Word Label Group
Release Date: July 3rd 2020
Reviewed by: Jonathan Andre
- Intro (Smile)
- Where Forgiveness Is
- Real To Me
- Don’t You Think It’s Time
- You Were There
- I Believe it Now
- Let Go Your Troubles
- There’s a Way
- Thank You Jesus
- Don’t Sweat It
- The Comment Section
- The Light
- Smile (Single Mix)
Sidewalk Prophets have been around for quite some time. Starting off in 2009 with their chart-topping album These Simple Truths that bore the radio singles ‘You Love Me Anyway’, ‘The Words I Would Say’ and ‘You Can Have Me’ (to name a few), this band from Indiana, U.S. have forged a career of more than 20 years, 4 albums and countless radio singles later- from the aforementioned three singles, ‘Live Like That’, ‘Keep Making Me’ and ‘Help Me Find It’, to ‘Save My Life’, ‘Come to the Table’, ‘To Live is Christ’ and ‘Prodigal’, among others. Now here we are in 2020, 5 years after their successful album Something Different, that for me, was one of my favourite albums from the group. The Things that Got Us Here is an album that stands at a whopping 15 tracks tall, and Dave Frey and co. have created an album that has released when most albums would have been placed on hold and delayed because of the global pandemic. Nevertheless, in spite of the uncertainty and confusion, Christian music still releases new music across the board, and Sidewalk Prophets is no different. From a business standpoint, it’d be foolish and unwise for anyone, regardless of genre, to release any album right now, but nevertheless, here we are. These songs by Sidewalk Prophets have been curated and choreographed long before any global catastrophe, nevertheless, it has been COVID-19 that has made these songs on this new album, ever the more impactful and heartfelt. While for me I felt at times inspired and at others, not as so; on the whole the album is ok- not their best work, but not their worst either.
Dave Frey & co. have embarked on an album complete with rousing declaratory moments, and others that are much more tranquil and mellow. This is an album certain to be enjoyed by anyone who loves CCM (like myself), but if it is originality and uniqueness that is being sought after, then unfortunately this new album from the group isn’t where you’d start your quest from- yes, the songs are good, but as a whole, and compared to a lot of albums this year, or even compared to the band’s own discography, Sidewalk Prophets’ new album unfortunately doesn’t hold up in comparison. Sad to say, but that doesn’t mean the album isn’t inspired, or some songs aren’t poignant. The Things That Got Us Here is a good album but not the best- it’s an album that is good to hear every once in a while, but alas doesn’t have the ‘wow’ factor that I reckon their debut album These Simple Truths had way back in the day. Nevertheless, Dave Frey and co. still deliver powerful vocals and moments of encouragement and rousing anthemic proclamations; and is a good solid listen-through if you enjoy similar-styled artists like Big Daddy Weave, MercyMe or Matthew West.
Released last year in September, ‘Smile’ is the first single by Sidewalk Prophets for The Things that Got Us Here; and is one of the brightest and joyous spots on the album. Released on the album as track #2 (after a 1 minute intro), alongside it also being the album closer (track #15) in a radio format; this song has come ironically at a time where people need a song about joy, happiness and being able to smile through difficult times. In such a time of uncertainty, worry and often chaos, it is good to have a song where the mood of it is rooted in joy and having moments in your life where you can put a smile on your face. While the song ‘Smile’ isn’t necessarily a unique song-title, the message behind it is still nevertheless needed for society, especially now. As the band offer up to us in a song a tad under 3 minutes; we see a line repeated over and over again that on the surface can seem a little offensive to people struggling with various plights at the moment, but as we dig deeper, is very much poignant and meaningful in such a time as this- ‘…there’s always a reason to always choose joy…’ In the time of COVID-19, the BLM movement (Black Lives Matter), even the aftermaths of the Australian bushfires, and floods, even the protests and violence that has stemmed from racial divide across the world, it’s hard to find joyful moments in difficult situations. But as I’m reminded through this melody, that the is always a reason for things happenng- and no matter how bleak a circumstance is, joy can always be found- depending on how we look. For if our faith is in the Lord, our joy is rooted in who He is rather than what we’re facing. Joy is lasting where happiness can be fleeting, and such a song as ‘Smile’ warrants for us to determine the difference between joy and happiness, no matter how intertwined we think the words are.
As the band members impart to us of what they reckon is the final point around ‘Smile’ and what they want people to convey, we see that ‘…our song, “Smile,” is an anthem of joy; and, a reminder to hold on to God’s promises through thick and thin. We wrote this song about halfway through making our new album. We realized there were a lot of introspective songs, and, we wanted a song that overarchingly had fun, but also addressed the issues we write about in the other songs. This song kickstarts the rest of the album. Personally, I enjoy introspective songs, and I also enjoy upbeat songs. There’s this concept about our pursuit of happiness from the Declaration of Independence. We wanted to write a song that expresses happiness when you’re in the middle of a struggle. The linchpin of the song is “there’s always a reason to always choose joy.” That comes from James 1:2 and Psalm 30:5. Joy can be found as a silver lining in the midst of all these things we go through…’
Throughout the rest of the album, Sidewalk Prophets deliver songs of hope and poignancy, while others, as good-intentioned they are, seem to be lost in the 15-track song-list. ‘Chosen’ is a moment of realisation for anyone hearing, that we are chosen by God to undertake and do the things that He has set aside for us to do- we are sons and daughters of God, we are forgiven, we are loved unconditionally, we are chosen to be party of the ever-growing family of God, and that is who we are. ‘Chosen’ is a great reminder of how we loved from the start- so much so that God went to the greatest lengths of the cross for us to be redeemed back to Him- that is how much loved and chosen we are to Him; while ‘Where Forgiveness Is’ speaks of the notion of how we need to listen to our neighbour and to pave the way for grace, compassion and understanding to take root in our hearts when we converse with someone else who may have a different opinion than we do- ‘Where Forgiveness Is’ speaks of unity in a sense that we are all struggling with our own issues and that to look at things from the other POV, we need to let go of ‘…anger, pride, and pain, I’m going back to a place where hope collides with grace again, freedom’s where forgiveness is, at first these words were heard to say, and my heart was healed, now the stories changed, now this sweeter life, I’m breathing in, freedom’s where forgiveness is…’ ‘Don’t You Think It’s Time’ delivers the song in a southern/country flair and a message of connection on a face-to-face level rather than technologically and often what comes with it, a lack of empathy and understanding if we don’t see the person and only talk to them remotely. Things often go wrong when we talk to people over digital devices- our understanding of a meaning of a text can be different to what they intended, or it’s just that we get so used to talking to people via any digital device, that we find it hard to talk to them on the phone or when they’re right in front of our face, we all we would then know is how to talk digitally.
‘Don’t You Think it’s Time’ calls us all out of our metaphorical and proverbial bubbles, and give us hope and encouragement to ‘…love deep and daydream, go make some memories, look each other in the eyes, let’s turn off the TV, we’ve got the real thing, we were made to live this life, don’t you think it’s time…’; while the trio of ‘You Were There’, ‘Let Go Your Troubles’ and ‘There’s a Way’ impart to us various themes- of God being in our intricate and grandiose moments in our lives simultaneously, letting go of our difficulties, worries, troubles and things we’re uncertain of because we believe God will carry them for us, and knowing and believing that God has a way for us to move from where we are now to where we want our life to be and look like; respectively. There’s nothing really wrong about ‘You Were There’, ‘Let Go Your Troubles’ or even ‘There’s a Way’ as such- all three songs are good. It’s just that they aren’t as memorable as what I initially thought of other songs like ‘Smile’ ‘Where Forgiveness Is’ and ‘Chosen’. Nevertheless, the band still present heartfelt themes, even if the execution of some of the music isn’t as engaging as others.
‘Thank You Jesus’, a reflective song about a persona thanking Jesus in the midst of difficulty and pain, is a reminder that regardless of our happenings and things that occur in our lives that derail us, God still is worthy, He is still in control, and still loves us unconditionally- that in spite of things like cancer, physical ailments, or dare I say, COVID-19; we still ought to thank Jesus for our lives, and what lessons we’ve learnt on the way- lessons we may not have known or understood if we haven’t gone through what we’ve gone through in our lives up until now. ‘Don’t Sweat It’, as well intentioned as it is with a quasi-rap and the band joyously pointing out not to worry or ‘sweat’ it, because worries and things about tomorrow will sort themselves out tomorrow; unfortunately feels a little contrite and feels a little too ‘joyous’ when discussing about worries and real things that people feel on a daily basis. Never mind that the actually song and its theme sound very similar to Taylor Swift’s ‘Shake It Off’- that’s another issue entirely…but you get the picture- right message, and one cannot deny the passion of Dave Frey in whatever he sings, but the song itself and the execution of the rap, leave much to be desired…unfortunately. ‘I Believe It Now’ continues Dave Frey on the pathway of mixing together pop with spoken word and rap, and surprisingly in this track, it works- the song itself reminds us all that we can be blinded to what God has in store for us, because all we see is this life from a 3D POV (and how God sees in bigger dimensions than we do!), and our POV’s are clouded by our circumstances and experiences we have had in our lives. ‘I Believe it Now’ speaks of a revelation and realisation, that what has transpired in my life has led me to a place that i may be more confident than had I been, if not for the experiences in my life; while ‘The Light’ strips back the music, and uses the phrase ‘saw the light’, a common meaning that people attribute to coming to a conclusion so profound that it has had to come from a prolonged time full of thought or even doubt- as a phrase (at least in the song) as being one where we see the light (Jesus) and are changed in how we live our lives and interact with people who are different from us. But for me what has stood out, in a good way for this album, is songs like ‘Real to Me’ and ‘The Comment Section’, songs that are some of my favourites not only on this album, but also favourite tracks of all of the band’s career thus far!
‘Real to Me’, easily a potential radio single #2 in the future, speaks of a persona on a spiritual journey (maybe Dave Frey himself?) and is a reminder that the journey to be a Christian and our experiences in our lives need to be on an anchor that is real and true and certain- it can’t just be based upon experience or feeling, but rooted in something firm and concrete. ‘Real to Me’ is a moment of realisation that in order for us to follow this ‘religion’ (by definition) of Christianity, we need something to ground it to, ourselves. What we see and believe into has to be real in a sense that we have to believe what is being claimed about Jesus, investigating what has been said about Him and figuring about whether this is all true or not, but also real to us- personable. We need to know Jesus is real with our hearts rather than just with our heads. Sidewalk Prophets’ give to us this song that I’m sure will encourage us all to look deep inside ourselves to see if we have a personal relationship with Christ, or we think we do, but are just going through the motions and what is considered to be ‘Christian behaviour’ rather than just being a Christian. ‘The Comment Section’, with its instrumentation reduced to keyboards, is quite possibly the most poignant track on the album. One that really brings to the light this issue of commenting on social media and youtube, hiding behind a screen and being ‘bullish’, ‘slaimming a POV down someone’s throat’ or just being nasty and mean on the internet; ‘The Comment Section’ is a song we all should listen to to see if we behave like what we don’t want to become. It’s easy to give opinions or to correct someone in public on youtube- you can’t see their face. And often, we can have good intentions at heart, but how we treat people can be on a level of being a bully, even if we don’t know it. ‘The Comment Section’ allows us to check with ourselves, to see how we’re interacting in the cyberworld can impact and affect others from other ends of the globe. Comments do matter to people, and so such a song as this, encourages us all to think twice, and to pray even more, because we press ‘post’ on a comment on social media!
Sidewalk Prophets‘ album, when push comes to shove, is an album that is good, but not great. It’s an album that has just as much ‘wow’ songs as it does have unmemorable ones, not because of anything the band has done, but rather, the sheer nature of songs out there, that seemingly has grabbed my attention as a whole, compared to The Things that Got Us Here. Nevertheless, this is an album to check out if you are a massive Sidewalk Prophets’ fan, or if you love artists like Big Daddy Weave, Matthew West or even Phil Wickham. Dave and co. have a sense of joy and happiness about this album, as songs like ‘Real to Me’, ‘Smile’, ‘Chosen’ and ‘The Comment Section’, all stand out for various reasons. Will this album become a memorable one, in either CCM or music as a whole, come the end of 2020? Maybe not. But what I will say is this- the band still has a long way to go to find their unique sound, and for an ‘hiatus’ of 5 years, this offering from the band feels a little too musically ‘safe’ for my own liking. Nevetheless- this album isn’t a big loss- as we know that standout ‘The Comment Section’ is relevant right now in this world of digital media in the face of COVID-19. An album that I’m going to listen to again, hoping that these songs continue to grow on me; The Things That Got Us Here is a certain feel-good album, something we need more of, this time of all times, in this climate we’re in.
4 songs to listen to: Real to Me, Where Forgiveness Is, Smile, Chosen
RIYL: Matthew West, Big Daddy Weave, MercyMe, Phil Wickham