Just one year after We Are Messengers' sophomore album hit the airwaves, the Irish-turned-American band show a quick turnaround with their third full-length album, titled Wholehearted. I've always seen WAM as kind of a "Rend Collective light," leaning less on their Irish roots musically, yet with more depth lyrically; and these traits are only magnified on Wholehearted.
Opening with the title track, a multiplicity of instruments are utilized, beginning with a keyboard and programmed kick drums giving an 80's pop vibe, till the acoustic guitar kicks in and brings a more modern worship feel. Frontman Darren Mulligan has quite the personal testimony, one of receiving God's grace and mercy when he least deserved it, and his lyrics (not to mention his surname) testify firsthand of God's infinite mercy, "faithful when I'm at my worst/I don't get what I deserve/when I need grace/You give it wholehearted." The message of God's grace given to undeserving sinners permeates the entire album. Using a straightforward, scripturally-infused approach, songs like "Now It's Our Turn" seamlessly take timeless truths and invite application to our everyday lives, "mercy's not a pretty word, it gets down in the dirt/for better or for worse/and sometimes it's gonna hurt/to love without reserve/but Jesus did it first/and now it's our turn."
WAM's previous albums featured their share of tame radio-pop, but mixed it up with pretty high-octane rock and some Irish overtones here and there. With this album, however, these extremes are all but gone, leaving mostly mid-tempo pop that you'd find on most Christian radio stations. This especially brings the experience down when listening from front-to-back, with the few exceptions being the brief-yet-silky guitar breaks in "Faith Sees Best In The Dark" and "Holding On," the cover of Irish-folk song "Parting Glass," and the U2-flavored driving rock of "Million Miles Away." That being said, there's a certain conviction in Mulligan's voice and writing, as of someone who isn't just checking off boxes or using "Christianese," but one who's experienced God's forgiveness personally, that make tracks like "Come What May" immensely powerful, "in every high in every low/on mountain tops down broken roads/You're still my rock my hope remains/I'll rest in the arms of Jesus/come what may."
A recent trend I've been noticing is that "deluxe" songs end up being the most creative and memorable of the whole bunch, and musically, that seems to be the case here. While the chorus of lead single "God You Are" is bland and repetitive, the bonus track "I See A Light" is catchy, fun to sing, and more interesting to revisit. Likewise, the swaying rhythm of "Give Thanks To God" is a fitting companion to this humble song of gratitude, one that would make a perfect addition to any Thanksgiving playlist. The closer, previously released "I'll Think About You," is an emotional song dealing with grief and loss, and while it's a purposefully somber moment, it would have been a good addition to the main album, if only to break up the mould a bit.
The message of Wholehearted is timely and rests on biblical foundations, but the energy seems a bit low and certainly doesn't match up to their bubbly debut. The band, for the most part, stays within radio friendly confines, with less dynamic variety than previous efforts. Still, if you're in need of an encouraging word, or are looking for deeper biblical content than most Christian pop, you'll find much to enjoy here. Especially check out "Come What May," "I See A Light" and "Now It's Our Turn."
Editor's Note: The pre-release media was given included the bonus songs, but the releases on street day seem to have alternate bonus acoustic songs. 10/21/21 update: The Deluxe edition songs we received will now be on a future re-release of Wholehearted -- JFH- Review date: 10/9/21, written by Joel Zaloum of Jesusfreakhideout.com
Record Label: Curb / Word Entertainment
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