dance moves and flashy production values. That's why Christian groups such as True Vibe and Go Fish are quick to distance themselves from the "boy band" label – they don't dance, and in the case of Go Fish, they somewhat retain the collegiate a cappella spirit of varying styles and humorous lyrics. Turns out you don't need to dance and sing to backing tracks to attract or connect with an audience. A cappella is about tight vocal harmonies and charming stage personalities. In fact, Go Fish seemed to earn the most enthusiastic response on tour with Rebecca St. James, Fusebox, Charmaine, and Ginny Owens. Over a span of five years, the St. Paul, Minnesota a cappella group sold more than 100,000 albums before signing with Inpop Records for wider distribution.

After releasing Infectious, their first album with Inpop, in the summer of 2001, Go Fish is back with Parade to try and further develop their sound. Over the years, despite the misnomer and to the despair of purists, a cappella music is no longer confined to 100% human vocal sounds. For me, that was part of the charm and challenge of being in an a cappella group – recreating pop songs and including guitar sounds and drums, with nothing but your voice. Over time, it's become commonplace for groups such as Glad, A Cappella, The Nylons, Rockapella, and Go Fish to sing their vocal harmonies on top of a simple pop production (drum loops, bass guitar, and sometimes additional guitar). At least these groups still maintain an a cappella sound to their vocalizing, still emphasizing the harmonies and vocal style over the pop production, or else they'd be no different than N'Sync, Plus One, 4Him, or Newsong. Still, Go Fish's goal seems to be to "split the difference" between pop/rock and genuine a cappella. They generally succeed with the help of producers Scott Williamson (Point of Grace, FFH), Doug Beiden (Jump5, Michelle Tumes), and Darren Rust of The Blenders (another acclaimed a cappella group from the Twin Cities).

The pop a cappella hybrid of Go Fish is probably best heard on "Alright," a funky groove with fun harmonies and humorous verses of worry to contrast the choruses speaking to the peace we have in Christ: "My lava lamp went up in flames / My girlfriend done forgot my name / But I'm alright, I'm alright / I wrote this verse in the key of A / I'm out of tune, but that's okay / 'Cuz I'm alright, I'm alright." There's a hidden a cappella "Lullaby" interlude that leads into "Piece of Heaven," a gentle pop song about self-esteem, despairing hearts, and Jesus' unconditional love for each of us. I like Go Fish the most when they let their sense of humor shine through their songs. "Please, Please Like Me" balances a tongue-in-cheek plea for popularity with rightly staying focused on God: "You can write what you write, you can say what you want / But you should know it doesn't matter / I have an audience of one and you're not him." Though the subject has been handled before, the funky blues pop of "Chrome Fish" is still well-written, reminding us that bumper-sticker slogans and symbols are no substitute for Christ and true evangelism: "To the lost and needy it's just graffiti unless you back it up … Love's not just what you say, no love's what you give away." Go Fish even pays homage to Veggie Tales in their fun little hidden track about killing bugs with a magnifying glass.

The other songs feel more like typical Christian pop than a cappella, though it works well in some cases. "Savior" was co-written by Scott Krippayne and Tony Wood, and is intended to be Go Fish's big testimony song in concert. It's well-written though unremarkable adult contemporary pop. The rocking "Ask" is based on Jesus' explanation of prayer in Matthew 7:7-8, and sounds like a cross between Steven Curtis Chapman and 4Him. Similarly, "Perfect Love" sounds like Newsong-styled pop about the reflection of God's love in all of creation. The title track has a bouncy hip-hop styled groove that's reminiscent of dc Talk or Mukala's "Skip to the End. "Parade" is used as a metaphor for life, with Go Fish singing, "while I only see what's goin' by in front of me, you see the whole parade."

All of these pop songs work, though they don't necessarily distinguish themselves that much from typical Christian adult contemporary. The only track that generally doesn't work is "That's How He Hurt His Hands," an overly schmaltzy illustration of loving like Christ to the point of laying down our lives; you will, however, enjoy this track if you appreciate Newsong's "Christmas Shoes" or Gary Chapman's "Daddy Cut My Hair." It's disappointing that Go Fish still lets pop production cover up some of their a cappella sound, though it's not surprising. Pop gets radio play, a cappella doesn't. Listen to the energetic mission statement of "Tonight," and you get a better sense of what Go Fish is like in concert – they generally sing to a lot less accompaniment live. It also would be cool to hear them sing acoustic, as all three group members are capable of playing guitars or percussion while singing. Parade is a satisfactory pop album that will prep you for seeing Go Fish in their natural element – live in concert.