Since the release of their eponymous 2003 debut, Casting Crowns has become one of the most successful acts in the Christian industry. They have consistently hit the sweet spot for many CCM fans by marrying accessible musicianship with worshipful and often challenging lyrics. Whatever missteps they have endured over the years have been mostly dependent on stepping away from their identity. The most recent example being the band's folk/pop inspired Thrive, a record that was severely held back by its dependency on what was popular at the time. Since then, the band has released a rather solid live collection of current worship hits and original singles. Following this rather obvious hint at the next album's direction, The Very Next Thing is everything we would expect from a band revelling in their prime: worshipful anthems, beautiful melodies, and a hoedown (yes, you read right).
"Hallelujah" challenges opening stereotypes from the get go with a slow, almost epic buildup of thunderous drums and victorious praises. This is followed by the two most radio-friendly tracks on the album. "One Step Away" and the title track are almost identical to one another and especially pander to the adult contemporary audience. They're ok for what they are, but they quickly tire after multiple rotations.
This is instantly remedied by the piano ballad "Oh My Soul." It's a tearjerking look into Mark's recent struggle with cancer and may be one of the band's best songs to date. It's also the only one of its kind on the record (which I would argue to be a very wise decision). "Still Standing Here" is another album highlight. Focusing on regret for not stepping into an opportunity to serve Christ, the song features a groovy bassline and Gospel choir in the chorus, painting a hopeful image rather than a bleak one. It shows God is always patient with us even when we aren't with ourselves.
"God of All My Days," "For All You Are," and "No Other Name" are the most worshipful moments on the record, including the aforementioned opening track. If played end to end they do blur together, but the album does an excellent job of spacing them between songs of a different nature. This includes the bluegrass-influenced "The God Man Passes By" and the much better attempt to import the folk/pop sound with "Song That The Angel's Can't Sing." The album closes with "Loving My Jesus," a pleasant acoustic number reminiscent of Come to the Well's "So Far To Find You."
To say The Very Next Thing is Casting Crowns' strongest effort would be a bit of an overstatement, but to hold it as one of their most well-rounded albums to date is certainly not far off the mark. If you're a fan of the band, this is highly recommended, and even if you're not, it's still a respectable CCM album worth a listen.- Review date: 9/15/16, written by Lucas Munachen of Jesusfreakhideout.com
Casting Crown's excursion into the trendy realm of banjos and folk pop has come to an end, and they are back making music that they are comfortable at. The Very Next Thing sets itself apart from CC's past catalogue right away in the opening track, "Hallelujah." The big, bombastic sounds, coupled with lyrics which thoroughly convicts and thoroughly praises, is probably the band at the very top of their game (though the similarities between this song and "Hallelujah" by The Digital Age make me wonder). The title track follows, feeling like a classic Casting Crowns number (in a good way) that feeds the positive momentum of the album, only for it to come crashing down with the exceptionally ordinary CCM radio fodder (and lead single), "One Step Away." CC has usually picked their singles well as an album's overall strongest work and avoided the common pitfall of making this type of radio fodder. The album would have been a lot stronger without it.
But with the exclusion of "One Step Away," The Very Next Thing's entire first half is arguably the strongest the band has ever been, balancing well-written tender tracks with thoughtful praise tracks that stay well within the realm of CC's strengths without feeling redundant. The second half isn't nearly as strong. The folky hoedown "The God Man Passes By" comes completely out of left field and throws a bizarre twist that totally reverses the trends of the album's front half (and not in a good way), and with the exception of "Song The Angels Can't Sing," there is little that stands out otherwise.
Whatever preconceived notion one has towards CC (beloved, despised, thought-provoking, cliché, good at what they do, thoroughly mediocre), The Very Next Thing will likely reaffirm all these impressions, and more. But at its core, what this album represents is the bestselling band in modern CCM history sticking to what they do best and what has made them such a huge and influential band in the first place.- Review date: 9/20/16, Mark Rice of Jesusfreakhideout.com
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