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Christian Music - Reviews, News, Interviews

The Mission Bell

  • reviewed by Christa Banister Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2005 1 Dec
The Mission Bell
Sounds like … the most diverse they've ever been, with a sound recalling Radiohead one moment, straight-up rock with a gospel choir the next, all with elements of a stripped-down, singer-songwriter feel.At a glance … they still do what they do best—worship—but in addition to the vertical musings are songs that address social issues, deep-rooted faith in life's toughest moments, and modern-day miracles. Track Listing Stronger Now Is the Time Solid Rock All This Time Miracle Maker Here I Am Fires Burn Our God Reigns Love Is a Miracle Paint the Town Red Take Off My Shoes I See You When I Get There

While there are usually plenty of critical props for a band willing to step out from the familiar sound and style that made it popular in the first place, fans aren't always quite ready to make the creative switch. It's a tough line to tow artistically, and Delirious has learned the lesson the hard way as earlier attempts to be a little more experimental (think Mezzamorphis and Touch) haven't exactly translated well with listeners, resulting in poor sales.

But, with the release of last year's World Service, longtime fans were rewarded with a welcome return to what the band is best known for: atmospheric worship with plenty of rock 'n' roll sensibility. And while the theme of grace resonated throughout that album, The Mission Bell is all about action—particularly, putting your faith into action in an uncertain world. There's even a new sense of urgency in the lyrics (and in frontman Martin Smith's voice) that suggests the band members may have had a lot of heavy things on their minds when making the album.

With an important message, there's an equally intriguing soundtrack. Instead of relying on the tried-and-true, U2-meets-Coldplay sound that's served well in the past, Delirious creatively gets out of its comfort zone without veering too far into the kind of unfamiliar territory that would leave the faithful scratching their heads.

The album kicks off with "Stronger" (also on the recent The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe compilation), a classic pop/rock gem that simmers slowly before segueing into a gorgeous chorus that's universal enough for mainstream airplay and accessible enough for a Sunday morning church service. "Now is the Time," the album's first single, has the anthemic quality of Delirious' "History Maker" but with a far catchier hook and memorable, soaring guitars that add an exclamation point to the message.

However, the first real indication that this isn't the same ol' Delirious is the band's innovative spin on the classic hymn "Solid Rock." Trust me, this isn't the same song from your mother's hymnbook. Smith may start things off on a pretty mellow note, but a few special guests easily steal the spotlight as a booming gospel choir powerfully provides the soul for the chorus. Then, in another unexpected move, tobyMac adds a rap interlude to the mix. While a guest rap spot doesn't usually work well, especially in a song like this, the tasteful execution here adds a lot of punch.

Then, keeping things interesting, the mood switches yet again with "All This Time" which finds Smith in a more brooding vocal state. While the song serves as a commentary on the state of the world, Smith isn't afraid to point judgment right back at himself: "I wrestle with the thoughts I keep / if I sow the seed of arrogance then it's loneliness I'll reap."

An even more somber—yet hopeful—frame of mind continues with the plaintive, piano-driven, "Miracle Maker," one of the disc's most moving moments, because who hasn't been here before: "I'm waiting here for my life to change / When the waters stir you can rearrange me / Just one touch is all I need / I've nothing much but the wounds I feel / I'm looking for the hand of the miracle man."

"Our God Reigns" does a great job of pushing some relevant hot buttons on abortion, selfish ambitions and the quest for physical perfection that can provide further discussion fodder after the iPod's been put away. "Love Is a Miracle" is also a timely reminder wrapped around another stellar, choir-backed chorus, while "Paint the Town Red" is probably the most enjoyable listen from a musical perspective with its high-energy, arena rock sound that'll likely cause listeners to hit repeat.

Ultimately, the 12 songs on The Mission Bell prove that style and substance truly can co-exist. And on an artistic level, Delirious has managed to effectively stretch the boundaries of worship music without losing its core audience in the process. Mission accomplished.

© Christa Banister, subject to licensing agreement with Christianity Today International. All rights reserved. Click for reprint information.