It's been an interesting chain of events since Icon For Hire hit the national scene with their 2011 release, Scripted. The group that originated as a church worship band, and signed to a label widely known as a home to Christian artists, has long denied that they were a Christian band. But not too long after their debut release, vocalist Ariel perhaps vented too openly on her blog by claiming their Christian fan base was chasing away other potential fans. This was perhaps the biggest stance against being a Christian band since Evanescence's in 2003. Now, let's fast forward to October 2013 and the release of their self-titled sophomore LP. Icon finds themselves releasing a head scratcher of an album that could leave many fans and listeners confused and underwhelmed.
"Cynics and Critics" opens things up on a fairly positive note. The track introduces more electronic elements than found on Scripted. Overall, it's a solid rocker and finds Ariel embracing some criticism the band received about borrowing from other bands as she sings, "We're a copy of a copy everything, we swore we'd not be. Yeah, the truth hurts, but it hasn't stung enough to stop me." The album starts its rapid deterioration with "Nerves," though. The song opens with a heavily processed pop sound before moving into more of a rocking chorus. The song tries to salvage itself a bit, but the way the lyrics, "Have you had enough? Have you, have you had enough?" are sung is enough to, well, get on your nerves. "Sugar and Spice" is next up and is probably the weakest track on the album. The song finds Ariel rapping (there really is no other way to explain it) in the verses. A strangely rapped verse coupled with a repetitive and boring chorus just doesn't add up. The confusion continues as the rapping comes back, and in a larger part, for "Hope of Morning." While, lyrically, the album is weaker than Scripted, the first place it's really noticeable is "Sorry About Your Parents." While probably not intentional, the song seems to contradict itself. The pre-chorus has Ariel singing in a seemingly sarcastic tone, "I know it's not your fault; it never is. Is it?", and follows it with the more sympathetic, "I, I know what it's like staying up all night nursing wounds." In the second verse she goes on to say, "Mmmm, I get it; give me a little credit. I remember when I was that pathetic." The song seems to mean well, but comes off just the opposite.
Though they aren't a Christian band, I will make mention of "Watch Me" for their Christian fans. Ariel, rapping yet again, in the second verse drops the line, "I'm calling it, you're full of shhhh." While she doesn't actually use a curse word here, the line falls flat. It's unknown if the intention was to be cute, or to show a sense of edginess, but it just plays out as tacky. "Slow Down" does just what its title suggests and drops the pace of the album. This is probably the best overall song on the album and was much needed by this point. "Rock and Roll Thugs" immediately follows and is probably the best rock track of the bunch. In the oddly sung, and somewhat out of place, opening Ariel sings, "The music is my blood, you don't understand," to piano. The song talks about an issue many raised in strict Christian homes can relate to: The evils of rock and roll and your parents' (and pastor's) role in preventing you from listening. Weaker lyrics show up again in the chorus as some figurative dialogue may come off as a bit more silly than meaningful, to some. While it is lacking at times, the song is very accessible and is in fact enjoyable. The best two tracks are followed by "Think I'm Sick," which is strangely reminiscent to Gwen Stefani's "Hollaback Girl." Finally, the slower "Fix Me" and "Counting Our Hearts" bring the album to a close.
One listen to Scripted proved Icon For Hire had potential, but one listen to their self-titled follow up leaves you wondering where it went. Fans of the edgier sound may find it hard to adjust to the new poppier and rap laden sound found this time around. I was personally excited for this record, but was left with nothing more than a bad aftertaste. The album finds the band trying too hard: Trying too hard to be different, trying too hard to be hip, and trying too hard to be cute and interesting lyrically. Every band should be able to grow, mature, and have the right to diversify musically, but this is a complete one-eighty. Icon's new album may be the very definition of sophomore slump.- Review date: 10/13/13, written by Michael Weaver of Jesusfreakhideout.com
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