Bebo Norman's eighth release in nine years (Release number nine if you include a greatest hits record last year) is a self-titled anthem to "rebuilding from brokenness," Norman says in a press bio. "I like that every song, in one way or another, speaks to that theme… I like that we took the core of where I come from as a writer and made it feel new again." While there are a few strokes of the genius inherent in Norman's form here, it really doesn't feel all that new. In fact, it feels more like the same old done over again.
Musically, there are a few acoustic/folk moments that excite (some even ambient), but most all, unfortunately, course correct into pop/rock clichés before they come to complete fruition. Take the opening track, "Pull Me Out." It begins with a catchy acoustic guitar riff that chugs along like a Snow Patrol track might begin. The verses are simply executed, but fairly unique in their own right. Still, when the chorus kicks in, it is the same chorus that perpetuates throughout the entire record. Other tracks start with similar promise ("Here It From Me," "Ruins," etc.), before falling in the usual pitfalls by the time the chorus rolls around; though, admittedly, some tracks have a little more success than others.
From a lyrical standpoint, things are simple, but straightforward and fairly effective. Indeed, as Norman has suggested, the theme here is rebuilding from brokenness, and it is fleshed out over ten tracks. "The Only Hope" expresses out finite nature versus the Maker's infinite one, and the process of handing our lives over to Him. "Not Living in the In-Between" speaks of rejecting a lukewarm lifestyle, and "Ruins" finds Norman is his most desperate and helpless state, realizing that only there can he be truly redeemed.
It is this type of vulnerability for which Norman is known, and though it is not quite as present on this record, there is a moment of brilliance found on "Can't Live without You," as he makes such statements as "Please hold me close/ I can't stop shaking/ It's not for fear/ My walls are breaking down." It is a breath of fresh air on an otherwise mostly predictable piece of work. One other surprise is the inclusion of a song entitled "Britney" that addresses Ms. Spears herself, but speaks to all girls that are told by the culture to grow up a lot faster than they really ought to. As a universal theme, it works; but the way in which he continually addresses Britney Spears just seems the least bit odd. Still, it is an otherwise pleasant track that only suffers from its way-too-similar-to-"Hey There, Delilah"-structure.
And that is essentially the story of Bebo Norman's self-titled, latest album. There is stuff to like, but it is more often than not covered in a format all too similar to listeners. If you are just looking for another solid collection of acoustic/folk tracks from a guy who has been around the block a time or two, you will find them here. If you were hoping for something more from a guy who has been doing this for nearly a decade, you will more likely than not be a little disappointed. Norman is a great musician and a lyricist who can wear his heart on his sleeve. Let's hope that on the next go around, he really does take what he does best and make it feel new again.- Review date: 9/14/08, written by Josh Taylor of Jesusfreakhideout.com
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