Release Date: May 19th 2017
Reviewed by: Joshua Andre
- Voicemail (Intro)
- I’m Still Here
- Out of the Dark
- Bleed the Same (Intro) [feat. Kirk Franklin]
- Bleed the Same [feat. tobyMac & Kirk Franklin]
- Comeback Kid
- What You’re Worth [feat. Britt Nicole]
- Dear John Praise Report
- Good News
- Prove Me Wrong
- MothDisa (Interlude)
- The One He Speaks Through
- My First Love [feat. Jeremy Camp]
- Shame Off (Deluxe Edition)
- Keep Getting Up (Deluxe Edition)
- Back To Life (Deluxe Edition)
You know, it’s funny how we as a listener place unseen pressure on an artist to constantly release albums and/or new songs whenever we are tired of the latest song we are hearing right now. We consume more and more and more, until we suddenly are bored, and then we move on. So whenever an artist falls back into radio silence and does not release new material after 2 or 3 or more years, the rumours start up. ‘Oh, such and such quit, is retired, has fallen away from Jesus, has moved on to something else, is sick, has died… any other reason, take your pick. But we have seen and heard time and time again the faithfulness of God and the power of prayer and dedication through the comebacks of many artists whom we originally thought had released their best album many years prior to their comeback album.
Mandisa, who previously was on American Idol a while ago, and recorded plenty of inspirational and successful hits and singles, the most recent thought-provoking melodies being “Overcomer”, “Back To You” and “Press On” all from 2013’s Overcomer; took a break from music in 2014 until now. And it’s not the kind of ‘dropping off social media to record the new album’, but rather not posting about anything to do with Jesus, God and music. But, like God always shows us his faithfulness, Mandisa is back, finding her voice again as she reveals to us her new album Out Of The Dark. Probably the most publicised ‘comeback’ of sorts in recent history of CCM (apart from Nichole Nordeman in 2015, Plumb in 2012, Britt Nicole in 2016 and Audio Adrenaline in 2013!), Mandisa’s fourth studio album, titled Out Of The Dark is some of her most personal and emotional melodies of her career to date. Personally, I reckon this album is her most inspiring and is sure to bring healing and comfort to all who listen, and I think that is to do with the fact that most of these melodies are pertinent to her testimony and how God pulled out of the dark during her time of depression over the past few years.
With the lead single “Unfinished”, telling a story of God’s providence over her life as she was feeling down and unworthy of his love, the rest of the 17 melodies on this deluxe edition of what is one of my favourite albums from 2017, display to us a heart on fire for Jesus, as Mandisa eloquently recounts in many unique ways how God brought her back to Himself. A must listen if you love artists like… nope, if you love music in general; Out Of The Dark is the only album you must listen to this year, if you only listen to ONE album! So, what is it that makes Mandisa’s latest offering head and shoulders above every album that released in 2017 thus far? Well holistically, Out Of The Dark tells a story of one woman’s plight from the pits of despair into the safety, security and loving arms of Jesus, and we are encouraged and reminded that if God can bring Mandisa back to Himself, He can do it for you and me. That’s not to say that other albums released this year are bad, but there’s something about Out Of The Dark that you need to experience to feel God’s power running through every track.
Aside from 4 interludes which break up the album into manageable pieces (“Voicemail Intro”, featuring messages from Mandisa’s friends reminding her that they are praying for her and not giving up on her; “Bleed The Same (Intro)”, a track that should have been incorporated into the main song “Bleed The Same”; “Dear John Praise Report”, a 20 second praise report, detailing Mandisa’s brother John becoming a Christian, sort of a sequel to “Dear John” from Overcomer; and “MothDisa Interlude”, a reminder that God speaks through any and every part of his creation, including moths and spiders!); the album opener is the promotional single “I’m Still Here”, where we are glimpsed into a further ‘explanation’ of sorts of her time away from music. It is this song that is probably my favourite out of all the songs released in 2017, simply because of the fact that it is a testimony song, basically saying that God isn’t done with us yet if we are still breathing. “I’m Still Here” is an emotional, personal, piano driven mid-tempo ballad, as Mandisa vividly describes how she felt a million miles away from being an overcomer, like she described in her previous hit song. Yet in the hopeful chorus, Mandisa reveals to us the healing in Jesus, that it is by the grace of God that ‘…I’m still here, hope is rising, waking up my soul, I’m still here, all my broken, turning beautiful, ’cause I feel my heartbeat beating, and my lungs breathe breathing, guess my God’s not done with me yet, I’m still here, all my yesterdays are gone and the best is yet to come…’. We all have those days when we feel beat down, knocked to the ground, but in probably the most inspirational song I’ve heard since “Overcomer”, Mandisa encourages us to keep on fighting, because if we have breath in our lungs, then God has a purpose, and the best is indeed to come in our lives, no matter what we may think.
Another few listens to the lengthy but thoroughly engaging tracklist brings me to proclaim that there is no fault on this album whatsoever. The title track is masterfully driven by vibrant synth, trumpets and brass instruments, creating a danceable jazz anthem, highlighting the fact that ‘…You pulled me out of the dark and into the light…’, affirming that it is Jesus and only Him who can pull us out from any and every sticky situation; while “Unfinished”, the lead single, delves into the notion that we are forever being made and remade into God’s glorious image, that ‘…He started something good and I’m gonna believe it, He started something good and He’s gonna complete it, so I’ll celebrate the truth, His work in me ain’t through, I’m just unfinished…’, as Mandisa authoritatively proclaims that truth across soothing and groovy guitar hooks and synth, that no matter how we feel at a certain moment, God is constantly working behind the scenes, fashioning each circumstance to His glory and our good. Inspirational 3 minute radio friendly pop tune “Comeback Kid” is similar in theme to Danny Gokey’s “The Comeback” and vibrantly encourages us that ‘…I will stand, nothing’s gonna keep me down, I know You hold my hand, even when the world around me feels like it’s giving in, I won’t quit, I’m a comeback kid, I know that whatever I’m going through You always got my back, so I’m gonna reach for You, if I don’t win, I won’t quit, I’m a comeback kid…’, that God has everything in the palm of His hands, and we don’t have to stress and worry; while “Good News” is a funky soul TobyMac-like melody that is similar in style to “Feel It”, as Mandisa ardently declares that there is good news that we all need to hear- but while it isn’t explicit what that ‘good news’ is, how Mandisa describes it can only be Jesus Christ!
“Bleed The Same” and “What You’re Worth” are probably two of the most engaging duets in recent history that I have heard, with TobyMac and Kirk Franklin guesting on the former track (a mini Lose My soul reunion!), and Britt Nicole on the latter. While “Bleed The Same” doesn’t explicitly talk about Jesus, or even mention Christianity, Mandisa, Toby and Kirk delve into a pertinent issue nonetheless- racism and discrimination in America and around the world. Inspired by the shootings around the time of Independence Day in 2016, and also by 2 Chronicles 7:14, Mandisa felt a calling to tell that world, that yes, we all look different on the outside, but inside, we all bleed the same. Also imploring us that ‘…if we’re gonna fight, let’s fight for each other, if we’re gonna shout, let love be the cry, we all bleed the same, so tell me why, tell me why we’re divided…’, on the surface there seems to be no answer as to why humanity is still so divided right now yet what Mandisa, Toby and Kirk have done so skilfully, is to subtly point to Jesus, that we can turn to Him in times of world crisis like what we’re in right now.
Directed at young females with low self-esteem, yet essentially also for everybody, “What You’re Worth” features Britt Nicole, and is thematically similar to Britt’s single “Gold” from a few years ago, and is similar to “Bleed The Same” in that Jesus’ name isn’t mentioned that much either (only from the bridge onwards!). Yet what this reggae/gospel/soul/rap melody displays to us, is that we’re worth infinitely more than what the world tells us, and Mandisa and Britt encourage us all to show the world what we’re worth, implying to unashamedly own our daugthership or sonship in Christ with pride and tell the world of our Saviour, as ‘…you gotta roar, get up and shout, ain’t gotta blend in, go on and stand out…’! The final duet from Out Of The Dark is “My First Love”, featuring Jeremy Camp, and though the piano led ballad is not as engaging as the previous two duets, it is nevertheless necessary to hear, as both Mandisa and Jeremy encourage those of us who have strayed from Jesus, to run back to our first Love, and also reminding those still in the faith to keep at maintaining our relationship with our first Love.
Written in her lowest low, the piano only “Prove Me Wrong” is probably the most emotional song on the album, with Mandisa questioning God’s authority and plan, especially when one of her best friends passed away a few years ago. It was actually the passing away of Lakisha Mitchell that wrecked Mandisa to the core, sending her into a spiral of depression and questioning God’s plan. All of the hurt, anger and resentment was bottled up inside, and “Prove Me Wrong” is the result of all the bottling up overflowing onto paper. Challenging God to prove her wrong with his all-powerful plan and knowledge that even the bad things can be used for His glory; Mandisa herself said later on after the initial recording of probably the most inspiring melody of her career, that God did indeed prove her wrong through the therapeutic writing of this song that is sure to provide healing and equally questions.
I can almost guarantee you that “The One He Speaks Through” will become a radio single in the near future, and could be what listeners think is the lowest point of the album, given the generic nature of the music and lyrics, as Mandisa encourages us that God speaks through anybody, and it could even be through us- yet by this time in the track list I’ve heard so many good songs from Mandisa, that one track of ‘mediocrity’ is probably needed, although the use of electronic music in a track clearly made for radio is commendable. Probably directed to each of her friends who ‘prayed Mandisa out of the pit of darkness and despair’, “The One He Speaks Through” segues into “Shine”, a no-nonsense, straight to the point, danceable guitar led anthem, encouraging us all to shine and show God’s love through the life that we each lead.
Though while the last three tracks are only on the deluxe edition of the album (which is a slight nitpick, but all the more reason for all of us to purchase the deluxe edition over the standard edition, right?), “Shame Off”, “Keep Getting Up” and “Back To Life” are worthy inclusions on one of the strongest track lists ever of any album since Unspoken’s Follow Through. With “Shame Off” and “Keep Getting Up” being both inspirational and encouraging melodies where Mandisa proclaims in the former that we can be rid ourselves of our shame and instead replace it with God’s grace and the knowledge that we are saved by the blood of Jesus, and in the latter that we can get up off of our hard times and situations in the knowledge that ‘…when we get knocked down one more time, we swing hard but lose the fight, don’t forget the battles won when we keep getting up, keep getting up…’; it is the Anthony Evans cover of “Back to Life”, that thoroughly engages and is the sogn that should have been included in the standard edition of Out Of The Dark! As Mandisa eloquently reminds us of the moment when she came ‘back to life’ in respect to her friends and God getting her through her depression, this song is a testimony and an encouragement for those in a similar situation, that our circumstances aren’t the end, that there is light at the end of the tunnel, and ‘…I’m coming back to life, I’m feeling hope arise, because of You, only You, Jesus, I, I’m leaving the rest behind, my heart is satisfied, because of You, only You, Jesus…’. Featuring gospel choir backing vocals and Mandisa’s trademark passionate vocals; “Back to Life” is a song that remind us all that it is never too late for any one of us to come back to life, from whatever situation we’re in.
With Mandisa’s new album (standard edition of 15 tracks and deluxe edition of a whopping 18 tracks!) Out Of The Dark dropping to iTunes, other digital outlets and to physical stores today; I reckon that Out Of The Dark will be one of my favourite albums of 2017 come the end of the year, and probably my favourite album from Mandisa, ever! But if you haven’t heard of Mandisa until this review, then I encourage you to listen to this album, if you would have to pick an album from her discography. Seriously, listen to the album, there isn’t anything else I can say! Well done Mandisa for releasing yet another thought-provoking, confronting and equally comforting album, that is sure to be a hit with listeners and critics alike! I can’t wait for what comes next, and I am so happy that John, Mandisa’s brother, became a Christian!
5 songs to listen to: I’m Still Here, Bleed The Same, What You’re Worth, The One He Speaks Through, Back To Life
RIYL: Kirk Franklin, TobyMac, Mary Mary, Nicole C. Mullen, Francesca Battistelli, Natalie Grant