Bleach is back with their fifth studio release Astronomy. After striking musical gold last year with Again, For The First Time, the rock quintet has sought to improve on an already delightful sound this time around. But how do you improve on something that doesn't really need improving?
Again, For The First Time was one of the best releases of 2002. It was a rock record that sounded good at first listen, but just improved with each one succeeding. The songs played well live and remained with you after you heard them (namely "Knocked Out"). While Again's themes varied from witnessing to a friend ("Broke In the Head") to encouraging kids to press forward and stand up for Christ ("We Are Tomorrow"), much of Astronomy deals with brokenness and persevering through trials.
One of the biggest news reports of this Summer in CCM came when Jared and Milam Byers of Bleach lost their brother, a soldier for the U.S., in the war in Iraq. Although his only blood brothers were Jared and Milam, it was said that when asked how many brothers he had, he would say, "I have five brothers and they're all in the band Bleach, listen to this CD." The guys regarded Captain Josh Byers as their biggest fan. His dedication to our country, his wife Kim, and his Bleach brothers inspired the guys enough to want to dedicate Astronomy to him even before his untimely death on July 23rd... Josh's mother's birthday. Months before his death, Josh's brother Milam penned "Tired Heart," a song written especially for Josh after news of some close calls and struggles he'd been experiencing in the Middle East. "Tired Heart" is an album highlight, a melodic rock ballad reminiscent of "Knocked Out" from Again, For the First Time. Bleach had originally intended Astronomy to be about the joys of the Christian walk. What resulted, however, was a much darker album than the guys intended. But while the album focuses on loss and weariness, it also remains hopeful.
Astronomy opens with the highlight rocker "Get Up," and moves right into the catchy "December." "Plan To Pull Through" and "Living" are encouraging songs about perseverance, with the latter possessing a sound reminiscent of songs from their 1999 self-titled release. The only song that feels out of place on Astronomy is the piano ballad "Patience." Although not a bad song by any means, and lyrically fit for the album, it is musically the ugly duckling on the record. Perhaps it would have been a more fitting close for the record, but tucked between a couple of rock songs just doesn't seem to work. Surprisingly, the band closes Astronomy with "Moving On" (originally titled "Slobber Rock"), a raucous rock tune that serves as an anthem for the band and their response to the trials they've gone through as they simply proclaim "We're moving on / We can't stay / No, we can't stay!"
Any nitpicking aside, Astronomy plays a lot like Again.... The songs only get better with each spin of the disc. However, the upbeat nature of Again... helped make it the great record it is. But if you're going through a tough time in your walk right now, Bleach wants you to know you're not alone. We all have been there in our Christian walk and these five rock n' roll guys are no exception. Astronomy, in many ways, is out of this world.- Review date: 10/12/03, written by John DiBiase
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