The Impersonator Leaves His Mark| Posted October 15, 2014
Marc Martel was already somewhat renowned in the Christian music industry as the recognizable co-vocalist of the moderately successful Canadian rock group Downhere. What wasn't as well known, except to the band's diehards, was that Martel had an uncanny vocal resemblance to (or at least a baffling ability to channel) the late Queen singer Freddie Mercury. Seemingly by the hand of God, just around the time Downhere was thinking of ending their ministry, a door blew open for Martel: the Queen Extravaganza.
His video audition for the vocalist spot on an official tribute band to the legendary rockers went viral, and it came as no surprise when he got the gig and carried the tribute band to touring success. But not content to just be known as a Mercury mimic to the mainstream market, Martel began to work on a full-length solo debut. An EP and single later, and we finally have that solo album in our hands.
While his previously released songs tread contemporary pop waters, Martel is a rocker at heart. And one listen to the aptly titled Impersonator shows that he's come roaring back to what he knows best.
Opening crunchy guitar-driven "Say The Word" sets the pace for an album overflowing with bass driven goodness, epic rock vocals ripped out of the best of the 70's, and tongue-in-cheek wit that Martel is a modern master of. Songs like "Dead Ringer" and "Ringo Starr" can knock you out of your seat with their raw power. And "Straitjacket" is relentless in its piercing, infectious beat.
Not surprisingly, the search for identity drives a large numbers of selections on the album, whose very title pays homage to the fact that most know Martel only for who he sounds like. With songs like "Dead Ringer," "The Remake" and the title track, Martel acknowledges his search for his own unique musical identity. Musically, I think it's clear that he succeeds. While there is definite Queen and classic rock homage, Martel's spin is unique and unpredictable from track to track. He infused each song with his personality, and this helps each track make a solid musical statement.
Martel hasn't forgotten his knack for creating pop smashes either. "Magnetic" and "Our Best" tap into the well of pop gold to form some of the catchiest choruses on the album. "Stalemate" takes on ballad territory and proves to be an effective sonic balance to the album's more bombastic moments.
Of course, the crowning jewel of this album is the lead single "Paradise." Starting off as seemingly another of the album's throwback rockers– complete with high-pitched choruses– it explodes towards the end into a truly stunning musical experience. With legendary guitar work and slamming orchestral backing to Martel's vocals, it makes for a grand finale finish to the song that nothing else on the album ever matches.
Another lyrical theme revolves around Martel and his wife, with several songs being straightforward love songs, and some even addressing the direct temptation a married man faces on the road. Indeed, "Straitjacket" offers some of the more meaty lyrics on the album. In this song, Martel tells how his marriage to his wife keeps him from falling away: "She keeps my hands tied safely behind me / I never thought that giving up my heart could free my soul / no waking up cold with no stranger beside me / tonight I'll take the warm embrace of my straitjacket." In an age where music glorifies reckless gratification, it's refreshing to hear a song acknowledge that there's something to restraint.
Martel has always been one of the best kept secrets in the music business in general, let alone in Christian music. Despite his exposure, the indie release and vibe of this album is unlikely to change that. But for those who dare to discover what he has to offer, you'll find one of the most delectable pieces of musical goodness of the year. With a flawless blend of modern and classic rock, Martel's musical chops make for an unforgettable and engaging listen.
While Downhere fans may long for the days when Martel gave us overt spiritual lyrics, there is still a lot of positive, clean fun to be had here. It's a bit less spiritually nourishing, perhaps, but still a worthwhile musical endeavor. Don't let this one slip through the cracks!
Song to Download Now:
"Paradise" (Get it on iTunes here.)