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Whispered and Shouted

  • reviewed by Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2007 1 Jun
Whispered and Shouted
Sounds like … the worshipful pop/rock of MercyMe and Chris Tomlin if performed by John Mayer, The Wallflowers, Bebo Norman, and Coldplay.At a glance … rich melodies with eclectic production can only go so far in drawing attention away from the lyrical clichés and simplistic writing on Shust's sophomore effort.Track Listing Long Live the King
Like I Never Felt Before
Create Again
Watch Over Me
Give Me Words to Speak
Life Itself
The Name of Jesus
I Will Wait
Can't Hide From Your Love
Come to Me
Worthy/Let All I Do

It wasn't even two years ago when a worship leader at Perimeter Church near Atlanta quietly released his obscure debut album to radio and retail through an independent label. Yet things changed quickly for Aaron Shust after "My Savior, My God" dominated Christian radio as a No. 1 hit, turning Anything Worth Saying into a bestseller and earning him high honors at the GMA Awards for New Artist, Songwriter, and Song of the Year.

A remarkable start, but talk about potential for a sophomore slump—how do you follow that up? In Shust's case, you simply remain true to your original calling and trust that's enough. But Anything Worth Saying wasn't exactly a hit machine—nothing else from it connected with radio the same way. Does Shust have another "My Savior, My God" in him? Should he offer more of what worked before, or should he instead take his music in an all-new direction? He tries both on Whispered and Shouted, and ends up with a draw.

On the positive side, Shust takes his sound into a new direction, so much so at times that you might need assurance he's teamed with producer Dan Hannon and many of the same musicians again. Rather than staying the course with modern acoustic pop (reminiscent of John Mayer's earlier sound), Whispered and Shouted takes a more grandiose, occasionally experimental approach, particularly with its reliance on keyboards and synth pads, which teeter between inspired and amateur—sometimes within the same song! I love how "Life Itself" creates mood and atmosphere by opening with stagnant half note chords, unusually leaving space in the other half of the measures; in contrast, the keyboard patch in the chorus sounds cheap.

Shust and company still manage to hold interest throughout by changing the flavor from song to song. The rocking opener "Long Live the King" has a killer guitar and bass lick with atypical rhythm worthy of Switchfoot. Compare that to the finale "Worthy," with an ambitious art-pop sound that like Michael W. Smith's "Agnus Dei" draws from Revelation 4 to yield an effectively minimalist worship anthem. And like Chris Tomlin, Shust knows how to write a catchy melody for worship ballads like "Come to Me" and "Watch Over Me."

I'm also struck by how much Shust can resemble the contemporary roots pop of The Wallflowers. "Like I Never Felt Before" in particular has one of those minimalist melodies Jakob Dylan is known for, as does the harder rocking "Runaway." The use of B-3 organ and toy piano on "I Will Wait," along with a slight Memphis soul influence, also resembles The Wallflowers, providing some classic rock cred to an enjoyably simple and straightforward worship song.

Actually, if you strip away the ear candy, "simple and straightforward" could be used to describe most of this album—a problem that persists from the debut. Granted, Shust made this one before being named Songwriter of the Year, but you can't help expecting more from him than obvious lyricism taken straight out of the worship music playbook. It isn't so much "bad" writing as it is unimaginative and unoriginal, most of it coming directly from Scripture or stock phrases from other well-known worship songs.

How many songs have we heard before just like "Create Again" about God being glorified by his creation? Or "The Name of Jesus"—this album's closest thing to "My Savior, My God" with 19th century hymn verses by C.M. Noel—building around "every knee will bow, every tongue confess" for worship? And you'd be right if you guessed from the title that "Come to Me" comes straight out of Matthew 11.

Shust shows potential in "Like I Never Felt Before" by elaborating on the familiar "run the race" metaphor used in Hebrews, Philippians, and other New Testament Epistles, only to undermine it with clichéd phrases of renewal like "I feel like I never felt before … You taught me to spread my wings and fly." And though writer's block can be a source of clever songwriting, "Give Me Words to Speak" proves it can also reveal a lack of ideas: "Every night, every day/I find that I have nothing left to say…Give me words to speak/Don't let my spirit sleep/Cause I can't think of anything worth saying."

In talking with colleagues about Whispered and Shouted, the common response has been uncertainty, and I too am torn. A song like "Create Again" enchants me with its graceful piano line and the lyrics inviting recreation from within, but the other half of it plays out too predictably to fully embrace it. Half and half sums it up well—I have to think fans won't mind Shust tinkering with the sound, but others will bristle at the routine worship writing. By no means does this album represent a slump, but one would hope there's more to Shust's music than dressing up yesterday's worship songs with pretty sounds.

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