|An Underrated Treasure | Posted May 10, 2013
When you think of the best albums of the mid-'90s, you probably will think of Jesus Freak or Take Me To Your Leader or Jars of Clay's debut or something else from a big name CCM artist. But here's an album you probably don't remember much, from an artist who you know little to nothing about, that can musically come at least very close to the greatness of some of these classic albums.
Nouveaux (prounounced noo-vo) was only around for two albums. And I've only ever heard one of them. This was one of the albums of my childhood. (And I mean childhood. I was 4 when it came out and my folks played it quite a bit for a while after that. So this album has a big nostalgic bonus for me, personally. But the music is great regardless.)
And despite touring with some recognizable names and having a slew of radio hits (including a pair of No. 1 songs), they seem to have been largely one of the overlooked acts of CCM in the '90s. And since they disappeared so quickly, they are little more than a footnote in CCM history. But taking a look at their second album, ...And This Is How I Feel, one has to wonder why. From start to finish, it's pretty stinkin' consistent in delivering quality pop/rock that is both refreshing and radio friendly.
The album opens with a quasi-intro track called "Nice" that showcases a sense of humor. But once the real first song gets into gear, it's clear that this album is no joke. "Maybe Tomorrow" is an emotional song about finding a wife one day. For those not currently in a relationship seeking to one day find that special somebody God has created for us, the song is a bittersweet wish of hope.
"Simply Beautiful" is next, beginning with a low and almost mysterious riff that with the pro-chorus escalates into a passionate anthem. "Never See The Day" is a passionate and emotional love song with a great chorus that has a line I've remembered clearly since childhood: "If a star fell from the sky every time I thought of you / there would be none." It's a bit on the cheesy side but it's sung with such passion by vocalist Paul Alan (yes, the same Paul Alan who released some solo albums in the 2000s) that it comes off as a serious declaration.
"You Breathe" is the first true slow song on the album and also the most blatant expression of faith on the album thus far. It's a great worship ballad and another fine entry on the album. "If Only" follows next and is the picture of a great radio anthem. With a string-backed chorus, this song about what the world would be like if the Earth could praise God with words, we'd all believe in Him: "If only the wind could whisper words / and carry the Truth / to all the earth / It would speak the name of Jesus Christ / The Great I Am, the Truth, the Life." It's another majestic moment on the album sung in a way that makes you almost picture this "if only" scenario.
The mysterious track "Larisa" is next and serves as a sort of intro to "Listen," the song from which the album title is taken. There's a guest female speaker for this and the track is entirely spoken, and in what seems to be several different languages. The only English comes in the form of the album's title being spoken at the end, and I presume this is what was being said throughout in different languages of the world. "Listen" serves as one of the darker tracks on the album, crying out our need for Christ. "Well, this heart is bleeding, broken, needing / Slowly dying, hardly beating / Listening, are you listening / Like the air that I breathe, I need You / This image is so surreal / I don't want to live without you Lord / And this is how I feel." It's another powerful moment on the record.
"Through Heaven's Fields" follows and if you thought it'd be time to slow down by now, you'd be wrong. In fact, this song could be one of the strongest on the album. Spoken from the point-of-view of Christ, it's an emotional plea to let go of ourselves and surrender ourselves completely to Him. "Footsteps, Heartbeat / can't cry, can't sleep / Colors fading - winter sky / Miles before you, miles behind / Darkness laughing, close your eyes / I'll be waiting with arms open wide / The perfect picture of the day I died / Take my hand / I want to lead you to the other side of forever / Follow me / I want to run with you through Heaven's fields of gold." It's another emotional track that picks up some pep during the bridge.
"I'll Cry Too" is another slower emotional entry about God's desire to be with us in our pain. "Wonder" picks up the pep one last time before a solid cover of the haunting Kansas ballad "Chasing Shadows" (written and originally sung by John Elefante who also co-wrote a few of the other tracks on this album).
The album is musically and lyrically top-notch in just about all areas. It's mind-boggling how it wasn't ten times bigger than it was in 1990s CCM.
How Does It Hold Up Today?
So the question remains, is this just a fine nostalgic trip down memory lane or has this album held up well after over 15 years? I'd say it's a mixture of sorts. While the nostalgia may make anything from the era feel a bit "dated," there is an undeniable "90's CCM flare" to the music. That said, there's nothing I found overly outdated here, either. The lyrics and music are perfectly relevant today. So if you don't mind at least a moderate degree of throwback, this is a great release to check out today. It might've aged a little bit, but I think it's aged quite well.
What Is The Band Up To Lately?
The band disbanded after 1997. Lead singer Paul Alan
released two solo albums about 8 years apart during the 2000s, and scored some moderate radio hits including "To Bring You Back," which still seems to fit naturally with how he sounded on this album. He currently is a staff songwriter for Word records.
I spoke to founding member Steve Ashley and he filled me in on what the rest of the band is currently up to. Ashley has been working with fellow Nouveaux member KC Smothers on some new music as well as recording songs for use in TV placements. Other members are still involved in music-related tasks ranging from teaching music, doing audio production, and doing small projects for local musicians out of a home recording studio.
Ashley is active on the newly started FB page commemorating the band. So give it a like if you want to follow the current goings-on for Steve Ashley as well as receive nostalgic nuggets of info about Nouveaux, check it out here
One thing's for sure, music is still very much a part of their lives, even if they're keeping quiet, away from the spotlight.
Check this album out, if you can find it. This is a severely underrated gem of 90's pop/rock that has been locked up tight in the back of the CCM vault. There's a lot here worth rediscovering and I hope that somebody, some of these hidden classics might somehow get a little bit more recognition.
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