Avenue North File:
Reviewed by Bert Gangl
Lights Meets the Dark
"...despite its generally pleasant demeanor and intermittent moments of transcendence, is, at best, a pale cousin to the far-superior debut and constitutes a necessary purchase for only the most devoted members of the existing fan base."
While untold multitudes of musical journalists have dedicated their valuable time and energy to covering artists who have fallen victim to what has now become known as the dreaded sophomore slump, the truth of the matter is that the most debut albums aren't anywhere near groundbreaking or commercially successful enough to serve as a stumbling block for that which comes after them. As anyone with a radio and even passing knowledge of the Christian pop scene can tell you, such is certainly not the case for the West Palm Beach-based pop outfit, Tenth Avenue North. The group's leadoff single from its first release, "Love Is Here," made it to Number 3 on the Christian chart and was one of the twenty most-played tracks on Christian Hit Radio that year. The follow-on single, "By Your Side," was even more successful, hitting the top spot on the CHR charts and perching there for nearly a month. The group went on to sell more copies of their debut record in 2008 than any other new Christian act and nabbed the coveted GMA Dove Award for New Artist of the Year. "Side" was ranked as the third most popular Christian song of the past decade by Billboard Magazine, who declared, "To say this band is going to be the next big thing feels like an understatement.”
Where the freshman project rose and fell on the shoulders of "Love," "Side" and other infectious, straight-ahead pop numbers in the vein of MercyMe, David Crowder Band and artists of their ilk, the better part of Light Meets the Dark is built around semi-ethereal pop/rock pieces that alternate between quiet, understated verses and soaring, anthemic choruses, a la the prototypical Coldplay or early-period U2 piece. While such an approach is hardly problematic, in and of itself, the bulk of the new album's cuts lack the unswerving attention to hook and melody that rendered the greater part of the first release so absolutely infectious. This becomes particularly problematic when several such faceless tracks are stacked back to back at the front end of the record, where most artists station their strongest material. Indeed, it isn't until the fifth song, "All the Pretty Things," that the T.A.N. cooperative actually manages to craft a distinctly memorable melody line.
To the band's credit, "Pretty Things" is hardly the lone shining
moment on the second project. Listeners will likely be able to whistle the
tune to the beautiful, piano-driven "Any Other Way" for months
after hearing it only once. And the absolutely spectacular "On and On" is,
at once, wispy and sweeping, as haunting as it is unforgettable – in
a word, perfect. Even so, the combined strength of these tracks still isn't
enough to carry the rest of the album and, ultimately, only serves to place
its shortcomings in that much clearer focus. It does bear noting that none
of the songs on the new release could be considered out and out duds. Likewise,
front man Mike Donehey and his cohorts should be awarded at least partial
credit for exploring new musical avenues rather than simply spitting out
a carbon copy of the first record. That said, Light Meets the Dark, despite
its generally pleasant demeanor and intermittent moments of transcendence,
is, at best, a pale cousin to the far-superior debut and constitutes a necessary
purchase for only the most devoted members of the existing fan base.
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.