Reviewed by Bert Gangl
Born Again by Newsboys
"Its various strengths and weaknesses notwithstanding, most listeners’ opinions of Born Again will probably come down to the simple matter of whether or not they enjoyed Tait’s post-Talk material."
The 17th century French writer François de la Rochefoucauld is quoted as saying that the only thing in the universe that remains constant is change. While most would agree that this is true and many have derived a certain amount of comfort from the beloved adage, the truth of the matter is that change, more often than not, is a hard pill to swallow. Such was certainly the case in 2000, when the members of dc Talk notified their fan base that, after a decade plus of making music together, they were going on indefinite hiatus. The early 2009 announcement of front man Peter Furler’s exit from the Newsboys, with whom the Talksters shared a good-natured rivalry, was almost certainly just as difficult for followers of that group to stomach and most likely left more than a few of the Aussie pop/rockers’ devotees wondering whether or not the group could remain nearly as viable without Furler at the helm.
While almost no replacement front man could hope to be universally accepted, Furler’s nomination of former dc Talk vocalist Michael Tait as his replacement was greeted with a certain cautious optimism. Tait always was the hardest-rocking member of dc Talk and he certainly brings that penchant to bear on Born Again. The first strains of the opening title cut find him wailing confidently against a fierce wall-of-sound guitar attack, ostensibly bent on convincing those who hear the scintillating piece that the band’s decade-plus flirtation with the adult contemporary and modern worship genres was nothing more than a mere bump in the road. Just as invigorating are “Escape” and “Miracles,” both of which make a very convincing argument for inclusion in the Newsboys pantheon alongside rock-based classics like “Woo Hoo” and “God is Not a Secret.” Indeed, many an enthusiast who hears these superbly-crafted tracks will scarce believe that they could be the work of the same band that gave us “Something Beautiful” and “He Reigns.”
If songs like these had been the norm, Born would have been heralded as a triumphant opening bow for Tait. As it stands, though, the softer side of the album is a far patchier affair. “Impossible” offers reassuring proof that Tait knows his way around a good power ballad. And the pop/dance/ambient fusion of “Way Beyond Myself,” although significantly different from the average Newsboys single, is nonetheless an interesting and well-tooled detour. That said, it’s hard to imagine either longtime aficionados or new converts appreciating the plodding instrumental aesthetic of “Running to You” or “Build Us Back.” The uninspired lyrics of “One Shot” (“Let me hear you shout/ Hey, hey”) and “On Your Knees” (“No mountain’s too high/ If you can believe”) do their hearers likewise few favors. The pleasant, albeit unspectacular, rendition of “Mighty to Save” makes a compelling case that two full worship projects from the band were more than enough. And the completely superfluous remake of dc Talk’s “Jesus Freak” single is, at best, a wan imitation of the genre-defining original, and, at worst, a thoroughly misguided step for a Newsboys collective that ought to be forging a new identity for Tait as leader of their group rather than revisiting the back catalog of his previous outfit.
Its various strengths and weaknesses notwithstanding, most listeners’ opinions of Born Again will probably come down to the simple matter of whether or not they enjoyed Tait’s post-Talk material. Indeed, for all of its ebb and flow, Born sounds more like a Tait solo album that it does a bona fide Newsboys release. In fairness, Tait’s distinctive voice and style are arguably bound to inject a fair amount of his personality onto any outing he undertakes. And given that he is so dearly loved by so many, hearing him again, alone, will be worth the price of admission for a large portion of the audience. But while his straightforward, enthusiastic approach injects Born with a welcome sense of vitality that has been largely lacking on recent Newsboys efforts, it simultaneously strips the new record of much of the group’s characteristically endearing, and often subtle, pop-loving quirkiness. Neither a barnburner nor an outright dud, Tait’s first release with Furler’s old band mates will probably be looked upon ten years from now as simply a transition album. Only time will tell whether Tait’s legacy with his new group will be nearly as long or distinguished as that of his highly-esteemed predecessor.
Bert Gangl was formally introduced to the wonderful world of Christian music by his baby brother as the two were winding their way through Western Tennessee in the family automobile. Ever intent on proving that not all Christian artists were knock-offs of their mainstream counterparts, the younger Gangl duly inserted his newly-purchased copy of White Heart's Freedom into the waiting car tape player and the rest, as they say, is history. In the twenty years that have transpired since that time, Bert has amassed a sizeable CCM album collection of his own and has gone on to write reviews for a range of music-related sites including ChristRock , The Phantom Tollbooth, inReview and The All-Music Guide. He currently resides in Huntsville, Alabama, with his wife and daughter.