Few groups have risen to attention and acclaim as swiftly as Casting Crowns. Starting as a humble church worship band from Daytona Beach, Florida, the band has become one the most recognizable in Christian music in only a few years. Their self-titled 2003 record is often hailed as one of the most influential debut albums in Christian music history, and while I would be lying to say that was not true, this reviewer found the album underwhelming and uninventive. Lifesong and The Altar and The Door were arguably more experimental, but they essentially offered more of the same, and listening to the septet's newest offering, Until The Whole World Hears, Casting Crowns has come down to a whole new low, such that it could be their most unremarkable record to date.
Almost everything is the same this time around. It's the same label, same producer, same lyrical themes, and same core band members - with the exception of a new drummer. With this context in mind, Until The Whole World Hears is run-of-the-mill in every sense of the word. The title track is probably the best on the record, but the project fails to follow up on the track's guitar-driven style, and minus "Holy One," it opts for an uncompromisingly soft adult contemporary sound most of the rest of the way. Nearly every track follows the same formula: a solo piano intro, followed by lead singer Mark Hall's soft vocals joining in, with the song slowly building up to all the instruments' participation. After several tracks like this, it is repetitive and monotonous.
There are at least a couple of times the band shows creative effort, in all fairness. "Mercy" and "Blessed Redeemer" feature female-fronted vocals, and it's a refreshing change from Hall's somewhat lackluster vocals. "Joyful, Joyful" also offers an interesting reworking of the classic hymn "Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee," creating a chorus while rearranging the hymn's structure. Even so, these songs' overall composition isn't much of an improvement if at all compared to the rest of the record. And in one of the most unexpected endings to an adult contemporary album, the band bursts out in an unashamed rock-n-roll jam "Shadow Of Your Wings," however, it and Hall's uncharacteristic rocker scream at the very end will only leave listeners with mystery and confusion.
Mark Hall stated in CCM Magazine, "Musically, our goal is not to split atoms or break new ground. There are plenty of people to do that. Being that I'm also a youth pastor, the music is the plate the meat is served on. So when we're figuring out what we're going to say, we're trying to create a musical atmosphere that doesn't detract from the message. I think there are plenty of great lyrics out there, but the song draws so much attention to itself that the message gets lost." Indeed, this is the self-proclaimed musical philosophy of Casting Crowns: lyrics are king; music is an afterthought. While lyrics are quite important to spend time and effort on, it is an appalling excuse from the band for the sub-par musical arrangements mentioned. Innumerable artists have disproved this thinking with their material. It's one thing to put out one mediocre record, but to knowingly keep on making them over and over with little or no improvement each time is another altogether. Casting Crowns has never put out an exceptional album, and Until The Whole World Hears could even be another step down from their game; it is almost insulting to the listener to believe that one is supposed to find this project profound or listenable.
To be fair, Casting Crowns has touched many a heart with their work, but there's a point where it's grossly unfair for us to accept this kind of underperforming material anymore (or ever before, for that matter). A great cause demands great art, and Casting Crowns still has yet to show us that. Please do not misunderstand me as to say I hate the band or am ignoring their hearts for ministry, but I'm an advocate of excellent music; may the Lord bless Casting Crowns and their ministry, but as an album of true artistry, Until The Whole World Hears is anything but that.- PReview date: 10/11/09, Review date: 11/15/09, written by Roger Gelwicks of Jesusfreakhideout.com
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