It's been twelve years since these boys first began making energetic pop rock with an unshakable message of Faith. In 2001, the guys struck musical gold with their tightest and most mature work to date with Lift. The album produced such hits and favorites as "Ocean Floor," "Beautiful," "Glory," and "Tremble" -- songs that defined the band's growth and mission. This was a big step for Audio Adrenaline as they strayed slightly from their more youth-aimed pop/rock for a more worshipful direction. This resulted with Lift taking a disappointingly long time to catch on with fans, but snagged the attention it most definitely deserved with Grammy and Dove award nominations before 2002 drew to a close. Just months after their nominations for Lift, the band is poised and ready to release Worldwide, the next installment in the Audio A anthology, that blends the worshipful message of Lift with the more laid back and fun feel of previous projects Underdog and bloOm.
"Worldwide One" opens Audio Adrenaline's seventh full-length studio album, a song that lyrically serves as an update for the band's classic "We're A Band" recorded exactly a decade ago. Audio works more elements of their live performances into their sound this time around while polishing rough edges in production. This, however, is one of Worldwide's few problems. The produced-to-perfection rawer edge that Lift offered is missing here which was one of the project's greatest charms. Worldwide is well-produced but at times feels to have been polished a little more than needed when the guys aren't rocking out tracks like "Church Punks" or "Worldwide Two." Mark Stuart's aged and gritty vocals fit beautifully with the edge of Lift but are utilized a lot less often on Worldwide. In fact, guitarist Tyler Burkum, who handled many of the lead melodies on the last album, picks up the mic just as much if not more than Stuart this time around, singing a couple songs entirely on his own. Does this mean it doesn't sound like Audio A? Actually, it does. The band has been phasing Burkum's vocal abilities in slowly since joining the group some time before the 1999 project Underdog. He handled some background vocals and bridges of songs which lead to full choruses or verses on Lift. And surprisingly enough, Burkum's vocals compliment Stuart's extremely well. The only drawback to this is diehard fans will miss hearing Mark's voice as often as they're accustomed to as his vocals are one of the irreplaceably defining elements of Audio Adrenaline's sound.
Vocal assessment aside, the band follows the brief punk-rock-flavored rocker "Church Punks" with "Dirty," the album's first pop single, an anthem for the youth calling them to break out from their comfort zones and get their hands "dirty" in the mission field that is the world around us. Musically, the song is most reminiscent of the greatest hit of their career, "Big House," with a similar catchy guitar lick and infectious rhythm. The album switches gears musically with "Go & Be" a beautifully melodic and upbeat track that lyrically urges the listener to find out who God wants them to be and to surrender ourselves to His calling. "Pierced" is a delicate worship song about brokenness and the strength we're given through Christ when we surrender to Him. Burkum owns this track as his smooth vocals follow a piano-driven intro to compose a passionate tune that stretches Tyler's vocal abilities. "Pierced" also marks the band's first experimentation with a Gospel choir backdrop. When the song finally and surprisingly breaks into the choir (which also soon sees the introduction of Stuart's vocals to the song), you find it works beautifully and never even comes close to over-powering the track or Burkum's lead. Stuart reclaims the spotlight for the rootsy "Strong," which is likely to bring back a few fond memories of the band's bloOm days. Lyrically, "Strong" is a proclamation to stand firm through persecution and trials as the chorus cries, "And I'll be strong and courageous / I'll live my life for You, my only King / cause You're my God through all the ages / Here am I, I am Yours / Send me..." Fans will also enjoy the song's nod to the band's missions-minded hit, "Hands and Feet," at the close of the song.
The album highlights keep coming with "Pour Your Love Down," a rousing cry for the Lord's presence. A driving electric guitar riff and a sprinkling of the piano serve as an intro for another Burkum vehicle. The message of the song sums up the band's passion as it touches on the comfort of God's love and the urgency we feel to be consumed by it. Audio follows up their hit "Ocean Floor" from their previous project with Worldwide's "Leaving Ninety-Nine," a dramatically slower ballad for the band that reminds us of God's role as our Shepherd when we feel lost and destitute, "I'd leave ninety-nine / leave them all behind / to find you / for you alone..." "Leaving"'s charm is not just in it's heart-wrenching reminder, but also in it's semi-retro feel and Burkum's passionate delivery. "Miracle," originally titled "You Ruined My Life" until the band unfortunately renamed it, closes the string of worshipful explorations with a message of how God has turned our lives upside down and "ruins" our former lost and misdirected ways before we came to know Him. Worldwide virtually ends there with "Worldwide Two," the hardest rocker on the project and a definite highlight as the band reinforces their mission with a different take from the album's opener.
The only weak point on the record follows with the new track, "Start A Fire," recorded live on a recent tour, which encourages youth to set their world and school on fire for Christ. The song offers a heavy-metal, arena-rock-flavored backdrop and raw delivery that just seems to contrast too greatly with the rest of the project. I appreciate and understand what the guys are trying to do here, but in comparison with the solid gold offerings of many of the other tracks, "Start A Fire" just can't hold a candle to them. Finally, the album appropriately closes with the AC (Adult Contemporary) radio remix of their hit "Ocean Floor" which replaces the song's key guitar riffs with a prominent piano melody. It works, and fits well with the rest of the album, but the remix doesn't have quite the impact that the original had.
With those being the only minor problems, aside from a seemingly short running time, Worldwide is a solid addition to any Audio Adrenaline fan's library. Although the core of the album is more melodic and softer than previous efforts from the band (which is probably even more evident due to production), Worldwide offers some of the most memorable moments for the band. Audio proves they still have got what it takes and know how to compose some of the best modern worship songs without recycling overly used material that floods such a market these days. Worldwide is a great album to start off a promising year for releases in CCM and will easily be one of the best projects of 2003!- Review date: 2/9/03, written by John DiBiase
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