2013 brings what, to many, is a bit of a surprise. After disbanding a few year’s ago, Audio Adrenaline is back, but, with a new line-up, a new voice at the front, and a new sound. Their album, KINGS & QUEENS, is due out March 12th and the leading single “Kings & Queens” is currently working its way up through the top ten according to Billboard’s songs chart for Christian music. I’ve been soaking in the album preview stream for several days (available to anyone who pre-orders) and I’ve included my take on each of the tracks here.
“He Moves You Move” – A springy vibe that reminds me a lot of “Get Down” – classic Audio Adrenaline. A pop tone that almost defies the gravity of the message carried by the lyrics. A nod to the notion of dismissing the naysayers in your head that prevent so many of us living in the moment and following the spirit when it strikes. Sometimes God’s will doesn’t make sense to the purists who don’t see the bigger picture (i.e., cynical contemporary Christian Music fans decrying the reformation of Audio Adrenaline). I think I’m willing to give Kevin, Will McGinness, Mark Stuart, The Hands & Feet Project, and everybody else involved in this Audio Adrenaline reboot the benefit of the doubt going forward.
“Kings & Queens” – Majestic, dramatic, and sweeping. “Kings & Queens” inhales and exhales with the core, biblical message of the twenty-fifth chapter of Matthew. Indeed, the message of the song is an apt declaration of the backbone of The Hands & Feet Project, the organization started by Audio Adrenaline in 2004 to provide care for orphaned and abandoned children in Haiti. The first single and title track of the album, it is garnering a good bit of airplay and rightly so. The accompanying video for the track is beautiful and, certainly, lends to the impact of the song. For the arrangement, for the message, and for those that the awareness brought by this track will benefit, “Kings and Queens” is a home run on so many levels.
“Believer” – Lyrically, “Believer,” is one of the less interesting tracks on the album. At least, that was my first impression. But, what catches my attention midway through the song, is the vocal passion of Max. “Oh, here I stand, all alone, waiting on you….” It really redeems a song that, in general, is a fine tune.
“King Of The Comebacks” – Instantly, one of the two songs that I go back to the most on the album. Lyrically walking the line between the rightful interpretation of Christ’s second coming and the more tongue-in-cheek perspective focusing on the bravado of a Kevin Max/Audio Adrenaline comeback, “King Of The Comebacks” is an undeniably catchy song that, much like “He Moves You Move,” bounces along on a pop hook that keeps the song on a loop in the listener’s memory long after it has stopped flowing through the speakers. Bittersweet certainly seems like an appropriate term to apply to the cameo appearance that Mark Stuart’s voice makes on this track. While the arrival of Kevin Max as the lead singer to carry the torch of Audio Adrenaline and The Hands & Feet Project forward is, indeed, a welcome development, the reminder that Stuart’s role, as the frontman for the band broke down the way it did (due to vocal cord damage), is at once, a moment of assurance and sadness. Assuring because of his integral and central role in the reformation of Audio Adrenaline, in a new form, and sad because of the undeniable personality, charisma, and energy that he brought to the band. With few live performances to judge from, so far, the ability of Kevin Max to drive the live show, as well as the music itself, forward has yet to be seen. That being said, if history is any indication, he will have no problems. He’s, quite distinctively, not Mark Stuart. But, all indications are that he has a tremendous amount of respect for the legacy of Mark Stuart and Audio Adrenaline and that he will honor that legacy while driving the band forward with a level of artistic integrity that is sorely lacking in much of the current contemporary Christian music realm.
“Change My Name” – Stylistically, “Change My Name” caught me a bit off guard at first. But, the story in the lyrics drew me in quickly. Perhaps, because they’re so applicable personally. I’m not sure who the bulk of the lyrical credit goes to, though, I know that Max and Stuart were both involved in several songs on the album, but, the lyrics are believable on this one. “You called me on a broken line,” relates so well to me as, I’m sure, it does to others. A sure favorite of mine on the album.
“20:17 (Raise The Banner)” – With a beginning characteristic of an epic cinematic battle scene, “20:17 (Raise The Banner)” celebrates the lesson of faith embodied in the story of King Jehoshaphat, and those that lived in Judah and Jerusalem, according to 2 Chronicles 20. Recorded by another, this track could have turned out to be a fairly generic sounding song, but, as done here by Kevin Max and his new Audio Adrenaline cohorts, it is a triumphantly well done track. The rhythm section forms a strong backbone on which the song stands tall with overtly inspirational lyrics championing the notion of fearlessness through faith in the face of adversity.
“Fire Never Sleeps” – An obvious nod to the influence of U2 from lyric to arrangement, and even, in moments, the manner in which Max sings – seemingly channeling his inner Bono and, in doing so, accomplishing a great track.
“Seeker” – I love the opening guitar on this one, hearkening back to the early 90’s Red Hot Chili Peppers song, “Under The Bridge.” It would be interesting to hear how the song might work if it stayed with that opening tone more throughout the song. Lyrically, it refocuses the course of the album on the overall theme of the album and the mission of The Hands & Feet Project: giving hope to those who are most vulnerable and who, otherwise, wouldn’t have any. The short spoken word segment about two-thirds of the way through is well done as a change-up to the ringing, hopeful chorus.
“I Climb The Mountain” – Like “Fire Never Sleeps,” this one has a strong U2 influence. If one is to incorporate a strong a strong and distinctive influence into their own music, there are certainly worse bands to use. But, again, the influence is very clear. The song is well done, overall, with a strong chorus and hopeful tone. Like one or two others on the album, it falls short only in comparison to other cuts on the album. This song could easily be picked as a single if it came from another album that wasn’t so well-stocked in terms of quality cuts.
“The Answer” – A well chosen closer for the album. Lyrically, coming from Max, it’s believable and, personally, at this point in my life, it’s very relevant. Its a story of somebody who’s racked up hundreds of miles walking in the wrong direction who is happy and grateful to simply be a beneficiary of grace. On top of that, it simply sounds great. Parts of the song, the stylistically appropriate and tactfully done rap, for example, remind me of “Unbelievable” by EMF. A strong finish to a strong album.
“The Answer” seems so appropriate coming from the lips of Kevin Max because of the path that his creative endeavors have taken in the years since the “intermission” of dcTalk. Personally, artistically, and perhaps even spiritually, he seems to have explored a wide spectrum of possibilities with little to no regard for what the critics, particularly in the Christian music industry, would think.
One characteristic that he’s always kept in tact, though, is his integrity with regards to taking each corner and turn in the road proactively. Instead of responding to the world, he took steps he wanted to take and let the chips fall where they may.
It is that manner of integrity that he’s shown in the past – to be rather than to seem to be – that gives me hope that the spiritual optimism and hope communicated through the lyrics in these new Audio Adrenaline tracks is truly sincere and that the themes of redemption and hope championed here are tangible to their audience in 2013 and beyond.
Aside from musical arrangements, lyrics, tours, and photo-ops, the real issue at stake here are the day-to-day realities and futures of abandoned and orphaned children in Haiti who, through increased awareness and financial support built up with this Audio Adrenaline album and tour, could be taken in by The Hands & Feet Project. Surely, the potential is there, with an album as solid as KINGS & QUEENS, for there to be a significant level of success for Audio Adrenaline in 2013 and beyond and, in turn, the potential is also there for lives to be changed as a result.
I’m all in for this album.