A Perfect Storm
Posted December 01, 2014
By MaryNikkel_NRT, Staff Reviewer
Steve Taylor & The Perfect Foil could perhaps be best described as a perfect storm. Industry pioneer Steve Taylor and his uniquely quirky and satirical songwriting style returning to the fore of the industry after two decades in which new songs have been scarce would be a massive draw in and of itself. Add Peter Furler (of longtime Newsboys fame) on drums, Jimmy Abegg (of Rich Mullins' Ragamuffin Band) on guitar and John Mark Painter (previously heard on work by artists like Sixpence None the Richer and Jon Foreman), and the result is one of the strongest supergroups in CCM history, spanning three decades of experience in a variety of Christian rock's alternative arenas.
The result is Goliath, a mammoth debut project that both revisits the past and displays surprising musical relevance. Abegg's relatively unadulterated guitar tone, Painter's straight-forward, thudding bass and Furler's enthusiastic drumming are all instantly reminiscent of late 80s and early-to-mid 90s. These factors combined with the oft-harsh vocal style offered by Taylor create moments frequently reminiscent of the first decade of the Newsboys's discography. Opener "Only A Ride" exhibits this style immediately, and later biting cut "In Layers" also captures nostalgia in musical form.
It would be far from the truth to say, however, that this album is simply a wistful glance over the shoulder by industry has-beens. Although the musicians definitely bring the style that honed their musical skills back to the table, they do so with top-of-the-line production and careful inclusion of more contemporary electronic sounds. "Moonshot" has a funky bass groove layered against some subtle synthesizer work. "Standing in Line" strips it back for a more subdued, simple sound in terms of arrangement, allowing the lyrics to stand in poetic vulnerability: "The weather came / you were skating on fire / and love spilled out like antifreeze. / The ice floes melted in separate seas."
Indeed, throughout the album the songwriting is exactly what you would expect from this set of musicians. Taylor's signature sharp and often sarcastic observations about faith, art and humanity are voiced with characteristic cleverness. Although none of the songs venture into as inflammatory territory as his past efforts, closer "Comedian" seems to actually explore Taylor's own role within the Christian music community and where that is (or perhaps at times isn't) like Christ.
Another strong moment lyrically comes on "A Life Preserved," a re-recorded track previously heard on the Steve Taylor-directed Blue Like Jazz movie soundtrack. This is an album highlight which displays why the combination of Taylor and Furler's songwriting made the Newsboys's work in the 90s some of the most memorable songs in Christian music history. "A Life Preserved" is a kind of unconventional worship song, declaring earnestly "calling me out of the shallows of my world / called to something graceful and true / gratitude is too cheap a word / for all you've reassembled / from a spirit broken and unnerved."
It is likely that not all contemporary Christian music audiences will "get" Goliath, in part because it's an alt rock record (complete with don't-bow-to-the-man messages and a lack of auto tuning shortcuts) in a pop-driven world. But those who do connect to it are likely to find this to be one of the most refreshing releases Christian music has seen in years. From the quirky yet cutting lyrics to the perpetual momentum of the drum fills and bass line to the fact that Steve Taylor's vocals seem to only get better with maturity, Goliath is a project that promises to charm, unsettle and entertain. In short, part of what makes this album good is that it is exactly what you would hope for. Each member of this supergroup brings the best of their individual experiences back into relevance for a thoroughly enjoyable listen. This album will satisfy longtime Christian alternative rock supporters and pique the interest of a new generation longing for a little musical diversity.
Song to Download Now:
"A Life Preserved" (Get it on iTunes here.)
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