It's always a risk when picking up a solo album by an artist better known by their associated acts. While the name Jonathan Cain may not ring a bell, chances are you've heard some of his music through his involvement with Journey or The Babys. In this scenario, it was difficult knowing what to expect, especially with the album so explicitly bearing numerous Christian themes. Contrary to what I expected, What God Wants to Hear isn't an album that indirectly alludes to a higher power or offers a generic thanks to a generic "God." Rather, it is a completely committed CCM album, at least assuming the early '90s can still be considered "contemporary."
While the atmosphere of What God Wants to Hear is highly reminiscent of the 1980's and 1990's, it does provide a fresh take on some of the instrumentation and production, serving to deliver the best of both worlds. The lyrical content is surprisingly above average, and is paired well with the melodies, which are also quite sturdy and original throughout many of the album's 13 tracks. The album opens with "Deeper than Deep," a slower-paced driving song with a fantastic melodic structure and competent lyrics: "From Your throne reign the heavens, far above the earth / Sent the Savior the world could not condemn / … Your love is deeper than deep / the well of living waters, beyond all that I dream / Father God, Your mystery's deeper than deep." The song does end a bit awkwardly, but it is by far one of the best pieces on the album. The second track, "Bold in Prayer," is indeed a lyrically bold song and powerful statement of faith, but falls short in some other aspects, failing to make much of a mark.
"Rush into Me" is a lovely piano-driven song, and is one of the best tracks on the album. The lyrics are challenging ("I wasted so much time without You in my life / but You knew, Lord, what was yet to come / on a broken street of dreams You chose to save my soul / rush into me, straight to my soul with the speed of light") and the audio effects are well-placed. "In Your Waters" is a bit of a throwback, but is a solid and meaningful song.
The title track, "What God Wants to Hear," doesn't leave much of an impression, good or bad. "Fall into You" is a great track, but still feels somewhat unfinished and unnuanced is come places. The lyrics are sincere, and serve as a highlight on the album: "Let my body be your temple, let my music be your vessel / Lord I take up the cross and follow You / Make me empty, find redemption with obedience and true surrender." The next couple of tracks are more generic and generally unimpressive. Thankfully, "Why I Breathe," the album's semi-final track, helps to take the attention away from the mediocre. This song just falls into place with its relaxed vibe, as though Cain has been trying too hard until now. The guitar work is handled tastefully and helps to redefine the album's 11th hour. The closing track, "Because of the Blood," is an exemplary piece, but the melody fails to stand out to the degree which would be hoped for.
Ultimately, picking up What God Wants to Hear is well-worth the risk, with Cain providing a high-quality, intimate worship album. If you're a fan of Benny Hester or classic Michael W. Smith and Steven Curtis Chapman, you'll probably find quite a bit here to enjoy. The album sometimes struggles with a generic sound and some non-notable tracks, but it more than makes up for these shortcomings with what it gets right. - Review date: 10/19/16, written by David Craft of Jesusfreakhideout.com
Given the success of his group-based output, it would certainly be tempting for Cain to clone that sound for his solo efforts. Fans looking for a Christian version of Journey, however, will come up mostly empty on that tip. Indeed, Cain's new project, for the most part, sounds more akin to a hybrid between the piano-based adult contemporary stylings of Jim Brickman and the lite-pop/worship aesthetic of artists like Casting Crowns. Of course, the departure from the prototypical Journey sound is hardly a liability, in and of itself, especially for those who appreciate soothing, impeccably produced pop. Unfortunately, though, a good portion of the album breezes by without leaving much in the way of a lasting impression. And, at times, the lyrics seem like a mere patchwork of Bible passages tossed randomly together.
That said, the words of What God Wants To Hear are refreshingly simple and direct, and lyrical bobbles like those mentioned above are, by and large, kept to a minimum. Likewise, to his credit, Cain certainly knows how to craft a great pop number (he wrote "Faithfully" and helped former Journey front man, Steve Perry, pen "Open Arms"), as tracks such as "Fall Into You," "Rush Into Me" and "Because of the Blood" so ably prove.
Perhaps most impressive, especially for a keyboard virtuoso who labored silently in Perry's shadow for nearly two decades, is Cain's voice -- which many a fan will be hearing for the first time here. To be sure, his vocals are both clear and distinctive; both of which make them a sturdy, well-suited foundation for his latest set of songs. In the end analysis, its non-similarities to his band-based output may well relegate Cain's new release to the realm of dyed-in-the-wool worship fans and Journey completists. That being said, its strongest compositions hint at an artist standing on the threshold of producing something truly extraordinary in the not too distant future. - Review date: 10/5/16, written by Bert Gangl of Jesusfreakhideout.com