The Elms snuck quietly into the Christian rock scene last year with their self-titled 5-song EP. The band offered alternative rock that still had a slight rough edge. It was something different for Christian music and left those who did get a chance to hear it anticipating a full release. However a full-length fall release was delayed a few times until it was pushed back until May of 2001, over a year after the release of the EP teaser.
Big Surprise is the title of their first full-length project. It features 3 of the songs from the EP, two of which are relatively the same and one which was sounds completely rerecorded. The seven new tracks step in a different direction. With more of a pop edge and a polished composition, those who know of the EP may even find Big Surprise sounding more like a collection of works and less like a comprised album. If the EP wasn't released with slightly rougher renditions of these three songs, (and 2 others along those lines), Big Surprise would be more surprisingly diverse at times.
The album opens with the clapping and cheerleader cries of "Hey Hey" before lead singer Owen Thomas' vocals saves the listener from horrifying high school pep-rally flashbacks. The song that follows the cheers is an upbeat pop song with catchy riffs and lyrics, but will definitely be a "big surprise" for those who have heard the EP. "Here's My Hand" starts with a beautiful string arrangement that leads into a soft pop/rock ballad. Brit pop influences are evident on the record as well as tinges of evidence that prove they were influenced but the 'British-mod' and American bands of the 60s. "Who Got the Meaning?" is an upbeat pop rock tune showcasing the shout-singing vocals of Owen that were introduced on the EP. On this complete record, Owen varies his vocal styles more, from the melodic ballad singing of "The Buzzing Won't Stop!" and "Real Men Cry" to the more shout-like approach of "You're Glowing" and "Lifeboat."
"You're Glowing" ultimately sounds like it did on the EP, while "Lifeboat" has a minute of studio clatter tacked on the end, and finally "Real Men Cry" was rerecorded to be an even mellower ballad than it's original version. But the album highlight is actually the title track. A pop/rock ballad with a unique use of violins and vocal melodies in the chorus, is a strong cut lyrically and musically, and deserves mainstream attention.
A strong debut with some definite surprises in musical changes from their EP introduction, The Elms first full-length studio album is certainly a good offer and will surely land them a place in the Christian rock scene as a band to follow.- Review date: 5/12/01, written by John DiBiase
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