Reviewed by Bert Gangl
We Once Were by Rush of Fools
Featuring a nearly-equal mix of bright spots and weaker moments, the third outing from the Birmingham-based quintet features a slightly broader musical palette and intermittent signs of artistic growth.
Innate human curiosity being what it is, one can’t help but wonder what inspired Wes Willis and Kevin Huguley to give their band a name like Rush of Fools. To hear those who know such things say it, the latter third of the band moniker was inspired by the opening chapter of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians which states that “God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise.” The Rush portion, while probably not originally intended as such, has nonetheless taken on a distinctly fitting slant in light of the group’s meteoric rise to prominence.
Vocalist Wes Will and guitarist Kevin Huguley met at Auburn University in late summer of 2005. Within six months, they had drafted three more musicians, formed a bona fide group, and taken home first prize at the inaugural Band with a Mission contest (sponsored by Youth with a Mission). Aflush with their sudden success, Will and his friends released their self-titled debut the following spring. The eponymous project debuted at Number 3 on the adult contemporary chart, by which time the leadoff single, “Undo,” had already spent four weeks in the top slot on the Christian pop Top 20. The ubiquitous track eventually went on to become the most played song of the year on Christian adult contemporary radio.
Despite its undeniable commercial success, the most frequent complaint levied against the freshman effort and, to a somewhat lesser degree, its successor, 2008’s Wonder of the World, was the fact that it sounded like just about everything else on the Christian pop Top 40 at the time. Listening to the opening cut on the new album, the energetic but undistinguished “We Once Were,” most listeners would draw the conclusion that the band has, indeed, contented themselves to continue along the same made-for-radio line traced out by the first two records. The follow-on tracks, “Come Find Me” and the likewise spunky but unexceptional “A Civil War,” follow in the same mold and ultimately do very little to alter this perception.
Adding to their instrumental shortcomings, the first three songs are also saddled with weak lyric writing. Sentiments like “Hiding will always be the easy way/ Just to stay/ Safer will never really make a change anyway” and “I am a lover of being in charge, though it’s my enemy/ And it sounds unlike me to not be the one with the authority,” from the title cut and “War,” respectively, ostensibly aim for grandness but wind up being simply awkward instead. “Find,” on the other hand, does possess a greater sense of clarity than either of those tracks, but is ultimately done in by sentiments such as “Come find me/Shine your light in my dark/ Come find me/ Put consuming fire in my heart” and other overly clichéd wording.
Fortunately for both the band and its followers, the remaining nine compositions show more than a few signs of life. “End of Me” is an invigorating, letter-perfect three-minute single that trades in the textbook pop/rock/worship amalgam of the first three cuts for a far more attractive fusion of ‘70s power pop and riff-driven garage rock. On the other end of the spectrum, one can imagine the accompanying video to the infectiously breezy, acoustically-based “No Other Love” – which sounds like a slightly slower version of Train’s “Hey Soul Sister” – being the sort of affair where hundreds of people sing the song at once on a rainy day and, as the last note is sounded, the sun breaks through the clouds. “You’re the Medicine” (You’re the medicine/ Not a Sedative) and “Beginning to End” (Before there was a heaven/ You were bound to nothing/ But you were there) are as insightful as they are poetic. And the rock-solid melody, air-tight harmonies and poignant wording of “Grace Found Me” elevate the standout piece to the realm of the sublime.
Overall, the bright spots and
weaker moments come in about equal measure and, as such, Were falls somewhere
between the “must-have” and “avoid
at all cost” categories. Of course, this could be said of roughly
three quarters of the material that eventually makes their way onto regular
rotation on Christian Hit Radio. To the Fools’ credit, they manage
to retain most of the underlying spirit of the first two releases while
simultaneously branching out just enough to avert any otherwise-justified
complaints of treading water or running in place. Ultimately, the widening
of the musical palette is hardly pronounced enough to attract hordes of
yet-converted listeners. That said, the good news for those who fancied
the debut and its successor is that it probably won’t do much to
alienate those who’ve staked their tents in the RoF camp either.
Just shy of a holding pattern, We Once Were shows glimmers of both depth
and diversity that the band will need to develop further if they hope to
distinguish themselves from the multitude of their like-sounding peers.
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.