MercyMe – inhale (exhale)

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Release Date: April 30th 2021

Reviewed by: Joshua Andre

MercyMe– inhale (exhale) (Amazon mp3/iTunes)

Track Listing:

  1. Inhale
  2. Blessed
  3. On Our Way (feat. Sam Wesley)
  4. So Yesterday
  5. A Little Love (feat. Gary LeVox of Rascal Flatts)
  6. Whiplash
  7. Bright Side Of Broken
  8. Let Yourself Be Loved
  9. Hurry Up And Wait
  10. Brand New (feat. Gloria Gaynor)
  11. Uh Oh (Here I Go)
  12. The Moment
  13. Then Christ Came (Demo)
  14. Say I Won’t
  15. Almost Home
  16. Exhale

“…that’s the beauty of the next chapter. It’s unwritten. It’s whatever the band want it to be, and whatever God wants it to be. If the band split up, then so be it, because it’s probably in God’s timing. But I think…that if MercyMe release another album in the future, whenever that is, that they should treat it as another ‘debut’ album. That’s the way to go- reinvent their sound; and see where God takes them. It may be to another untapped market to go out and spread the gospel. Until then…you can recommend [I Can Only Imagine – The Very Best of MercyMe (Deluxe)] to all of your friends, family, your enemies, your pets, even the neighbours dog. That’s how important I reckon this album will be. And timeless, and relevant and revolutionary. Oh, and go watch the film in a month’s time. I guarantee it will be worth it! Well done guys for doing what probably no other CCM band or artist has done before, and that’s release a greatest hits album, that actually is a greatest hits album!…”

Having emphatically declared with great certainty the above quote in my previous full-length review for MercyMe’s greatest hits project, I used to think that Bart, Mike, Nathan, Robby and Barry could have reached their peak. Welcome To The New and Lifer were two of the band’s best albums yet, and with the discography that they have had, as well as the movie I Can Only Imagine that released in 2018 inspired by lead singer Bart Millard’s life; I along with everyone else assumed that they were winding down. Not that there’s anything wrong with retiring from the music business, but generally it is common practice for musicians to keep going and going and going…until they die. But thankfully the day that MercyMe retire is not yet. Because here we are, three years after the movie I Can Only Imagine released; with a brand new 16 track album called inhale (exhale). With this project being in the works for 2 years (a rather lengthy time because of COVID-19!), I was extremely excited to hear the album given that I am a MercyMe fan and they’re one of my favourite music artists. And I can safely say that after listening to these melodies several times over (and this is not just me and my biases talking!), that this release is the band’s most complete album since The Generous Mr Lovewell in 2010… in my honest opinion. But you don’t need to take my word for it- you can listen to this project yourself right now… and then let me know what you think!

It was two years and one month to the day that we started writing for this new record until we finally finished. ‘Almost Home,’ which is the first single, will be out a year and a half before the record releases. We would have had it done a year or so ago, but when the pandemic hit, it slowed everything down. We practically re-wrote the album two or three different times.

It’s been a life saver working on this record during the pandemic when you can’t do shows and everything else. I love being with my family but I think my wife is like, ‘Yeah you function better when there is an outside purpose going along with this.’ I agree. The pandemic—as awful as it’s been—has been amazing for our family, just getting to spend so much time together. It’s been such a scary place, but at the same time, it’s been great to have this much time with family, to push pause and not have a deadline. Everything has stopped. That’s a crazy feeling and after a few weeks or a month of me freaking out like, ‘What’s going to happen?’ I realized that we’re all freaking out together. Music has been put on hold and so once I realized that, I kind of let go and started enjoying the fact that some days my most important decision was what flavor of ice cream I’m getting with my youngest daughter.’

One reason we’re calling the album inhale (exhale) is we all just want to sit back for a second and take a deep breath and be like, ‘Okay this is what matters. This is what matters,’. I’m grateful that messages like that seem to resonate with people on a consistent basis because there is hope in that, and if they can still get fired up about what’s to come then not all is lost.

With inhale (exhale) being somewhat imposing at 16 tracks, one may want to skip this music experience and find something more palatable and less confronting. Yet you know how thee are times in this life when you need to embark on something uncomfortable. Listening to inhale (exhale) is one of these times… and let me tell you that I firmly believe that this is the album you should listen to this year if you had to pick only one. And though I do respect Demi Lovato and her album Dancing With The Devil…The Art Of Starting Over (and that’d be the other album I’d say to listen to if I were to pick two!); while Demi’s new album tells us a story and allows us entrance into her psyche and her feelings without that much resolution or comfort, MercyMe instead encourages us with plenty of pick-me-ups and speaks about the everlasting love of Jesus- the hope we have in Jesus Christ. While mainstream music is inspiring and thought-provoking; nothing can compare to the edifying vertical praise and worship of the One who has set us free from sin and the One who loves us all unconditionally!

Opening the track list with “inhale”, the one-minute piano led prelude lyrically sets the album on the right track, with Bart encouraging us to take time for ourselves and time to reflect on God’s goodness, that ‘…whenever you feel afraid, the next time you find yourself scared, just remember that fear has no power here, it has no control cause no chain can hold what’s already free, so hold onto Jesus and breathe…’; while “Blessed”, a Crowder-like gospel rocker with the vibrant and engaging choir, is the ‘true’ opener, with Bart eloquently relaying to us a prayer of thanks and gratitude, thanking God that he’s blessed for the journey of life he’s on, due to Jesus’ providence and love for us, as ‘…it all works together for your good, forever…’. Promotional single and pop tune “On Our Way”, featuring Bart’s son Sam Wesley, is an album highlight, and another melody giving kudos to Jesus (albeit covertly!). With the moving uplifter earnestly relaying to us that ‘…we’re on our way to breaking through, ’cause we were made for something new, we’re on our way to chase our dreams, ’cause we were made for greater things, yeah, we’re on our way…’, we are met with an encourager during a time when we need it- the pandemic may keep us down, however this melody reminds us that if we keep pressing on and running the race ahead of us, everything will be ok, as we are indeed made for greater things while we are still alive.

Synth led pop and EDM track “So Yesterday” highlights the contrast between a person pre-Jesus and after becoming a believer, with Bart passionately crying out that the things we used to do before Jesus was in our lives do not interest us anymore, and the things we loathed to do before actually intrigued us. It’s a paradigm shift, and this track is lyrically profound, as MercyMe encourage us to actually live for God if we proclaim to be Christians. The change in our hearts should be enough to at least want us to be more and more curious about matters surrounding Jesus, don’t you think? With country vocalist Gary LeVox from Rascal Flatts featured as a guest vocalist on the groovy, danceable country/pop number “A Little Love”, and the two singers diving deep into the ever-true importance of love and especially God’s love, relaying to us that a little love goes a long way in really loving our neighbours as ourselves; the vivid and somewhat uncomfortable pop/rock melody “Whiplash” is next, and peels back the concept and notion of looking behind us and never fully enjoying life in the present moment. With Bart letting us know what we’ll all get ‘whiplash’ and an uncomfortable neck pain when looking back, what he really means is that we’ll never really be happy when we’re looking back and comparing ourselves to others- and this song is a lyrical genius if we stop and ponder deeply about these lyrics!

The piano and strings led “Bright Side Of Broken” is a ballad whereby Bart eloquently relays to us that ‘…life’s not over yet, so take a breath because it gets better, cause the bright side of being broken is a heart that’s busted open, with every break the Light will chase the darkness away, yeah the bright side of being broken is in the hands that, that are holding every piece reminding me that it’s gonna be okay, it’s gonna be okay…’, as comforting and as moving as songs come; while “Let Yourself Be Loved”, a groovy jazz inspired tune, challenges us to love each other deeply and authentically, as well as loving ourselves like Jesus first loved us. It’s not a ground-breaking song by any means, however MercyMe still takes an overused concept and turns it into a heartfelt and much needed track- as we learn to be the hands and feet of Jesus especially to the least of these.

“Hurry Up And Wait” debuted in May 2020 on a facebook livestream and with the music video and lyric video having debuted as well- I reckon such a song like this having dropped while we were all in the middle of quarantining at home at the height of the pandemic… this was a very unique track indeed in light of when it released. Because albums and music release dates were very much in flux due to the pandemic sweeping the globe- and quite a lot of artists pressed pause (or are pressing pause like OneRepublic!) and pushed their release back to the end of the year, timing them with concert tours when these are readily able to happen. Big and massive tours are still up in the air, yet other artists- like MercyMe– are forging ahead, acknowledging that yes, we are in crazy times right now, but also that we all need new music now more than ever, to encourage, to uplift, to inspire, and to remind us that we are not alone in the universe. Catchy to its core, the message of “Hurry Up And Wait” is simple while we all are uncertain. And that’s to hurry up. And to wait.

The music video for this song is actually very ingenious. Bart’s alone in his house (maybe his wife and kids are at the shopping centre?) and he’s bored. He’s at a lose end. Then he gets an idea to completely overhaul his living space into a band practice area- complete with video projections of his band mates from remote parts of the country. A fun-filled and jovial melody, and a happy-go-lucky tune by nature, it seems like people right now are hurrying up trying to end this quarantine by any means necessary, or are just waiting in fear at home, not really living; but MercyMe encourage us to do both. Yes to hurrying up in the sense of keeping busy at home, but also waiting on Jesus, realising that the things that He accomplishes are in His timing, and not ours. As “Hurry Up And Wait” gives new meaning to how we live each day, and new meaning to the Bible verse Isaiah 40:31, we are met with a prayerful melody and help for us to make it through any tragedy and adversity.

“Brand New” with Gloria Gaynor was a left-field yet welcome surprise for me, as the 80’s themed disco radio friendly potential single blends CCM and vintage gospel together for a Bee Gee’s inspired danceable melody, whereby Jesus is lifted high, and our lives with Him in it are declared as being brand new. I’ve never heard Gloria’s songs before- yet she sounds quite good here for a ripe young age of 77… it goes to show you how important Jesus and the joy of the Lord is, don’t you reckon? Complete with whistles and electronics and reverb masking the vocals, the powerful, energetic and pulsating “Uh Oh (Here I Go)” is next, and tackles the ever-present theme of fear and stepping out in faith while you’re absolutely petrified- reminding us all that with Jesus by our side, we can conquer our biggest fears and tackle our greatest demons.

The acoustic guitar driven “The Moment” is a testimony type melody where Bart imparts to us wisdom from his preacher when he was twelve years old, as the speaker said to Bart to ‘…take it in, don’t forget, today is the day your new life begins, remember how you feel right now, oh that fire in your bones will never let you down, and come back to the moment whenever your heart aches, thank the Lord and say, ‘here’s to the day, the day that I met grace’…’; while the too-short 55 second demo “Then Christ Came” should definitely be recorded as a full length song for maybe their next album, or even for another artist, with Bart passionately delivering a future modern hymn. “Exhale” wraps up inhale (exhale) with the epilogue to the prelude of “Inhale”, and is a spontaneous free worship type of track that lets us know that it’s always darkest before the dawn. But MercyMe’s crowning achievements on this album are both “Almost Home” and “Say I Won’t”.

An inspirational pop/rock track at its core, that was also re-recorded with Jeremy Camp for the movie I Still Believe; musically there’s unfortunately nothing that we hear that MercyMe haven’t tried before. But before you write off “Almost Home”, let me say that the lyrics are some of the best the group has ever recorded. With Bart powerfully relaying that heaven and eternity with Jesus isn’t too far away, and that we will be with Jesus someday; this track is for any who find themselves down and full of despair, with the track encouraging us all to keep on fighting the good fight; and that the pain we feel will disappear one day when we get to heaven. Probably one of the most profound, emotional and hard-hitting songs from MercyMe in recent memory; there’s not much more I can say about this song, except for you to listen and be amazed that even after all these years, Bart and the band are able to deliver near-perfection like this offering!

Yet nothing can really compare to “Say I Won’t”- yes not even “Almost Home”. Moving, heartfelt and bring a tear to our eyes; the message of “Say I Won’t” is simple while we all are uncertain. And it is this. That no matter how hard adversity strikes us down… that we all can rise above our circumstances and dare our hater to say that we won’t do ____… and then we can prove them wrong. Inspired by the band’s friend Gary Miracle, and his ordeal in December 2019, when he went into septic shock and had to have all four limbs amputated; this song is sure to bring us to the brink of bawling our eyes out… but is also sure to bring comfort and healing to all who listen as well. It’s an emotional track, but a defiant and non-nonsense anthem as well- as we firmly say to the devil ‘say that we won’t do this, and then we’ll do it anyway with God’s help!’. A real pick me up and inspirational melody… there’s nothing much more that needs to be said here. Other than to watch the music video and read the lyrics. Because the song is powerful. The most powerful of the year, in my own opinion!

Today, it all begins
I’m seeing my life for the very first time
Through a different lens
Yesterday, I didn’t understand
Driving thirty-five with the rocket inside
Didn’t know what I had

While I’ve been waiting to live
My life’s been waiting on me

I’m gonna run
No, I’m gonna fly
I’m gonna know what it means to live
And not just be alive
The world’s gonna hear
‘Cause I’m gonna shout
And I will be dancing when circumstances drown the music out
Say I won’t

Not enough
Is what I’ve been told
But it must be a lie
‘Cause the Spirit inside says I’m so much more

So let them say what they want
Oh, I dare them to try

I’m gonna run
No, I’m gonna fly
I’m gonna know what it means to live
And not just be alive
The world’s gonna hear
‘Cause I’m gonna shout
And I will be dancing when circumstances drown the music out
Say I won’t
Say I won’t
Say I won’t
Say I won’t

I can do all things
Through Christ who gives me strength
So keep on saying I won’t (Oh, oh)
And I’ll keep proving you wrong

I’m gonna run
No, I’m gonna fly
I’m gonna know what it means to live
And not just be alive
This world’s gonna hear, woah
‘Cause I’m gonna shout
I will be dancing when circumstances drown the music out
Say I won’t (Oh)
Say I won’t (Oh-oh-oh)
Say that I won’t (Oh-oh-oh)
Oh, say I won’t (Oh, oh)
Say I won’t

When I started writing ‘Say I Won’t’ about a year ago, it all started with first just acknowledging grace, identity, and understanding who we are in Christ.  There’s a lot of Christians out there that simply forget that the same Spirit that raised Christ from the dead now dwells inside of us twenty-four hours a day.  When you realize that… everything changes!  There’s a line in the first verse that says, ‘driving thirty-five with a rocket inside, didn’t know what I had’.  It’s like having the Batman utility belt around your waist and looking down for the first time and realizing it’s been there the whole time because that’s when everything changes – that’s when people start living. It’s a challenge to live with the mentality that you can do all things through Christ who gives you strength, and I dare you to say that you won’t.  The music video for ‘Say I Won’t’ tells the story of Gary Miracle – our first merch guy who recently lost his arms and legs.  He just personifies the whole message of the song and is someone that I have walked through this grace and identity message with for years.  As you hear this song and watch Gary’s story, I hope you’ll be moved and touched and realize what you are truly capable of through Christ.

Story behind “Say I Won’t”

Going to these dark places that you have to go sometimes to write, I just didn’t want to go there. It had nothing to do with the band or making music. It was that I didn’t know how to make music that wasn’t connected to something painful, especially when I associated that with the songs that mean the most to me. It’s been hard to go to that place, but I love the results when I do.

I’m a little more forgiving if I’m trying to tell my story. I know I’ll get it right because I know what I’m thinking, but trying to be a voice for somebody else, you want them to be proud of it and capture what they are feeling. At first I thought, ‘This is way easier. I’m getting all of the emotions without going through the hard stuff,’ and then it was like the stress of, ‘Oh no! I hope they feel like that I did right by this.’

I just love the fact that these features are genuinely friends of mine. It’s not like, ‘Hey, my label called their label and they seemed to be available. Mike [Scheuchzer], our guitar player, suggested Gloria. I [sang] on her gospel record a few years ago, so I sent the song to her and said, ‘Hey Gloria, it’s hard to do a disco song without the Disco Queen. Would you be willing to do it?’ She said, ‘I love the song’ on a Friday, and the next Monday or Tuesday she was in the studio. [but] that’s the proudest moment for me, [the duet with Sam]; it’s just crazy to think I’ve been in the band long enough to where we gave birth to my son, and now that same son is singing on a MercyMe record.  ‘I Can Only Imagine’ went No. 1 the week that we brought Sam home from the hospital.  I remember holding my son in my arms in tears, because it was all happening at the same time.

I want people to say, ‘Man, he was a good songwriter’ when it’s all said and done. The fact that we’ve been here for 27 years and people still care is mind blowing. I’ve never been more grateful for the fact that I still get to keep doing this.

MercyMe are one of my favourite bands period. Their passion for Jesus and their infectious joy no doubt part of a package that I’m glad exists- the world is all the better for Bart, Robbie, Nathan, Mike and Barry to be playing music together. While we don’t know what the future holds yet (and I mean that in the literal sense!), let me tell you that it will be a ride, that’s for sure. Inhale (exhale) is one of the most impacting and emotional and relevant albums of the year thus far, and a reminder to sit and bask in God’s glory and His moving in our lives maybe even more than we can envision and anticipate. So hopefully as we spin this project many times on our Spotify or whatever medium you use; let’s pray that God uses this to draw us closer to Himself and closer to each other. And so everyone, let us remember to always keep our eyes on Jesus, and know that when people say we won’t… then we most definitely will with Jesus by our sides. Let us remember that we are indeed almost home, and that we can run this race before us with pride and with satisfaction. Well done MercyMe, I can’t wait to hear what God has in store for each of you! Perhaps a covers album or an live CD/DVD?

4 songs to listen to: On Our Way, Brand New, Say I Won’t, Almost Home

Score: 4.5/5

RIYL: for KING AND COUNTRY, Casting Crowns, Building 429, Newsboys, Tenth Avenue North, Sanctus Real

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