Broken Temples to the Max| Posted September 17, 2015
If you've tried to pin Kevin Max down to a particular musical style, chances are, you've come up frustrated and short--that is, if you've familiarized yourself with the quintessential singer's discography post-dcTalk.
He's experimented with various flavors in pop, progressive rock, new age, nu wave, spoken word and a number of others musical ventures that surpass classification.
So it was probably a surprise to lots of Max-watchers that "The Singer" found himself back in the mainstream CCM circuit as frontman of Audio Adrenaline. That experiment--while widely successful and a fantastic return for Kevin Max on many levels that go beyond just music--ultimately didn't last, and the artist's unbridled creativity pressed forward.
Enter 2015's Broken Temples, an album driven by Max's Christian pop revival that featured some songs that would've had a home on a new Audio record. The seven new songs (and three remixes) collected therein made Max's voice once again accessible to the masses, with incredible songs such as "You Light Me Up" and "White Horse."
Now with Max's Deluxe Edition of the record, we're treated to four additional Broken Temples songs that didn't make the first cut of the record (with the exception of a demo version of "That Was Then And This is Now"). Carrying more of the Kevin Max vibe to which we've become accustomed in the past decade, the new songs herald the return of... the return of the singer.
"Memoria" carries a piano-driven, Brit-pop, Beatlesesque feel to it with a bit of psychedelia tossed in for good measure, complete with marching band snare drums reminiscent of Sgt. Pepper's. While the song seems to fit in with Max's career, it already sets a different tone from the other Broken Temples songs, carrying less-overt but more poetic lyrics in addition to the musical shift. The tune seems to be about moving on to Heaven from this broken world: "And I need you right beside me, as we take a path less likely / To the rest / Away from all this mess."
Gears change again with "Lay Down Your Weapons My Friend," a song about reconciliation fueled by Nashville-inspired blues-rock riffs, random female background vocalists and B3 organ. These lyrics are more overtly written about the process of forgiveness and reconciliation. He urges the subject of the song to "surrender in Jesus' name" while confessing: "I'm not here to judge you, I am just man / A man who's letting go of all his ugly sins / I found salvation with the freedom of giving in / So lay down your weapons my friend."
Kevin Max says "Freak Flag" is like a 1990s youth group anthem that got lost for 25 years. While it's not an old song, the comparison is dead-on, as the tune pointedly captures the in-your-face, unashamed and overly overt lyrical battle cries of the golden age of Christian alternative music.
Pivoting off the message of his former band's mega-hit "Jesus Freak," this song is a call to "let your freak flag fly so high." It's a catchy appropriation of a term previously used for people who are unabashedly weird and/or deviant in their lifestyle.
Instead, with a tune that would've been at home on a previous dcTalk record--or even more fittingly, a Mark Stuart-era Audio Adrenaline record--Max talks about needing to share "a message that is trapped in my chest" and "like a prophet or a preacher or an activist, I can't keep it quiet."
In the second verse, he switches focus from himself to others, taking notice of young people processing life together apart from God. He randomly and surprisingly throws in a jab at Scientology, saying the "wake up call" to figuring out life is "the Holy Word of God, not Hubbard's Dianetic flaws."
"Freak Flag" borrows a lot from its predecessor "Jesus Freak," including the line "We don't care what people think," but it's totally acceptable given the understanding that this is intended to be a sequel of sorts to that song. Christian music fans will either love or hate this song due to its '90s-era feel, but regardless, Max captures the vibe successfully. I like it, if not for pure nostalgic value.
The highlight track of the Deluxe Edition is "Desperate Heart." Pulsating synths immediately move us on to Kevin Max's favorite decade: the 1980s. In this tune, which craves for Jesus' love as "the cure" for what ails his soul, Max strikes a near-perfect balance of pop accessibility, lyrics that are both poetic and approachable, and musical atmosphere.
The autobiographical tune laments Max's "weakness living here inside my bones" and a "tangled mess... like a spider web of dead-end streets," ultimately leading to a prayer in the bridge that asks God to "come draw the poison from this well." The chorus repeats the phrase "It's the cure!" which will undoubtedly get stuck in your head. Production value and instrumentation is top notch on this track.
It's understandable why these four songs didn't make the original cut of Broken Temples thematically, musically and lyrically. But we're glad Kevin Max decided to unveil this Deluxe Edition, because the addition of these tracks gives fans of The Singer some clues as to where he's headed next--or does it? The enigmatic Max rarely sticks to a script.
With the exception of the demo version of "That Was Then..." all four songs show us a different facet of Max, and while the artist himself said that he's probably not coming back to the Christian pop style we've heard on Broken Temples and during his Audio Adrenaline days, we can hope that he'll find a happy medium, as in the case of "Desperate Heart," in the road ahead. In the meantime, we'll enjoy these four extra songs as a fantastic bonus to an already good album.
Song to Download Now:
"Desperate Heart" (Get it on iTunes here.)