FLASHBACK FRIDAYS: WEEK 45 (Tenth Avenue North’s “No Shame”) – When we’re sons and daughters of God, we can live with no shame!

Provident Label Group

Release Date: August 2nd 2019

Reviewed by: Joshua Andre

Tenth Avenue North– No Shame (Amazon mp3/iTunes)

Track Listing:

  1. Intro
  2. No Shame (feat. The Young Escape)
  3. Heaven Is Now
  4. Someone to Talk To
  5. A Phone Call
  6. Greater Than All My Regrets
  7. The Future
  8. Paranoia
  9. Reaching
  10. Call My Name
  11. Space to Speak
  12. Always Been You

CCM pop band Tenth Avenue North have been one of the most inspiring, emotional, honest and heartfelt artists I’ve ever heard. Period. That’s a fact- and if you disagree with me, then you better quickly stream the band’s entire discography so that you all can agree with me. On a serious note though, these guys, who have been around since 2008 and are hence veterans in the CCM industry, have given us hit after hit, and songs to inspire and challenge us at the same time. Songs like “You Are More”, “By Your Side”, “Strong Enough To Save”, “Healing Begins”, “Losing”, “Worn”, “No Man Is An Island”, “For Those Who Can’t Speak”, “Control (Somehow You Want Me)”, “Afraid”, “What You Want”, “I Have This Hope”, “Stars In The Night”, “Hold My Heart” and “Love Is Here” (did I just name a potential greatest hits album?) have all spoken to us at one point or another, helping us with our Christian walk, or at times just helping us with life even if we aren’t believers. These guys aren’t popular by any means in respect to the mainstream industry at large- yet for me I reckon they’re pretty influential. Just take a look at lead singer Mike Donehey’s video journals over the years, and then you’ll understand why these guys will take the entire world by storm in the coming months and years.

Yet last year, Tenth Avenue North released a controversial album. At least controversial for the CCM community (which, I’m not sure why it was controversial, but… I digress). The Things We’ve Been Afraid To Say was an EP where the group tackled some of the most taboo subjects, singing songs of lament rather than songs of joy and of thanksgiving. And singing songs that don’t necessarily have the answers, and things tied up in a nice neat bow. Pouring your heart out to God, giving Him over everything, whilst definitely not coming to a conclusion in the song, or at least a happy and joyous ending. But instead leaving with more questions and a deeper discussion and exploration of faith than before- this way of how songs are constructed (asking questions as opposed to providing the solution) isn’t explored enough in Christian music- and that’s a sad thing in my opinion. Christian music should be more real and authentic than what we’ve been presented with for a past long while; yet it is Tenth Avenue North who is one of the bands leading the way for Christian musicians to be honest, without fear of judgement. And this was why The Things We’ve Been Afraid To Say was so ground-breaking and revolutionary- here we were presented with an established band who was normally and predominately present in the CCM industry creating a very un-CCM like project, with the very risk of the project bombing and fans leaving and not supporting the band ever again. I mean, what was lead singer Mike Donehey thinking?

I guess Mike was thinking with his heart and not his pocket. Wow…that came out all kinds of wrong, didn’t it? Let’s start again. Mike was methodically thinking, and probably came to the conclusion that the band was at that stage in their career when success or failure didn’t matter in the long run. They were veterans and already had 10+ years of experience as a band, and I guess they probably surmised that any more fame or recognition from here on out would’ve been the icing on the cake. They’ve had tons of singles, have impacted countless lives, and have touched the surface on tons of issues that most Christian artists would never touch- so why not go for the jugular and speak more in depth now, about issues that are often swept underneath the rug? On the flipside though, I know it’s probably way harsh on my own part to preclude and conclude than artists starting out in CCM (or even some veteran artists) can sometimes record albums partly because of the dollars (which in some sad, rare cases do happen- and we’ll probably never know which band/artist are in fact legit until…well, probably never!); but CCM is nonetheless a business just like any other. Radio singles sell and if you don’t have enough of those, then bye, bye. Your spot on the radio gets shafted for the next best thing and then you fade into oblivion. Yet as I’ve said earlier in this paragraph Tenth Avenue North are at that stage in their career where they don’t really care about preconceptions. Mike felt that this EP was necessary (which Jon has reviewed in depth!), so that’s what the group did. No singles, no touring, no promotion. If only to create discussion. I guess it comes as no surprise that no song officially went to radio in support of the release (except for “Secrets”, and that was a very brief stint or about a week or so!)- and while the response to the album wasn’t that great in terms of radio sales; comments on Youtube from their songs from The Things We’ve Been Afraid To Say tell a different story. These comments from Youtube, when I skimmed several threads today, were mostly from people struggling with the same things that we all are, and realising that songs like “Counterfeits” about the ever prevailing issue of pornography, or “Covenant” about actively choosing to stay true to your significant other while still having conflicting feelings, are speaking directly to them; letting us all know that we’re not alone in our struggles, that we are indeed free to struggle, but we’re not struggling to be free (“The Struggle” in 2012)!

From a marketing standpoint, it probably didn’t make sense for Mike and the guys to release another album so quickly after The Things We’ve Been Afraid To Say. After all, if Mike Donehey, Jeff Owen and Ruben Juarez wanted to gain back some of their radio success, then they had to tour the EP for an extended period of time, and then speak about the stories behind the songs, right? Well I’m not sure why Mike and the rest of the guys never toured for this EP and never explicitly said (aside from a few teaching videos) how each song was recorded in light of the subject matter and what was going on in the world at the time- perhaps with two members of Tenth Avenue North leaving (Jason Jamieson and Brendan Shirley), these guys couldn’t really afford to go out on tour while the band was in flux. But whatever the reason- maybe Mike wanted the 6 songs on the EP to speak for themselves with little or no explanation- it’s 2019 now, and guess what? Yep, Tenth Avenue North are back with a brand new album, called No Shame! And before you ask, I’ll just say that it’s all new tracks. None of the tracks from The Things We’ve Been Afraid To Say are present here.

“…In the Christian industry people want to hear about our struggles, as long as they are past tense because it’s too complicated to say, ‘Jesus doesn’t always redeem us from our struggles, sometimes he redeems us through our struggles,'” Donehey says. “That’s scary for some because a lot of people don’t actually come to Jesus just to get Jesus. They come to Jesus to get Jesus to do something for them and so if I stand there and go, ‘I get up and I sing about Jesus every night and my life still isn’t perfect,’ that can be unnerving for some people…” On the surface No Shame seems rushed, but a deeper listen reveals gem after gem, and song after song that I can confidently say are some of my favourites of their whole career. Because while Tenth Avenue North dove into a wide array of uncomfortable and ‘taboo’ topics in their confronting EP last year; this new full-length album takes one messy topic and expands upon the meaning and how God can help us overcome and alleviate this affliction/feeling of inadequacy. And that feeling that Tenth Avenue North have cleverly and expertly dived right into here is the topic of shame- highly relevant for today’s society who are constantly making dumb choices every day, and are constantly believing lies about themselves, sometimes told by social media and the news.

To be honest, in my life I haven’t felt much shame that I need to feel bad about myself about, that was eating away at me. I can’t speak for my brother or my parents, but just for me God’s been good and more often than not the foolish or stupid or ‘wrong’ decisions I’ve made consciously or subconsciously (such as deferring university for a whole semester without even telling my parents back in 2012- even with me under the guise of going to uni, and then going home again each day, or me playing computer games heavily during year 11 and 12, thus me probably in the end not receiving higher marks in the HSC that I could have received!); didn’t mean much to me. Sure, I felt guilty about my decisions, but it was also during that time where I knew my identity in Jesus, felt secure in Him, and thus didn’t equate my actions to my feelings of self-worth and identity. Jesus has said countless times in the Bible that we’re sons and daughters of God, and that we’re heirs to the Throne of Heaven.

Because of the trustworthiness of the Bible and the knowledge that the same God who died and rose again all those years ago, is living in us allowing us to be able to undertake greater works than Jesus did; our actions beyond the point of us believing into Jesus’ death and resurrection, is a moot point and is irrelevant. That doesn’t mean that because of Jesus’ grace, we have a free pass and can now do whatever we feel like ‘because grace’. But rather, it is the Holy Spirit inside of us that convicts us to live a life of dedication and devotion to God. As we become more and more like Jesus, we are transformed by His presence, and He transforms our mind to think more like Him (Romans 12:2), hence we probably will find our old habits a tad more repulsing than before our ‘Christian days’. That does not mean we never stumble and fall if God is with us. But it does mean that when we do stumble, that we can see that God is greater than our struggles, He is greater than the guilt we feel, He is greater than our regrets, and we do not have to feel shame for anything we’ve done. While we can feel guilty over our actions, letting that fester into shame, a feeling about our inadequacy and worthlessness about ourselves, is something that can turn us all into a person we don’t like.

In other words, shame is linked with identity about self, while guilt is about actions and whether we are sorry about them if we deliberately undertake things not healthy for us. Yet the devil does what he does, and often tempts us with ‘something good’ which really isn’t. Take Jesus for example. Jesus was out in the desert for 40 days and 40 nights praying and fasting, and then the devil comes up to him. According to Matthew 4:1-11, Satan says to Jesus that if Jesus is the Son of God, He can turn the stone into bread. That if Jesus is the Son of God, He can throw Himself down over the land and then He could own it all. And that if Jesus is the Son of God, He can have all of the riches, money and power in the world, but only if He follows Satan and bows to him. See how the devil tempts us? He tempted Jesus with the possibility of food, of money and power, and of control. Using the good things in our lives and coining it in such a way that we’ll receive earthly pleasures and rewards if we do ‘x, y, z’ for Satan. It’s never a free lunch, and Satan’s tricks will always come with strings attached. But because God is God, He couldn’t be tempted, and Satan’s devious plans didn’t work on Him. For all of us humans though, Satan offers us the possibility of a carefree and enjoyable life here on earth, and sometimes we take it. But if we know that this life is it, that the here and now is all that matters, then by all means go for it (devoting your life to Satan if it makes you happy). But as believers, as Christians, as followers of Jesus, we know that this life isn’t all there is. This life is great, but that can’t be all we’re focusing on; we’re instead keeping one eye on eternity, and how we as people can life a life pointing to Jesus. He has saved us; what other way could we live the rest of the days of our earthly life if not for Him?

So as Satan tempts with false promises, and sometimes we take the bait and fall into the trap- maybe working harder to gain more money at the expense of time with family, or perhaps the noble decision of staying up longer for a project, and hence sacrificing sleep and our health; guilt comes in because of our actions. And that’s ok. A certain amount of guilt is fine as long as it’s channelled into action about the steps we take in order not to fall into that trap again. But when that guilt transfers into feelings of inadequacy about ourselves, that’s when things become dicier. Guilt says that we feel unworthy- shame takes it a step further and says we are unworthy. Guilt is about feelings which can change, but shame is a feeling masquerading as truth of what we are. So in short, the whole album of No Shame is a series of songs from a mate to another mate, or even God singing down to us; that we don’t have to feel shame because of the cross and the resurrection. Whether we follow this sound advice is another story- but here’s hoping that after the 40 minute duration of the album, we are changed from the inside out, and are alleviated from the toxic shame that we feel, that is destroying every single part of us inside.

This ‘review’ of sorts is already long enough and I haven’t started talking about the songs yet, and I don’t want to make this any longer and long-winded than I already have, considering that Jon is talking about Tenth Avenue North in his Momentous Mondays post very soon! So like with Jon’s recent review of Skillet’s Victorious; let me provide you all links to reviews of No Shame on our ‘healthy competition’ Jesus Freak Hideout and New Release Today. For what can I say that they haven’t already said? Sure the rating might be different (though you can probably guess that I’m already rating this album a 5/5!), but all in all, Tenth Avenue North, through this album, show us just how influential they are. They’re able to take a taboo topic, and create songs about it that aren’t uncomfortable to listen to at all. Especially the songs “Someone To Talk To” (plus the revealing “Phone Call” tag tied to it!), the title track with McKenna Johns from The Young Escape on guest vocals, “Greater Than All My Regrets” and “Paranoia”; No Shame invites us to peel back the layers of what is considered messy and unsavable by society, and see God do His work and restore what was seemingly broken beyond repair. These songs are accessible, poppy, reflective, hopeful, personal, honest, emotional, confronting, comforting, and any other thing in between. But most of all, they’re healing. I truly and firmly believe that the God of the universe can and will use this album to heal you of every hurt and every shameful thing you believe about yourself. It may take a while, and mightn’t be instantaneous. But God is working. He is there. He is with us even when we think He isn’t. And it is He who delivers us from unhealthy shame. There’s not much more that needs to be said about the album (because why would you want to do a track by track breakdown and analysis of such a beautiful masterpiece that needs no extra explanation?), except to just listen. Listen, be amazed, and be forever changed.

I don’t know where you are at in your life. You may be at odds with the church. You may not believe in Jesus. You may think He’s abandoned you, and you may think you’re not worth saving because of who you think you are and what you did. Well I’ve got news for you, whether you believe it or not. As Mike has said in a previous song “You Are More”, you are more than the choices that you make, you are more than the sum of your past mistakes, and you are more than the problems you ‘create’. You’ve been remade by Jesus, and that fact alone makes us righteous with Him. Not shameful with no hope of being made right. Already righteous. Sure we may struggle, but God’s grace means that we are holy and blameless in His sight. Isn’t that a wonderful concept to behold and believe?

“…we decided to do about half the number of shows we were doing because touring was taking a huge toll on our family. Honestly, we didn’t know if we’d be able to make enough money to continue doing this as a career, so it was a really hard decision to go, ‘Okay here’s what I’ve been doing for 16 years and let’s just cut how many shows we’ve been doing in half, and if we can’t make enough money then we’ll have to go do something else.’ That’s terrifying!…one of the things that happened the next year while we were doing half as many shows, and still paying our bills, is I was filled with regret. I could have made this decision a long time ago. I could have missed less birthday parties and less recitals. I could have been there, and I was beating myself up. I really felt like I heard God just whisper in my ear, ‘Hey Mike, it’s okay. I’m greater than all your regrets.’ That song has been really helpful for me dealing with my own personal regrets…” As I end this review, I need to talk about one song in detail, just because it’s so good, and also because the theme of the song is the heartbeat of the album. And that’s the lead single “Greater Than All My Regrets”. Written with Mike, bandmate Jeff Owen and former All Sons And Daughters member and founder David Leonard; the result is nothing short of amazing. Standing at around four and a half minutes, the piano led ballad is most similar to tracks like “Worn”, “By Your Side” and “Healing Begins” from the group as well; and I reckon the track will be as big as these songs as well.

As Mike passionately imparts to us that Jesus’ mercy is greater than our pain and regrets, that He alone can and will catch us when we fall; there’s something about this single that is sure to tug at our hearts and compel us to press repeat and listen over and over. “Greater Than All My Regrets” may have a radio feel and atmosphere, but that doesn’t mean No Shame is bad because of the musical direction of the album, which is in fact mostly CCM. If you like CCM you’ll love his album, and if you love Tenth Avenue North you’ll think No Shame is the best album all year. But even if you’re a unbeliever (like a few people I know personally in my life), No Shame is perfect. It redefines what it means to live a holy and blameless life, and speaks out the lies the devil tells us. For that reason alone, No Shame is the most important album of the year. Maybe of the past 2-3 years as well. So if you are wondering whether No Shame is for you, then let me say yes 10 000 times over. Check out the album- you definitely won’t be disappointed. Be ready to say goodbye to shame and hello to unending love and peace!

So if I fall and if I fail
I will trust Your mercy is
Greater than all of this
And if I bend and if I break
I’ll trust the hands that hold me are
Greater than all my regrets
You are greater than all my regrets
You are
Greater than all my regrets
You are, You are

Chorus from “Greater Than All My Regrets”- No Shame, Tenth Avenue North, 2019

3 songs to listen to: Someone To Talk To, Greater Than All My Regrets,Paranoia

Score: 5/5

RIYL: Building 429, Switchfoot, Matthew West, Casting Crowns

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