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Save the Humans

  • reviewed by Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2004 1 Sep
Save the Humans
Sounds like … the melodic and hook-filled modern pop/rock of Eskelin's band All Star United, as well as The Elms, Newsboys, Oasis, and Relient KAt a glance … Eskelin returns to the catchy and clever rock that characterized All Star United at its best, with predictable-yet-irresistible resultsTrack ListingShoutSolid RockMagnifySave the HumansTabooInto Your Arms AgainAmerican IdleThrow It AwayAmplifiedI Love to Tell the Story

It's not surprising that many aren't familiar with Ian Eskelin, but his voice and music have been prominent in Christian pop/rock for more than a decade. Some might remember him as far back as 1992, briefly playing with the dance rock band Code of Ethics. Shortly after that, Eskelin began a short-lived solo career as a synth-pop artist along the lines of Erasure and Howard Jones.

Then in 1997, he formed All Star United, embracing more of an upbeat British rock sound—best described as "Oasis meets The Monkees." ASU enjoyed a string of radio hits through the late '90s, but roster changes yielded the stale Revolution in 2002. With the band now indefinitely shelved, 34-year-old Eskelin has signed with Inpop to revive his solo career. Rest assured that Save the Humans is not a return to the now passé synth-pop days. Co-produced with The Wizardz of Oz (Avril Lavigne, Jason Mraz), Humans is very much like an All Star album, though maybe a bit more polished since Eskelin wrote and performed most of it by himself. Packed with irresistible hooks and catchy lyrics, this is a considerable improvement over Revolution. Fans of All Star's 1997's self-titled album and 1999's International Anthems for the Human Race will find plenty to love here.

Most welcome are Eskelin's sarcastic and provocative lyrics, which challenge and entertain in the same way that Steve Taylor and the Newsboys do. My favorite comes in the title track, a clever riff on humanity's fall from grace as an environmental issue: "We can purify the oily seas/We can empathize with manatees/Even chit-chat with chimpanzees/But we're still dyin' from a sin disease." With the bouncy "Throw It Away," Eskelin humorously reminds us that nothing else on earth is worth occupying our time more than God: "It's like the currency of Argentina/It's like the buzz about a dot com stock/I bought a lot of things to make me happy/I bought a lot of ways to belly flop."

"American Idle" satirically asks us what we're really worshipping in a culture often driven by fame and greed: "Disney's renting out my head/Hefner redesigned my bed/My conscience chimes in like a prize announcer/To tell me good times are ahead/I snuggle with my credit cards/I pray 'God bless the mega-stars!'" And in "Taboo," Eskelin takes a justified stab at the politically correct notion that faith shouldn't be discussed openly: "The ACLU say, when we sneeze, could we please drop the 'God bless you?'" It's a great song, though it becomes a little much when it steps into the absurd for the sake of a silly rhyme, like "I could kiss a kangaroo/Sic my Spitz on your Shih Tzu/No one blinks at anything I do/Until I claim the resurrection is true."

Fans may also notice a slight maturity in some of Eskelin's songs (but fortunately not too much). Again like the Newsboys, he drifts into worship for a few tracks, two of which are remakes of classic hymns. "I Love to Tell the Story" is the better one, ditching an already great American melody in favor of a more pop/rock friendly sound to bring the testimonial lyrics to a new generation. "Solid Rock" does the same for "My Hope Is Built on Nothing Less" with more predictable results, and Eskelin's original "Magnify" is a straightforward, simply worded expression of worship and why we do so. There's almost a sense that there are too many cover songs with these, whereas a couple more like the confessional Brit-pop ballad "Into Your Arms Again" would have shown a little more depth: "Welcome to my big mistakes/Selfish dreams and wasted days/Welcome to the part of me I hate/I come to You with head in hands/The little bit I understand/Compels me to confess my wicked ways."

Save the Humans is brief at just 34 minutes, though you'd expect that from an album of ten songs tailor-made for radio. The only significant critique is that Eskelin hasn't really branched his sound into new directions. Too many songs here echo past All Star gems like "Theme From Summer," "Savior of My Universe," "Beautiful Thing," and others. But it's still a welcome return to what Eskelin does best—fat-free ear candy sweetened with fun melodies, catchy guitar rock, and clever lyrics.