What do you do when you're soaring to the top of the charts, getting nominated for Grammys and have an ever-growing fan base? You drastically change your style, of course. But will this change be a good one or a bad one? Let's see if Big Tent Revival has made the right choices in this regard...
In 1998, the band released Amplifier, the follow-up to their Grammy-nominated and arguably their best record to date, Open All Nite. Amplifier strayed away from their pop-driven southern blues rock and was more electric, which showed most in the bonus tracks at the end. It wasn't completely well-received, however, which probably lead to their departure from Forefront Records. But in 1999, the band has come back with Choose Life, soley released on Ardent Records for the first time (they had been on both Ardent and Forefront from the beginning). Choose Life unfortunately adds insult to injury as they wiggle towards more of a straight-up pop-soaked rock sound. It's clearly evident when they copy popular secular songs with the opening cut "Livin' Off Your Love." It begins with a catchy electronic drum beat (odd for BTR) and then trips and falls into a bootleg of a famous Third Eye Blind song (and didn't Sonicflood already do that with "I Want to Know You"?) as well as another one that I don't know the name or performer of. It's not a bad song, in fact it's pretty good all things aside, but it loses its possible goodness when you know it sounds like a rip off and you hear how drastically different it is from their previous efforts.
"Choose Life" follows, a traditional BTR ballad tainted by an untraditional drum beat, bland lyrics and melody. "Fill Me With Your Spirit" is pleasingly more along the lines of something that would be heard on Open All Nite, but it doesn't fit on the album with the two musical missteps prior to it and the others scattered following it. "Love Me Like You Do" sounds promising like "Fill Me..." as it starts out with their trademark organ, but then it introduces an upbeat bass beat and then a rip off of The Wallflowers' "One Headlight." "This Is the Word of God" cornily disguises itself as a poppy Top 20 N*Sync love song while being about the Bible. "Now Is the Right Time" is more along the lines of something from Amplifier, but suffers from painfully poor lyrics. "Will You Be Mine" is a good Valentines Day song, a BTR tune not too drastically altered. "Live For You" is a suprisingly pretty edgy song for BTR, and they pull it off nicely, actually, becoming one of the only album highlights. "Please Forgive Them" suffers the same verdict as "Now is the Right Time," while "One More Song," and "I Worship You" have a more familiar sound, but don't have enough to stand out from the others and suffer from the last-half of the track list's downfall. Choose Life closes with "That's What I Want for Christmas," a fun, yet kind of corny, Christmas song, but feels lost and "tacked on" to the end of the record. (It should have buried it at the end as a hidden track if anywhere at all.)
Certainly not a bad album, but most definitely their least effective to date, Choose Life isn't a Big Tent record I'd really recommend.- Review date: 5/8/00, written by John DiBiase
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