MercyMe has a success story so many young bands can only dream about: gold and platinum certified records, astronomically huge radio hits (including the breakout "I Can Only Imagine" as well as "Word of God Speak"), jam-packed concerts, and a growing Dove Award collection all within only a few years. So what would most find as the next logical step? Follow the same formula to build upon an already impressive track record? Release a greatest hits record and call it a day? Neither of those seemed to fit just right. Instead, MercyMe made a change in direction, headed back to the studio to rediscover their "rock roots," and crafted together a project, for the most part, unlike anything we've heard from them so far.
Produced by music veteran Brown Bannister, Coming Up To Breathe just may be that breath of fresh air MercyMe seems to be longing for. While the Texas-based band has always displayed quality musicianship paired with the strong vocals of frontman Bart Millard, things appear to be a bit different this time around, still keeping those qualities intact. The title track is one indicator of this, showing Millard and Co.'s readiness to break free from any chains that have been holding them and explore new territory singing, "I'm in way too deep again/ I've forgotten how to swim/ I can't tell which way is up or down/ Save me before I drown down here/ I just need some help... I've held my breath for all my life/ And I am breaking free tonight/ And I'm coming up to breathe."
Lead single "So Long Self" is one the best tracks Coming Up To Breathe has to offer. With a lyrical hook sure to have radio listeners singing along, this song finds Millard bidding farewell to sinful nature and moving closer to Christ ("So long self/ It's been fun but I have found Somebody else/ So long self/ There's just no room for two so you are going to have to move... Farewell, oh well, goodbye, don't cry/ So long self"). Another impressive number, "Last One Standing," is one of Coming Up...'s edgier, standout tunes showing off a different side to the six-member outfit we've come to know. "No More, No Less" is rather unique considering it sounds something similar to the standard pop/rock fare favored by Christian radio, but takes a rather surprising turn by ending with a gospel-influenced choir singing underneath Millard's voice. Other noteworthy tracks include the southern rock inspired "One Trick Pony," the witty "3:42 A.M," and the worshipful "Bring The Rain." Of course, it wouldn't be a true MercyMe album without that show-stopping, "I Can Only Imagine"-type ballad. In this case, "I Would Die For You" fills the almost obligatory spot with enough emotion to follow in the footsteps of the aforementioned hit.
Coming Up To Breathe is an undeniably strong project from MercyMe. Nevertheless, it does have its slight flaws. Occasionally the lyrics from the latest batch of songs seem to be predictable. That's not to say the whole album comes off with that "overused" feeling; in fact, some places display some of the best songwriting we have heard from the band so far. It's just those few disappointing spots that seem all the more unfortunate because we know what the band is capable of penning.
MercyMe's fresh new sound and approach gives Coming Up To Breathe the potential to collect several more number one singles and be one of 2006's best new releases. So where are they headed next? We can only imagine.- Review date: 4/22/06, written by Lauren Summerford
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