Release Date: March 24th 2017
Reviewed by: Jonathan Andre
- The Mind (Deluxe only)
- All That Matters
- Brand New Life
- The Body (Deluxe only)
- In My Veins (Deluxe only)
- I Would Choose You
- Warriors (Deluxe only)
- The Spirit (Deluxe only)
- No Greater Love
- The Other Side
- Autopsy (Deluxe only)
‘…“Identity” is definitely a concept album. I had the idea for it a little over a year ago. This whole idea behind “Identity” was that I was kind of looking at my life and saw some things that I had put my identity in that didn’t really matter. It was kind of like reorganizing the toolbox a little bit. Hopefully, people are encouraged by that and challenged by that. I split this record into three sections — the mind, the body and the spirit. “The Mind” is kind of just daring and challenging you to think and take your thoughts captive and think about a wide variety of things. “The Body” is about becoming the person that God made you to be — not to be lukewarm but to be on fire. “The Spirit” is kind of one of the harder lessons I had to learn and that is just to take a second to rest. Whenever you are in any industry, it’s easy to fill your schedule and so I found how important it was to stop, especially now that I’ve been married for a little over a year now…’ Colton Dixon is practically a mainstay within the CCM scene nowadays. Since his burst into music after his American Idol exit all those years ago, alongside chart-topping songs like ‘You Are’, ‘Never Gone’ and ‘More of You’, Colton’s exposure to the industry has come alongside maturity, and Identity is the result of Colton being focused and certain about the message and flow of the album as a whole. Using the same platform as many artists, like Carrie Underwood, Danny Gokey, Mandisa, Jason Castro, Daughtry, Kelly Clarkson and Kris Allen; to start a career in music; Colton’s unexpected exit from American Idol was more of a blessing in disguise. Signing a record deal with Sparrow Records, and 2 albums later, Colton, alongside Mandisa, has been one of the most successful and greatest finds, out of anyone who has moved from American Idol to Christian music, ever. Now he has journeyed into the unknown with his new album Identity, that released March 24th. Sure, he still has his trademark pop-rock-radio sound, but this album is different from the rest- less rock than Anchor and much more dance and 1980s style music that is incorporated throughout the power-pop anthems in this 11 track album (17 in the deluxe edition).
Just one look at the standard and deluxe editions of Identity and I’m sure I know which one you would pick. At a whopping 17 tracks, Colton’s Identity (Deluxe Edition) is the way to go- as the album takes us all on a journey of sorts, with three instrumental tracks uniquely titled “Mind”, “Body” and “Spirit” throughout the track list, creating some sort of cohesiveness as we hear the album from start to finish. Even “All That Matters”, the first radio single from Colton from this album- a song that is great in its own right (about how it is only Christ that matters in this life- and everything else will fade away); isn’t necessarily the song that I gravitate to when I hear the album. Songs like “Warriors”, “Brand New Life”, “I Would Choose You”, “Humans” and “No Greater Love” have all usurped “All That Matters” as songs that I have enjoyed much more than Colton’s first single from Identity– which doesn’t speak to the sub-par quality of “All That Matters” but rather the power and poignancy of all these 5 songs, and a reminder that Identity and its encouraging impact that I believe it’ll have on millions of people who hear the album, is far beyond the age that Colton is now. Only in his mid-twenties, one listen to the album and you can appreciate the maturity he has undertaken over the years- his writing is as poignant and emotive as anyone else that has been in the Christian industry for a long time. Identity is my favourite album from Colton, and if Colton’s songwriting continues like this, then his next album will always be better than the one before!
So let’s get down to business- which songs have impacted me from this album? Can you listen to this album on shuffle or is this album, like any other concept album that has ever been written, ought to be heard from start to finish without any skips? Yes, this is a concept album, and while can well go ahead and listen to the songs in any way you want, what I found was the most impactful for me as I went into Identity was to check it out from start to finish. Sub-divided into three sections in the album, titled MIND, BODY and SPIRIT, songs underneath the umbrella of these titles were shown, and each section created a different mood. MIND allowed us to think about moment where our mind was filled with the clutter and confusion of this world instead of the calm of Jesus and His love, while BODY encouraged us to take a stand in this life, declaring that we are the body of Christ, that what we do and how we act will show other people more about who God is that what we say God is daily. While SPIRIT evoked emotions of longing, hope, heartbreak and loss as Colton ventured into territory that I reckon he never really ventured into in the past before. Bringing together what I reckon is one of the most thematically rich and deep sections throughout the entire album, SPIRIT shows us that there is more to us than just the physical, that deep within us we have our spirits crying out, longing for something that the Lord has already intended for us from the beginning.
Starting off the album with ‘THE MIND (Instrumental)’, we are presented with electronic looping and a robotic English voice presenting quite possibly one of the most quoted yet equally misunderstood Bible verses of all time- Romans 12:2, where we ought not to conform to the world and its standards, but rather be transformed as the Lord God our Father renews our mind and allows who we are to be in sync with who He is and what His heart aches for…from there THE MIND section carries on from this message- that everything that we do and accomplish is nothing if our heart’s and motivations aren’t right. The title track places the message that we are chosen and royalty into focus, stating numerous times that our identity is in Christ and Christ alone, and that message ought to free us into resting in Him instead of seeking approval and identity in other things that in the end won’t necessarily satisfy as much as we would like them to.
“All That Matters”, the album’s first radio that released in January, carries on from the theme of THE MIND, as we realise and understand that it is indeed the Lord and only the Lord who ought to matter to us. Our minds need to grasp the truth that we, as insignificant and miniscule as we are, matter enough to the Lord so that He even came down and made Himself God incarnate, to die on a cross for us to come back to Him, and “All That Matters” will hopefully allow us to refocus on that. “Brand New Life” allows us to embrace the new life that is freely given to us by the Lord, that all we need to do is sit back and welcome the new life that the Lord graciously and eagerly ushers in for us, without undertaking anything of our own accord- God is not looking for us to clean up our act before He takes us in, all we do is just show up, dirty and unclean as we are, and He will love upon us where we’re at. That and that alone is something to be excited about, as we welcome the brand-new life awaiting for us, shifting our mind and perception of God along the way. “Technicolour” is the last track on THE MIND sub-section, as Colton invites the violin and the looping electronic percussion to collide and create a symphonic anthem about how we need to expand our horizons and see beyond the physical and what we are used to- seeing in ‘technicolour’- a metaphor of something unique, beautiful and much more broad and wider than what we can ever know (i.e.: God’s point of view).
THE BODY section of Identity features a total of 5 tracks (not inclusive of the 1 minute BODY interlude that reminds us all that as different parts of the body have different functions so the body would work, so too do different people in relation to the make-up of the church), as these 5 songs unveiled by Colton are depicted to carry a theme of unity and common values amongst a church body that seemingly is divided in this current climate, both politically and in any other way possible. “In My Veins” is perhaps the most unique music masterpiece Colton has ever produced…and I really mean it, ever. Incorporating symphonic rock a la Skillet (in most of Rise) alongside the trademark EDM that Identity is coated with, “In My Veins” starts off in a similar way to the introductory music in the opening credits of the British TV show Humans, giving the song a much more ‘futuristic’ feel. A message of how Christ’s love is delving deep inside of us and is making us much more mature and refined, than we can ever describe or even think, ought to be something we can be excited for and about, as “In My Veins” segues into “Down”, a promotional single that is a seemingly quasi-autobiographical track about how God’s love came down to reach Colton when he was down on his knees, implying that in any area of life, especially during the lowest parts, God can meet us right where we are. Though a tad short at 3:02, this potential radio single in the future has the opportunity the bridge the gap between lovers of CCM and mainstream music alike, as the track’s lyrical ambiguity can also be its strength!
“I Would Choose You” is perhaps one of the most CCM songs on the album, and seems to be the one out of place the most. A song that could easily survive on K-Love, this pop-CCM track sadly feels musically distant to the experimental/EDM/anthemic music presented here on Identity. Nevertheless, the message behind the track is still worth checking out- even if it has been presented on many albums of the past. The song is a reminder- can we really declare the same thing as Colton did in the song- that if the world would end, or if everything went pear-shaped, would we still choose God at the end of it all? I’d hope we could, but sometimes in this society, we may feel the pressure to do otherwise. Still, “I Would Choose You” is a song that though it feels ‘the same’ in Identity, an album full of ‘different’, maybe, just maybe, the song was purposely placed there, to break up the flow and remind us of the different music styles Colton can carry and bring to life. “Warriors” starts off with a NZ Haka anthem (or is it something African…I’m not really sure) in a song that, alongside “In My Veins”, is very much musically unique- the track presented is a timely refreshing moment where we realise that together with brothers and sisters in Christ, we are in fact warriors, more than conquerors, having the ability, with the power of Christ inside us, alongside of togetherness and unity, to tear down the walls of the enemy, even if we may not know it now or while we’re in the business of it. Co-produced with Tommee Profitt (who has been famous for covers and producing remixes of other songs by other artists like NF, Britt Nicole and Colton himself), “Warriors” is a song that unfortunately, like “In My Veins”, was left out of the standard edition of the album- and only present on the deluxe…therefore another valid reason to purchase only the deluxe edition of any album right?
“Human” is a last remaining song being represented in THE BODY section of the album, and after the strong calibre of both “Warriors” and “In My Veins”, it’s a hard act to follow, but thankfully, “Humans”, its music and its message is as strong and powerful as the two predecessors. We are confronted with this hard-hitting message, that we are only humans, and that everything we say and do ought to point to our Maker, Creator, Father, Redeemer and Friend. That nothing we have done is of ourselves, that we shouldn’t boast in our own triumphs, cause after all, we are all sinners in need of a Saviour. Well done to Colton for songs like “Warriors”, “In My Veins” and “Humans”, creating the strongest set of songs in THE BODY on Identity!
THE SPIRIT is the last segment in Identity, that features again another 5 tracks (not including the 2 minute THE SPIRIT instrumental that presents a message of how we as humans need to rest, to lay down our troubles and allow the Spirit of God to rejuvenate our bodies in a moment of tranquillity and much-needed relaxation)- “Breathe”, “Autopsy”, “High”, “No Greater Love” and “The Other Side”. All these songs continue to share the theme of resting in the love and Spirit of God, and according to Colton, this section of THE SPIRIT was the hardest section to write and record. Having quite possibly the hardest song to write within THE SPIRIT section, “The Other Side” is just a piano prominent stripped-down acoustically driven melody based upon the passing of Colton’s brother-in-law. A raw and emotional moment for him, Colton reminds us that ‘…just seeing [Annie’s] family walk through that with such grace and poise was amazing to me. In asking her, she just stood on the stance of the victory that Jesus had over death and that we don’t have to worry about death. We don’t have to worry about where our loved ones are going if they know Jesus. Annie’s family is looking to the other side, and they’re very much looking forward to seeing Dylan again, and it’s going to be awesome to meet him one day. They choose to stand in victory…’ A song that’s destined to bring all the emotions as we cry not only happy tears for the family, but also dial up some feelings within ourselves about our own family losses in years past, “The Other Side” alone ought to be reason enough to check out every song within THE SPIRIT collection. The other four tracks therefore seemingly pale when standing next to “The Other Side”…and that’s ok.
“No Greater Love” has been heard quite a bit on Hope 103.2 (Australian radio station based in Sydney NSW), so I guess that is a big hit in Australia. “Breathe” unfortunately uses a lot of heavy autotune, but nevertheless presents a theme relevant to society- remember to breathe and slow down in a society that’s destined to let us know that being busy is better; while “High” allows us to invite the Lord into our lives as He shows us our own circumstances in His view- thus taking us high and giving us a new more complete perspective, not only on the situation, but on life in general. “Autopsy” ends the album with true electronic fashion, tying everything up as Colton sings to allow God to tear open his insides, to rearrange what needs to be altered, giving Colton a shake-up and allowing him to draw closer to the Lord during moments of unclarity and uncertainty.
Colton is perhaps one of today’s most encouraging and uplifting CCM artists at the moment. Maybe not necessarily the most popular (leave that to artists like UNITED, Chris Tomlin, Kari Jobe, Lecrae etc…you know the picture), but that I’m sure doesn’t matter to Colton. Identity is full of different musical styles, and unique musical representations that I’m sure Colton has never ventured into before. This is a different project from Colton, and that is ok. Not your average CCM album, I’m all but certain that Identity will be nominated for a Dove Award in the Rock/Contemporary Album category when the nominations are revealed in August 2017. Songs like “Warriors”, “In My Veins”, “The Other Side” and “Brand New Life” (alongside the first radio single “All That Matters”) are all some of my favourites in an album that is unique and ought to be listened to at least once before judgement is passed. Well done Colton for such a unique creation, and one that will continue to be in my iTunes playlist rotation in the months to come!
5 songs to listen to: All That Matters, Warriors, Brand New Life, In My Veins, The Other Side
RIYL: for KING AND COUNTRY, Tenth Avenue North, Audio Adrenaline, Newsboys