I remember when I first saw the Newsboys live in concert. It was at the Indiana State Fair, back when Peter Furler, Phil Joel, Jeff Frankenstein, Duncan Phillips, and Jody Davis rocked the stage as a band. Ironically, dc Talker Michael Tait's self-titled band was the opening band that evening. Sure enough, seeing two legendary acts in one night was in fact a grand experience to remember, but it's become a surreal event; just last year, the two have joined up. While keeping the Newsboys name, Furler has exited the scene and Tait has stepped up to the microphone, providing the band with not only a new voice, but a new sound as well. Born Again couldn't be a more fitting title for the Newsboys' first record with Tait, but whether the full album fares well or not is a tricky question to answer.
As previously evidenced by the Special Preview EP released earlier this year, this is not the same Newsboys as we last heard them on In The Hands of God. Born Again is a pop rock record in every sense, with every song seemingly screaming for radio play. Indeed, it's a whole new world that no Newsboys record has ever dared to explore. The opening title track is possibly the best song on the record, giving a call to action for believers. "Way Beyond Myself" and "Impossible" are also strong pop tracks with outright worshipful lyricism ("There's so much more than meets the eye/Or what's going on inside/I believe in something way beyond myself/Like the wind that moves the leaves/Lord, You bring me to my knees") "Build Us Back," "Running To You" and "On Your Knees" are slower, more reflective tracks that effectively balance things out on the record as a whole. "Escape" does a good job of mixing synths with guitars while maintaining a solid rock sound and "Miracles" oddly enough has the feel of the brit-rock band Muse. Overall, every track is a unique entity to itself, proving the veteran status all four of these musicians hold.
There seem to be four tracks in particular that are the most lacking. "One Shot" and "When the Boys Light Up" are retained in their form from the preview EP, complete with their unfortunate, all-too-casual lyrical choices. The tracks are catchy, but with the sometimes cringe-worthy lyrics attached, they are hardly worth the cut. Also, the album ends on two rather sour notes. Covers of the popular worship song "Mighty To Save" and the dc Talk classic "Jesus Freak" conclude the record, and both of which are quite poor additions. While the "Mighty To Save" cover is done well enough, there's simply no reason for the track's inclusion where an original track should have been ("I'll Be" would have been perfect here). Also, doing a respectable cover of "Jesus Freak" is near impossible. Yes, Tait, a dc Talker, is performing the song, and the band does routinely cover the legendary song in live shows, but honestly, this doesn't warrant the inclusion of a cover of his former group's most famous song. And with KJ-52 filling Toby McKeehan's place on the song's raps, the song feels even more inferior to the original and unnecessary on this release.
The bonus tracks on the deluxe edition are a hit and miss concept. "We Remember" (featuring Israel Houghton) and "Give Me To You" aren't particularly compelling as original worship tracks, but "I'll Be" serves as the track that should have made the original album. Finally, In The Hands of God's "Glorious" makes another appearance with Tait's vocals dubbed over. It's one that definitely shouldn't have made the album's tracklisting, but it's still fun to see it included as a bonus track here.
A release like this is a complicated one to analyze. On one hand, it's been an interesting ride to see Newsboys make a musical 180. Indeed, on Furler's exit and Tait's entrance, we are no longer hearing the same band. Attempting to reinvent themselves instead of walking in Furler's footsteps was probably a wise choice given how different Furler and Tait are vocally and stylistically. However, on the other hand, it's tough to really call this album anything amazing beyond a standard CCM pop release. With more time as a cohesive band, Tait and friends can indeed iron out their wrinkles and perfect their sound. Their experience as seasoned musicians is clearly seen, but it is a work still in progress, and it does make one miss the old days of the Newsboys even more. Born Again does have pretty noticeable faults, particularly in the four aforementioned tracks, but those aside, the Newsboys are stepping in the right direction with their reinvention. This may not be the album to define their new sound and aim, but with time, great things are bound to happen in the Newsboys' near future.
- Review date: 7/11/10, written by Roger Gelwicks of Jesusfreakhideout.com