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The Imposter

  • reviewed by Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2005 1 Oct
The Imposter
Sounds like … a broad array of alt-rock and Brit-pop influences including U2, Morrissey, The Killers, Coldplay, Blur, David Bowie, Franz Ferdinand, and Keane.At a glance … offering more openly spiritual and vulnerable lyrics and a better understanding of his stylistic range, Kevin Max's The Imposter is a slight improvement over his already strong solo debut.Track Listing Confessional Booth The Imposter Sanctuary Your Beautiful Mind Jumpstart Your Electric Heart! Platform The Royal Path of Life The Imposter's Song Stay I Need You, The End When He Returns Fade to Red (Bonus) Letting Go

Michael Tait and tobyMac have both done well since parting ways with dc Talk, so why hasn't Kevin Max met with similar success? Three probable reasons come to mind. Max's stylistic direction isn't widely supported by Christian radio, forcing him to try his alt-pop/indie rock with the more competitive mainstream. Related to that, some would say Max's songs haven't shown enough originality, sounding too derivative of his musical influences. And then there's his rock star persona, which rubs some Christians the wrong way, enough to call him arrogant, egotistical, and a poseur; some have even questioned his faith.

All of this is indirectly addressed on Max's second-full length effort, allowing The Imposter to settle the minds of critics while maintaining credibility with the art rock fans expecting depth and creativity. Inspired by two books from Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel and Abba's Child, Max's album title refers to the conflict between flesh and spirit common to all of us. In recent years, Max has left Forefront Records (still the home label for Tait and tobyMac), moved to Los Angeles, signed to the Californian Christian label Northern Records, and networked with several music industry vets. Between the hard knocks he's faced since 2001's Stereotype Be album—in the music biz and through his divorce—the enigmatic singer/songwriter acknowledges that he is indeed flawed, like all of us.

With the confessional title track, he acknowledges the fabrications of his life and pleads for forgiveness, appropriately blurring the distinction between God and earthly relationships. Viewing dc Talk's classic "What if I Stumble" as a prelude to the inevitable, Max's "Platform" asks the tough, Psalm-like questions in the aftermath of sin: "Why'd You choose me when You knew I wasn't tough enough?/Why'd You send me when You knew I would run?/Why'd You put me into places that I didn't want?/Why'd You call me when You knew I would hang up?"

Such vulnerability seems uncharacteristic in light of Max's previous work, and it makes the equally blurry "I Need You, The End" an even more poignant declaration of dependence. "The Imposter's Song" also makes a fitting response with comforting words of grace: "Please believe, you're beautiful when you're not made up … You're beautiful without the makeup." In the catchy radio single "Sanctuary," he longs for the peace and satisfaction that can only come from God: "Hand me the code to your gates of knowledge/Teach me the truth I never learned in college/Let me walk this valley till I find a place called home."

It's not all about Max, however. The gorgeous "Your Beautiful Mind" was written for an atheist friend, outlining a hopeful conversation and conversion. The dark, industrial-flavored rock of "Jump Start Your Electric Heart" is his response to others who live a phony existence: "It's time to draw the shades, eyes are open wide, a brave new world to face/Your maker is ready to connect the hard drive."

Then there's his gospel-styled piano and vocal cover of "When He Returns" from Bob Dylan's classic Slow Train Coming album. Max gives a stirring performance nearly as chill-inducing as Jeff Buckley's rendition of "Hallelujah," with plenty to absorb lyrically concerning Christ's second coming. Normally it would make the perfect ending to an album, but the apocalyptic Euro pop of "Fade to Red" also makes a powerful conclusion (though it is followed by a hidden track).

Aside from creatively wearing his faith on his sleeve, Max has also done better in utilizing his influences. There are clear nods to U2, Morrissey, Coldplay, Blur, Keane, and David Bowie—"Jump Start" in particular sounds like a throwback to U2's Achtung Baby. And the combination of '80s synths with indie rock shows an obvious affection for bands like The Killers, Interpol, and Franz Ferdinand. However, this time it all sounds adapted, not borrowed or stolen. No single track clearly rips off a particular style, but instead accomodates the varying styles for Max's own sound.

All of that said, Max has traded Forefront's top-notch recording budget for his artistic freedom. The album almost seems too underground for Christian radio, though that's less an indictment of the quality or style of the music than it is the unwritten "criteria" for Christian radio these days. Producer Andrew Prickett (Prayer Chain, The Violet Burning) does a great job capturing Max's intent, allowing the rawness to suit the indie rock style.

Interesting that Max has released his most spiritually overt and vulnerable album now that he's left the Christian music haven of Nashville and hobnobbed with the mainstream. It reflects his intent to bridge the gap between Christian and mainstream listening with The Imposter, a creative effort that reflects honesty instead of pretense.

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