Reviewed by Bert Gangl
This is What We Believe by Aaron Shust
Shust’s fourth full-length outing is a thoroughly pleasant affair, but, like the pair of albums that directly preceded it, doesn’t quite reach the stellar heights achieved by his superior debut.
2006 was very good to Aaron Shust. In January of that year, his second single managed to climb into the lower reaches of the Top 20 – hardly an earth-shattering accomplishment until one considers the fact that the single accomplished said feat nearly a month before it ever saw the light of day on Christian radio. The track, as most savvy CCM enthusiasts have already guessed, is "My Savior, My God," an ingratiatingly catchy, folk-tinged tune which eventually topped virtually every Christian pop chart, became iTunes most downloaded Christian pop cut of 2006 and netted Shust Song of the Year honors at the 2007 Annual GMA Dove Awards. When the dust finally settled, "Savior" had spent over seven months in the Christian Hit Radio (CHR) Top 5 and single-handedly transformed the now-ubiquitous Pittsburgh native from a virtual unknown into a household name amongst the members of the inspirational pop-loving crowd.
Perhaps in a deliberate attempt to sidestep being defined by his unlikely initial success, Shust began a slow but steady migration from his early folk/pop inclinations into more purely pop-oriented territory. Nowhere is this trend more evident than on his latest effort. The gently meandering, semi-ambient anthem, "Never Been a Greater Love," is a textbook example of this trend, falling somewhere between the contemporary worship of Chris Tomlin and the radio-friendly pop of Sanctus Real and MercyMe. The similarly pleasing mid-tempo pop ballad "Wondrous Love" is the sort of composition that could well have appeared on any of the albums by the post-John James/pre-Michael Tait version of the Newsboys. On the ever-so-slightly-harder-edged end of the spectrum, "Greater is He" runs parallel to the AC-inclined soft rock favored by artists like Jeremy Camp and Third Day.
Of course, it goes without saying that the move to more conventional pop/rock material is hardly problematic, in and of itself. The trouble lies in the fact that the better part of the songs on the new project lack the requisite hooks and melody necessary to lodge them into the average listener's memory once they've stopped playing. Exceptions to this rule do exist. The infectious late '60s/early '70s sunshine pop sheen that covers "Risen Today" renders the irresistibly lilting piece a hands-down winner. Likewise, the minimalism employed on the beautiful, semi-ethereal "God So Loved the World" is an absolutely perfect complement to the piano-based ballad's utterly gripping sense of reverence. And Shusts's rich, slightly breathy singing voice helps to inject the proceedings with a certain element of distinctiveness. Unfortunately, though, the better part of his vocals are placed against an overly generic musical backdrop that renders their contribution mostly moot.
On the lyrical front, the wording of Believe only serves to reinforce
its musical shortcomings. Consisting mainly of brief snippets of scripture
stitched together and repeated multiple times, it's hard to criticize the
content of songs themselves. That said, this sort of construction leaves
a good bit to be desired in the way of artistic creativity and, as often
as not, comes across as merely repetitive. In Shust's defense, the new
record doesn't qualify as an out and out letdown by any stretch of the
imagination. Compared to that which came before it, though, the latest
album, pleasant as it is, still comes across as a muted reflection of his
superior former works.
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.