MercyMe – Lifer

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Release Date: March 31st 2017

Reviewed by: Jonathan Andre

MercyMeLifer (iTunes/Amazon mp3)

Track Listing:

  1. Lifer
  2. You Found Me
  3. Grace Got You (feat. John Reuben)
  4. Best News Ever
  5. Even If
  6. Hello Beautiful
  7. We Win
  8. Happy Dance
  9. Heaven’s Here
  10. Ghost

MercyMe have been a mainstay in Christian music for more than 15 years now. Since their smash crossover hit (now to be turned into a movie based on lead singer Bart Millard’s life) “I Can Only Imagine” rose to fame and popularity way back in 2000/01, MercyMe have continued to deliver powerful songs and heartfelt moments in the forms of songs like “God With Us”, “The Hurt and the Healer”, “Hold Fast”, “So Long Self”, “Spoken For”, “Word of God Speak”, “Here With Me”, “Homesick”, and more recently, “Greater”, “Shake” and “Flawless”, to name a few. Bart Millard, Nathan Cochran, Barry Graul, Mike Scheuchzer, and Robby Shaffer have all created the group, that, alongside Casting Crowns, Building 429 and Tenth Avenue North, have all pioneered and shaped the landscape of CCM throughout the 2000s. These songs aforementioned, and more, have all impacted millions around the world throughout their time on radio. And now with their most recent album Welcome to the New (released 2014) receiving RIAA Gold Status, it was time for MercyMe to record and release their next album. Because we all know, 3 years is a little too long between album releases, right? In all seriousness, Lifer released a few days ago, March 31st. So what does the new album from MercyMe sound like, if Welcome to the New was basically like a re-invention of the band, if you will? How can anyone follow-up an album (their 2014 one) that speaks about grace and identity in Christ in a way that will refocus and realign much of the faith of many church-goers around the world, when they hear MercyMe’s 2014 album?

It’s hard to follow up on such a great album, yet MercyMe have delivered in Lifer something that virtually most CCM artists have failed to do- they have evolved and re-invented themselves musically, yet still have kept the same message that has been sowed in their previous few albums. Much to listener’s excitement, virtually no song on their 10-track album sounds the same, which is great. Gone are much of the ballads that seem to have haunted The Hurt and the Healer all too well- diversity is more the key in Lifer, which works quite well with the quintet. With the variety of musical styles embedded within Lifer, from ballads (“Even If”, “Ghost”) and pop (“Lifer”, “You Found Me”) and the ever-reliable radio-friendly track (“Hello Beautiful”, “Best News Ever”). There’s even a meshing together of funk-pop and hip hop, in the form of “Grace Got You”- John Reuben, who was big back in the day of the 2000s, makes a surprise appearance on the track, and is a fun filled highlight on Lifer. But enough talking about the album in general. Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty- things you yourself want to figure out- what are my favourite tracks on the album? What has impacted me on the album so much for me to place Lifer as my favourite album of 2017 thus far, claiming a 5/5 rating from me, my first one of the year thus far?

The first radio single from the album, the ever so humble Bart Millard and co. released their new radio single to the public, “Even If”, on February 17th 2017, and while I have reviewed the radio single here and done a mini-review of it here as well, what I will say about the song is this- “Even If” has some of the most emotive, poignant, heartfelt and encouraging lyrics I’ve heard by any CCM artist ever. Period. Because frankly, what better song to listen to and be encouraged by than “Even If”, a track that reminds us all about God’s sovereignty despite the circumstance? Just the lyrics of the chorus alone ought to make anyone encouraged about God’s control and authority over situations- I know You’re able and I know You can save through the fire with Your mighty hand, but even if You don’t, my hope is You alone, I know the sorrow, I know the hurt, would all go away if You’d just say the word, but even if You don’t, my hope is You alone. Encouraging, isn’t it? I don’t even know if I can sing these lyrics with an earnest and fervent heart of praise if I was faced with calamity. Because these words ought not to be sung lightly. It is when we are faced with chaos and God doesn’t fix it, that we’re faced with a conundrum- even if God doesn’t come through, no matter how many times we have prayed about the situation, will we still praise Him?

If there’s nothing that we can take from this song when we hear it, let it be this- that while we all want the Lord to move the mountains in our lives that bring us uncertainty and hopelessness, the reality can be much different. Yes, God does move the mountains when we pray, but sometimes our prayer is answered in a different way than we expected. Yet if we are in Christ, we can rest assured that the promise Jesus made about Him never leaving us during trials has nevertheless been fulfilled during our own trials. Yes, God may not change our circumstances, but He is always good and faithful, giving us the peace that passes all understanding, to help us navigate the circumstances of this life. He is indeed able to do anything, and He can answer our prayers, but sometimes, sad to say, He doesn’t. We may not know why, and maybe we may never know why until we go home to heaven, but what we do know is this- that hopefully, we’ll sing the same words that Bart sung in “Even If”, with as much passion and fervent honesty as him, that ‘even if You don’t, my hope is You alone’. Well done Bart for such a song as this, a melody that is much needed in our society as it is appreciated and treasured as quite possibly one of the most impactful and sombre, comforting and equally confronting songs I’ve heard from MercyMe, ever!

The rest of the album builds upon the overall theme that the presence of God is a life-thing- that the Christian walk ought to be dispersed throughout every aspect of life, rather than just the ‘Sunday’ when we show up at church. The title track is a fun-filled bass heavy throwback-to-the-70s song that reminds me in parts of the equally famous song back in the day ‘Stayin’ Alive’, as Bart and the gang unveil a theme of commitment as we see that as believers in Christ, it is out of the knowledge of what He has done that we live life to the full, with Christ’s love permeating every part of not only our daily mundane grind but also the uplifting, unique and left-field as well. A great way to start off the album musically, “Lifer” is an infectious dance number that may or may not connect with listeners who appreciate more the “Even If” style, but nevertheless, kudos to the band for trying something different. It takes the term ‘life’ and turns it into ‘lifer’- ultimately, a term used to describe something that we undertake throughout our whole lives, not necessarily when it suits us or is easy. “Lifer” segues into “You Found Me”, where we are presented with another infectious pop anthem, this time with the message that God always finds us, even during the moments when we can’t even find ourselves through all the chaos and calamity. Featuring more of an electronic sound, “You Found Me” draws upon similar music styles found in other artists works (Colony House, Lifehouse, Switchfoot), as MercyMe treats the genre of electronic infused pop with such elegance and poise- even though “You Found Me” sees the band stretching into the depths of what hasn’t been explored by the band till now, what the end result is a song that encourages, as it does amaze musically (the electronics are a nice touch, without hampering or altering Bart’s vocals to the point where it becomes unrecognisable!).

Described by Bart himself as his favourite song on the album, “Hello Beautiful” is as straight forward as this- calling out all the lies that has been spoken over us by circumstances, family, friends, and even the devil himself, and replacing them with that God says about us and over us, and is a potential radio single in the future. The song even features acoustics and banjos that remind me of “Greater” musically, which is a nice addition for any song that is fit and primed for the radio airwaves. “Hello Beautiful”, while not necessarily my favourite song on the album (it’ll always be “Even If”), is as unique musically as it is powerful and encouraging, a certain fan favourite. “We Win”, originally going to be the first radio single on the album, is celebratory to the max as there is a heavy guitar presence in a track that places heavy emphasis in the message that we win the war in the end, even if we may lose some battles along the way; while “Grace Got You” is a unique one, matching together hip hop with pop, something that can either go really good or really bad. Fortunately, “Grace Got You” and the entire arrangement seems to flow pretty well, with Gotee Records alumni John Reuben joining MercyMe for the hip hop section on the song, one that presents a theme of grace and how it grabs a hold of us for eternity, that once we enter into the kingdom of God, there is nothing we can do or won’t do that will separate us from the love showered over us. The addition of a gospel choir at the end of the song doesn’t hurt either!

“Happy Dance” is nothing that the band has ever done. The theme is central to the Christian faith- outwardly expressing the Christian faith. Whether it is through dancing, as this song alludes to, or through another outlet or avenue, we ought to remember that it ought not to be what we do, but rather, what inspires us to do what we do. In the respect of dancing, it ought not to be how we dance, but the reason of the dancing. “Happy Dance” is infectious as it is thought-provoking, reminding me musically and thematically of “The Happy Song” from Delirious?- and with a heartfelt second verse- ‘…it’s ok to cut loose, it ain’t about how you move, but what moves you, we’re so consumed about what we think we’re supposed to be, that we stop living like we know that we are free…’, who isn’t compelled to dance along with this track? “Heavens Here” and “Ghost” round out the album with themes that we all must consider, as the former “Heaven’s Here” features African music as the backdrop as Bart encourages us all that the heaven that we’re seeking for that we think is out in the distance after we live this life, is in fact in this life, once we start living our lives fully for Christ; while the latter “Ghost” employs electronic keyboards and a slight vocal distortion that imparts to us a timely message of how there a ghost, the Holy Ghost, that lives within us, giving us the strength to see through our days with much peace and grace, and encouraging us in various circumstances when all we feel is disillusion and disdain. Yet it is the song “Best News Ever”, albeit the shortest on the album, that stands out to me, alongside “Even If” and “Hello Beautiful”.

Just because a song is short doesn’t mean that it isn’t good. In fact, “Best News Ever” is revolutionary and reinvigorating, identity building and a song that will shatter all our own beliefs of what Christianity could and should be. Standing at 2:59, we are met with light acoustics and electronic drum kicks, as Bart imparts to us what we often believe to be true about God and Christianity, even if we have heard it all before, while relaying in the chorus that the truth should be and is regardless. The song’s message is simple- that the cross and resurrection has taken care of everything. We don’t have to add anything else to belief in Jesus. It’s just belief in Jesus. Period. Sure, it is out of that relationship that good deeds will flow. It is when we are full of love from the Father that our own natural response is to show love to others. But it doesn’t come from a motivation of doing more, or trying harder. It is just because- since we’re God’s creation, and He is love, we can’t help but love others. As Bart encourages us in the chorus- ‘…what if I were the one to tell you that the fight’s already been won, well, I think your day’s about to get better, what if I were the one to tell you, that the work’s already been done, it’s not good news, it’s the best news ever…’ What an encouraging song “Best News Ever” is- and a must listen if you are in need of a realignment of thinking, to a grace paradigm and a realisation that the news of grace, is in fact, the best news we could ever know or believe to be true!

From hearing this diverse array of 10 songs on Lifer, MercyMe’s latest offering has given me the confidence to declare that this band has delivered one of their most musically unique and one of the most heartfelt, emotional and encouraging albums from them to date. I know I said the same thing about Welcome to the New, but honestly, I think they have outdone themselves with Lifer– thus the 5 star rating (since I rated Welcome to the New 5 stars too!). While it has been around 3 years since their last album, these three years haven’t been waited in vain, as Bart and the crew have unveiled songs that are some of the most compelling and confronting I’ve heard in quite some time. With plenty of pop/dance songs to please the alternative genre, Lifer stretches musical boundaries to boldly assert its authority as one of this year’s standout albums. In the same calibre as Kerrie Roberts’ Boundless, Laura Story’s Open Hands, Kari Jobe’s The Garden and Danny Gokey’s Rise; this album is not to be missed. Well done MercyMe for such a captivating musical experience!

3 songs to listen to: Even If, Hello Beautiful, Best News Ever

Score: 5/5

RIYL: for KING AND COUNTRY, Casting Crowns, Building 429, Newsboys

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