Release Date: October 1st 2021
Reviewed by: Jonathan Andre
- Ain’t it Like Jesus
- I Still Believe You’re Good
- Won’t Be Afraid
- Come Through
- Blessings on Blessings
- No Doubt
- Never Too Far Away
Newsboys are a band with no introduction needed. In fact, let my blog do all the introducing (when I wrote about the Newsboys back in 2019, as part of my Top 100 Influential artists list)… and now that we have all established that the Newsboys are in fact one of the most impactful and influential CCM bands in modern music history, we see that this quartet (yes, unfortunately Newsboys UNITED are no more) are now back with their 20th studio album STAND (their 7th studio album with Michael Tait at the helm of lead vocals). The album is a short-and-sweet album- standing at 10 tracks, this album reminds me of the days of Restart with a bit of their 2019 album UNITED thrown in there for good measure- with such a distinct vocal that Michael bears, we see Newsboys continue to assert themselves as being one of the most unique CCM bands that has ever graced the airwaves in, well, ever! With this band continuing to deliver great quality albums year upon year upon year, this album is no different- their sound is as emotive and heartfelt as ever, and musically, they’ve never been better. While I myself am still partial to albums like Restart and Born Again in terms of the flow, STAND is still Newsboys at their best (from an objective standpoint), even though I may still find myself connecting with some of Tait’s earlier album releases with the band.
While it can seem like a gut-punch that both Peter Furler and Phil Joel decided to depart from Newsboys UNITED earlier on during the year (primarily because of the COVID-19 pandemic), these four men of God continue to plow through, delivering a solid pop-CCM album that people can rely on, especially if you’re a fan of Newsboys 1.0 (feat. John James as lead singer), Newsboys 2.0 (feat. Peter Furler as lead singer), even people who love the current iteration of TobyMac, the Adam Agee-led Audio Adrenaline, even lovers of DC Talk, will appreciate the current Newsboys (Newsboys 3.0), and this album. And while I can thoroughly appreciate the band’s efforts in this album release, I find that STAND as a whole, doesn’t have the staying power that albums like UNITED, Restart and Born Again have had. Just like how 2016’s Love Riot didn’t stand out as much, amongst albums released in 2016, and amongst the Newsboys discography as a whole, so too STAND feels as though these songs add up to an album that is solid, but not breathtakingly compelling. Maybe I’m expecting this album to live up to other standout albums released in 2021 (Flourish [Mike Donehey], interrobang [Switchfoot], Into the Mystery [needtobreathe], Bridge Over Troubled Dreams [Delta Goodrem]), and I shouldn’t expect it though.
Regardless, this album just doesn’t feel as cohesive as albums past. Yes, there are great standout songs like ‘I Still Believe You’re Good’, ‘Clean’, and even potential radio single ‘Come Through’, but all biases aside, STAND is good, but not great- an album that I’d give at most 4 stars (out of 5), as Tait and co. show us 10 tracks that have come out of a season of uncertainty and difficulty for the whole world. As these songs continue to remind us of who we ought to stand upon and what we want our lives to be about, post-lockdown; Michael, Jody, Jeff and Duncan continue to encourage, inspire and impact, and while STAND for me didn’t hit as hard as even I thought it could’ve, the fact of the matter still remains- Newsboys are still a great band. Michael is different from John James, who’s again different from Peter Furler. This band’s legacy will be tremendous, and while this album may not have the same rock atmosphere that an album like Born Again has, the songs are nevertheless inspired- ‘I Still Believe You’re Good’ would be one of my favourite Michael-led tracks, ever since ‘Guilty’ way back in 2015!
Released at the beginning of May, ‘Magnetic’ is the first single (and track #1) from STAND. Starting off with a guitar riff and a synth that fuses together to remind me of something that TobyMac would do nowadays; ‘Magnetic’ kicks off the album with a message of God’s love pulling us back from the brink of us believing the lies and the guilt and the shame that comes from Satan, and that just like magnets attracting the metal, so too I’m sure, would God’s love attract us all, who are looking for something more than this world says what is. ‘Magnetic’ is a fun track- joyous, funky, boppy and just an enjoyable track, we see Tait and the guys deliver what could arguably one of the standouts on STAND, and a harkening and echoing back to the days of 2013’s Restart (songs like ‘That’s How You Change the World’, ‘Fishers of Men’ and ‘Go Glow’ come to mind that remind me of ‘Magnetic’ in a music sense). ‘Magnetic’ encourages us in how God never gives up on us, even if we believe that He does, or even if we do, full stop; and that His patience, grace, unconditional love, and unfathomable goodness is what should ought to attract people towards Him. Even if Christians pass judgements so much more than they should, we know that it is through God’s kindness and mercy and not judgement, that will bring people towards Himself.
Throughout the rest of the album, we see Newsboys deliver pertinent issues and moments of declaration, as the rest of the 9 songs come somewhere in between where Restart begun, and Love Riot ended. While the vibe and album feel of UNITED was good while it lasted, the rest of STAND reminds me of both the band’s 2013 and 2016 albums…and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing or a good thing, it’s just what is. ‘Ain’t it Like Jesus’ has heaps of influence from reggae, as the song speaks about how good the God is that we serve, that isn’t it like Jesus, for Him to turn things that Satan meant for evil, and to flip it around for His glory and our good; while ‘I Still Believe You’re Good’, one of my own personal favourites from the album, is a promotional single, and speaks about how God is always good in every situation, and especially during this ongoing COVID-19 pandemic as well. ‘STAND’, the title track, follows along as track #4, and really speaks to the heart of what being a follower of Christ really is, and the seriousness of taking a stand for Christ in this climate right now where everyone’s convictions blow left and right at the drop of a hat. ‘STAND’, and in effect, the entire album, is a reminder that we should know as believers in Christ, where we stand, in terms of our salvation, but also on other issues in life and society too. We’re either one way or the other, the middle ground, at least when it comes to our own eternity, isn’t something that we should mess around with.
‘Clean’, another promotional single, speaks to how we struggle, sometimes on a daily basis, to be the man that we know God has created us to be, but also a man that doesn’t want to be ostracised by people who may pass judgements upon us, according to how we behave, and what image we cast out to people and how people perceive us as. While ‘Clean’ feels a little too EDM/club for my own liking, the message is still paramount and needed in a society more caught up with perception and image than anything else. ‘Won’t Be Afraid’ speaks about this issue of fear, and that the bible tells us not to fear 365 times (one for every day of the year, right?!), and that is where the song gets its message from- that the God over our lives, is the God who stands in the way between the fear and ourselves, taking whatever we worry about, and turning it around as we know and understand that the fear that we often immerse ourselves in, on a daily basis, isn’t coming from our Maker, but unfortunately from Satan. I am reminded by the verse in the Bible (2 Timothy 1:7) that speaks about how God doesn’t give us a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and self-control. ‘Won’t Be Afraid’ can hopefully speak to this verse; and give us assurance that our Father in heaven has dealt with fear, so that we don’t have to.
‘Come Through’, quite possibly one of my favourite songs on STAND (alongside ‘I Still Believe You’re Good’), speaks about all the things that we can recall in our past that prove to others, and ourselves, that God comes through for His children, for those who call upon His name and ask for His assistance. It may not necessarily be in the ways that we expect, but God’s hand is on every situation, coming through time and time again, even during the times where we may not even see His hand at all. It’s hard to even see the Lord during our times of difficulty, and hopefully this track encourages us during those moments, of uncertainty and self-doubt. ‘Blessings On Blessings’ shows us the side of the band that we’ve never seen before- with a prominent piano presence, and a harkening back to the swing/gospel era of the 50s and 60s (a la Elvis Presley), we see the Newsboys present this track in a musical way that we haven’t seen from them in…well, ever- and that is refreshing to hear. The song itself speaks about how we as people ought to practice gratitude and count our blessings wherever we can- especially with how the world generally is, we in any OECD country, ought not to complain as much as we most likely do. The album the rounds out with the songs ‘No Doubt’ and ‘Never Too Far Away’, the former is a letter to us all, to assure us that ‘…there is no doubt, You are the only one who has never let me down, there is no doubt, You’ve never left my side, so I know You’re with me now, You are always faithful, always true, in a world of questions, God with You, there is no doubt…’, while the latter is a song akin to that of a song like ‘We Believe’- ‘Never too Far Away’ is a declaratory anthemic moment when we realise that we are never too far away from God’s grace, forgiveness and unconditional love that God gives to us even if we don’t deserve it. One of the ‘ballads’ on the album (alongside ‘I Still Believe You’re Good’), this is certain to be come a crowd-favourite in concerts, and maybe even a radio single too!
So there you have it…STAND. An album that, on its own, stands solidly, and presents songs that are biblically sound and are catchy and current with the times of mainstream pop. But when you look at the whole spread of a catalogue throughout the band’s history…well, STAND isn’t really inventing something new, nor is it delivering something that stands out amongst the other sea of albums. Because unfortunately, that’s what albums should do nowadays- have something distinct and unique that people can pinpoint. And while STAND is full of songs that are good, and true and timely for this season in life…I can’t see what STAND has, that Love Riot doesn’t have, or what STAND has, that Restart doesn’t have. And that’s a bit of a shame though. Because when both Born Again and Restart came out, they were unique- Born Again was a great alternative rock album, while Restart showed us the band’s pop/worship flair. Even albums in the past like Adoration, Go, Step Up to the Microphone and the underappreciated Love, Liberty Disco had something that was special to that particular album. And while STAND is good, it doesn’t have the ‘wow’ factor that can make something unique. Nevertheless, maybe it’s just early from me, and I can change my mind in a few weeks. Nevertheless, Michael, Jody, Jeff and Duncan have still created an album that is needed in 2021, and maybe, just maybe, the album could stand the test of time…we may have to wait for a few years and test that hypothesis later on. Regardless, the band ought to be proud for this album- someone will thoroughly enjoy the album and think it’s the best ever from this band…it’s just not me at the moment. Even still, songs like ‘I Still Believe You’re Good’, ‘Come Through’, ‘Stand’ and the album closer ‘Never Too Far Away’ are the standouts (in my opinion). Maybe a thought- a remix album next? They’re due for one- their last remix album Go: Remixed was in 2007!
3 songs to listen to: I Still Believe You’re Good, Come Through, Never Too Far Away
RIYL: Audio Adrenaline, Newsboys 1.0, Stellar Kart, DC Talk