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Music Review: Newsboys – In the Hands of God

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I’m a latecomer to the Newsboys' franchise. Though the band has been pumping out tunes for over 20 years, I’ve jumped on the wagon just as long-time lead singer Peter Furler is stepping down from his role as lead singer. After five gold albums, sales exceeding six million units, and the title track “In the Hands of God” becoming the bands 25th No.1, In the Hands of God is being hailed by many as a culmination of a lengthy contribution to contemporary Christian music.

This release is also the last album featuring Furler as front man; he will be continuing with the group as a songwriter. Michael Tait – formerly of dc Talk – is taking up the mantle from here on out, and long-time fans who aren’t able to make it to a live concert or festival to hear him singing in the lead can hear his backup vocals on the new disc.

Building upon the groups long-term momentum and loyal existing fan base, their fourteenth album arrived on the scene like a high-speed rocket, shooting to number one ranks on singles charts and Christian music charts, number one on iTunes in the Christian/Gospel category and in the top 30 on Billboard. Hailed as delivery the classic Newsboys sound, new listeners such as myself may find themselves wondering what exactly that sound is.

On my initial listen I was immediately struck by the distinct sound of an Australian-founded band. Like my first exposure to Midnight Oil, it took a while for my Canadian ears to adjust to and decipher Furler’s slightly accented lyrics. By the third of fourth time through I was singing along. The sound itself is largely eclectic, and that in and of itself seems to be a marker for Newsboys albums. Ranging from classic rock through to electronic Brit-pop stylings and soaring symphonic songs of worship, the band serves up a little bit of everything.

Opening with “The Way We Roll” the band rocks its way through the hardest track on the disc, a musical introduction to their history, work and purpose declaring, “that’s the way we roll, ‘cause we’ve been set free”. Pointing to God as the sole progenitor of their music, sustainer, and motivator; this driving tune kicks things off before heading into a diverse range of songs that run the gamut of CCM.

There are a few misses on the disc, “No Grave” while haunting in melody fails to capture the imagination, “This Is Your Life” comes off as a platitude, and “The Upside” falls squarely within Brit-pop, a genre that leaves me cold. Though these tracks weren’t my cup-of, the disc is diverse enough that there’s something here for everyone.

“Glorious” is just that, pointing out our ever-present failings and the need to continue running into God’s arms for His sustenance, for His love. Wreathed with a rich swirl of strings this soaring song will lead listeners into a great and deeper dependence upon recognizing their utter insufficiency. “In The Hands of God” is without doubt the most memorable track, featuring an insanely catchy, take-away pop melody, and rich spiritual message.

Demonstrating a sense of humor that pokes fun at onself, “My Friend Jesus” features punchy lyrics and the unusual premise of God’s sanctifying work through a patience-trying call with a help-line that puts user on hold interminably. It’s a fun, lighter piece with a simple chorus that works and brings a few chuckles each time I listen to it. “Lead Me To The Cross” begins with a simple piano and grows into a rousing Christ-centered apogee – strings included. “Dance” is another of the harder tracks that has Furler leaning towards speaking over singing, the staccato, rhythmic text phasing into chorus that leads into the boundary lands between pop and dance music, while the choppy body of the song is reminiscent of indie-rock.

The bands Australian background goes largely unfelt throughout the album – other than the subtle accent – but it does feature prominently in “RSL 1984”, which feels like a voyeuristic look into a boys ongoing relationship with God. It seems filled with insider only references, and will likely be more appreciated by long-time Newsboys fans.

If you’re new to this bastion of CCM, it’s not too late to discover the widespread appeal of the band. Don’t worry about playing catch-up, just jump in – the listening is fine; In The Hands of God is diverse enough to provide a few, new favourites for most everyone.

Track Listing:

1. The Way We Roll
2. No Grave
3. This Is Your Life
4. Glorious
5. In The Hands of God
6. The Upside
7. My Friend Jesus
8. Lead Me To The Cross
9. Dance
10. RSL 1984

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About Jennifer Bogart