King of the Comebacks
Posted March 11, 2013
By SarahFine_NRT, Staff Reviewer
T'was a bittersweet day back in 2006 when Christian music said goodbye to Audio Adrenaline after two decades. With lead vocalist Mark Stuart's ongoing vocal condition worsening and the remainder of band ready to pursue other ventures, they decided to go out in a blaze of glory and bid fans farewell with one final show in Hawaii. Little did they know at the time, God was already at work writing a second act for their story…
Skip ahead six years. Summer 2012 brought us the big news that Audio Adrenaline was reforming for a huge cause. Serving as voices for The Hands & Feet Project, an Haitian orphanage the group founded in 2004, the goal of their return was to raise awareness and provide care for the orphans of Haiti, currently totaling over 800,000. While fans rejoiced at that the band was back, what they didn't expect was the form in which they'd be returning.
Bassist Will McGinniss would be the only original member reprising his role, the other key roles being filled by guitarist Dave Ghazarian (Superchick), drummer Jared Byers (Bleach) and keyboardist Jason Walker (Know Hope Collective). Perhaps the biggest surprise however, was that the position of lead vocals was being filled by former 1/3 of dcTalk, Kevin Max. Following a period of disbelief, fans of both iconic bands began to warm up to the idea and envision the potential of the merger.
Whereas news of their reemergence came as a shock to fans, this had been quietly brewing for some time. A year in the making, both the band and the brains behind the new operation, including former frontman Mark Stuart, who is still involved with the group behind-the-scenes, had been hard at work in the studio crafting their return, 2013's much anticipated Kings & Queens.
To say expectations are high for this album would be obvious, and let's be honest, while there are a plethora of people rooting for these guys, there are a fair share of skeptics waiting to see it fail. Little do said naysayers realize however, that these ultimate "underdogs" have equipped themselves for what could be one of the great comebacks Christian music has ever seen.
"He Moves You Move" opens the project on a squeaky pop note. A surefire earworm, the song follows along the same bouncy lines as their classic, "Get Down," but manages to showcase the new line-up in a way that's completely their own. The moving first single, "Kings & Queens" follows next, and brings their personal mission of orphan care into the spotlight. A passionate rallying cry, it's impossible to hear the song without being reminded of our duty as Jesus' followers to extend His same selfless love to "the least of these" around the world.
"Believer" features the vocals of keyboardist Jason Walker on the chorus, and displays how well he and Kevin's voices work together. Powerfully worded, the message of believing no matter what life throws our way comes across strong, evident in the introspective lyric: "I want to live this live unsafe, unsure, but not afraid."
Arguably the standout cut is the quick-witted "King Of The Comebacks." The song plays on the band's return to the music scene, but offers the takeaway that our God is able to orchestrate loss into the ultimate victory. Paying homage to AA staples with lines such as "like an underdog story," and "a mighty good leader," fans will be thrilled to hear Mark Stuart making an appearance on the bridge, singing, "You can't stop the comeback." While his spot is minor for apparent vocal reasons, it brings the song full circle.
"Change My Name" is a grinding rock plea for God to change who we are and help us to live our lives for Him. Lead vocalist Kevin Max shares that it holds special meaning for him, as his personal journey is the foundation for the lyrics: "Everywhere I went people knew my name / written on my face were the scars of fame / I was known for the pride deep inside of me / but You knew the man I was born to be..."
The climactic "20:17 (Raise The Banner)," is based off the scripture 2 Chronicles 20:17, where God tells the Jerusalem inhabitants the battle against their enemies is His, not theirs, and to lay down their weapons down and allow their worship to claim the victory. Co-written by artist Dominic Balli, with Group 1 Crew making an appearance on background vocals, it stands as my personal favorite on the project.
Throwing a cover into the mix, "Fire Never Sleeps" is a rocked up version of a Martin Smith tune. Ironically, the song pulls musical cues from Delirious in the form of reckless praise in an unconventional surrounding. "Seeker" sounds like what you'd expect hear on an older AA record, yet still maintains its originality. A song about God being a Father to the fatherless, it once again tips the hat to their rekindled passion for Hands & Feet.
"I Climb The Mountain" possesses a lingering melody, and relates to everyone with its message of being a light for our faith: "Why am I so scared of conversations, am I so sure I'll turn you off? Maybe if you knew the whole story, you'd understand it all / Cause truth has a way of breaking through."
Ending a strong album on an equally strong note, the U2-sounding "The Answer" paints a picture of what the band's musical future could look like. With a darker alternative feel that still sounds radio-friendly, it might take some getting used to, but after a few listens, you'll soon find yourself moving along to the bass heavy groove.
I echo the thoughts of former vocalist Mark Stuart in my confident vote that Kings & Queens is possibly the best Audio Adrenaline record to date. On point in every aspect, there isn't a single weak song, each one holding immense potential to become a hit. While it varies in style and sound, the consistent theme of redemption throughout ties it together, making it album you'll want to listen to again and again. Older fans will be surprised to hear how much of the original sound has crossed over into this new formation, yet old and new listeners alike will enjoy the exciting melodic prospects being presented here.
Without missing a beat, Kevin, Will, Jared, Dave and Jason have breathed new life into a name that has and will continue to deliver a life changing message to people all over the world--from the kings and queens in Haiti, to the beat-up and broken-down in our own backyard. There is no doubt about it: Audio Adrenaline is back and here to stay. In the words of a classic, "That's the way, uh-huh, we like it."
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