Release Date: June 2nd 2017
Reviewed by: Joshua Andre
- Keep Runnin’
- To Get To Me
- Through People Like Me
- Everything to You (feat. Beacon Light)
- The Answer
- The Real Me
- Light Up The Darkness
- It’s Amazing Grace
- Beauty In The Tragedy
“…We hope this new album will capture our creativity and energy that we want to bring to the stage. Our goal is to create a diverse album of fun, energetic music with lyrics that will encourage people to live a life for Someone greater than themselves. It’s been amazing making new connections with writers and promoters since moving to Nashville. We know we are taking steps in the right direction and are so excited for what the future holds…” Hailing from Chicago and comprising of brothers Chad and Tyler Sowards, as well as good friend Joey Atansio; Mass Anthem recently unveiled their brand new independent album Through People Like Me earlier this month. From listening to these inspiring, poppy, worshipful and CCM-esque tracks, it’s clear that these guys and young men of God are sure to be signed to a major record label in the near future. However, while the album is impacting, challenging and no doubt powerful, compelling, inspiring, and every other positive adjective I could think about, the guys may have made it at tad too electronic and CCM for my liking. It’s like they took the certain artists’ styles and placed them all in a blender, resulting in a mishmash that sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t.
Take “Keep Running” for example. Electronics abound. Check. Pulsating drum beats and seemingly engaging vocals. Check. A soaring vocal, with plenty of repetition and vague references to scripture, or Jesus saving us, or Jesus being the only one we need. Check. A catchy beat and an atmosphere meant for dancing. Another check. Yet what if you took that song and replaced it with “Save Me Now” by Mikeschair, or “Start Over” by The Afters or “What I’m Looking For” by Hawk Nelson, or any other song by similar CCM bands over the past few years? “Keep Running” is good, yet there’s something about it that makes it indistinguishable from the rest of the good songs. There’s nothing in this track that makes it ‘great’. Sure, Chad reiterates that we need to keep running, and fighting the good fight, but how many songs include this theme (“Hard Love” from Needtobreathe springs to mind!)? Thankfully, the chilling electric guitar bridge solo makes up for the early misstep, and subsequent songs bring forth the band’s potential. “To Get To Me” is pure CCM, and features Chad highlighting the parable of the prodigal son, singing out that ‘…no matter who I’ve been, no matter where I’ve run, there’s no height, no depth You haven’t overcome, because of who You are, because of what You’ve done, to get to me, to get to me…’ and is slightly catchier than the album opener; while the obligatory radio friendly ballad/mid tempo melody shows up as the title track, as Chad ardently recounts that Jesus changes the world through anyone He wants to, but while the subject matter is commendable, let’s remember that Mikeschair already recorded a song called “People Like Me”, which is far more enjoyable, catchier and powerful that this track…
Rapper Beacon Light shows up in one of the band’s few shining moments in “Everything To You”, as we are glimpsed into a track reminding us that we are everything to Jesus, that we do not need the material things of this world to be happy- we only need Jesus; while the tempo is brought back down in the acoustic guitar and piano led “Hero”, as Chad ardently reminds us that Jesus is our hero, the One who can rescue us from the darkest parts of ourselves. Unfortunately, though, and this is in no way the band’s fault, the track is similar in theme to Abandon’s “Hero”, which in my opinion is far more lyrically strong.
With both “The Real Me” and “Light Up The Darkness” clocking in at just under 3 minutes each, lyrically, each packs a punch, with the former reminding us that the real us resides when God invades our lives and provides us with new life, and the latter inspiring us to light up the darkness with Jesus’ love. Yet musically, we are reminded of Anthem Lights/Switchfoot and Colton Dixon/Abandon respectively- as much as the band want to forge their own musical identity, these points make these tracks rather distracting. “It’s Amazing Grace” is a chilling, mid-tempo guitar led ballad, inspired by the timeless hymn, and basically highlights the fact that it is God’s grace that ensures that we can live in true freedom. Yet those 8 tracks on the whole which I discussed above do not wow me, at least not to the extent of “The Answer” and “Beauty In The Tragedy”.
Pointing to Jesus and the fact that He alone is sovereign, “The Answer” is undoubtedly the crowning achievement of the band, and the song that gives me hope for the future for Mass Anthem. Eloquently singing out that ‘…the answer’s in His hands… in His feet, proving that He’s stronger than the world and I don’t have to be…’, we are gently reminded that only Jesus alone is the One who we should be searching for in times of trouble. The perfect anthem during the times where we are down, the final song also inspires me to live a life more for Jesus. In the piano prominent ballad “Beauty In The Tragedy”, Chad subtly references Jesus’ death, that Jesus nailed to the cross all those years ago, is indeed ‘…unexplainable, there’s beauty in the brokenness You hold, there’s healing at the foot of the cross, come and take your shackles off and see, there is beauty in the tragedy…’. Sure to give us perspective, as we in reverence and gratitude, worship God because of everything He’s done for us; Mass Anthem end their album after this God-breathed anthem. And we are left wondering.
On face value, you will love Mass Anthem if you love artists like The Afters, Sidewalk Prophets, OBB, Mikeschair, About A Mile and Hawk Nelson; however when everything is stripped away, how would you and I describe Mass Anthem, musically? The answer is ‘I’m not sure’, even after countless listens to the album. They have inspiring lyrics, and a couple of tracks (“The Answer”, “Beauty In The Tragedy”) stand out, yet musically there seems to be something lacking. That’s not to say that the band aren’t good. Lyrically, there’s some solid gold here, with biblical truths brimming and overflowing, and there’s no denying the passion and heart these guys have for Jesus. The reason why this album was made was so that these guys could be signed (they’ve even said so in their bio!) so when they do, this album would have been a success according to them. But, sad to say, I don’t really find anything that makes me say ‘wow, these guys are unique’, and I instead find myself thinking to myself ‘oh, this just sounds like ___ collaborated with ___, not an entirely new artist!’. Overall, the guys do have talent, and Through People Like Me will serve as a stepping stone in order to get signed, however beyond that, we will see. This album isn’t a standout amongst others in 2017, yet on the flipside, there are a couple of inspiring tracks that serve as benchmarks for the guys in comparing future songs to. So should you all check out Through People Like Me. You can, but you will be disappointed and frustrated at the potential of these guys not yet realised. Hopefully Mass Anthem can take the positives from this album and move forward, as they forge a more unifed and unique sound, as they lead more and more people to Jesus.
3 songs to listen to: Everything To You, The Answer, Beauty In The Tragedy
RIYL: Mikeschair, Sidewalk Prophets, About A Mile, OBB, The Afters, Hawk Nelson