From day one, Kutless has been a popular name in the Christian music industry and it's easy to see why: they have a big heart for God, lead singer Jon Micah Sumrall has a strong and passionate voice, the musicians are all skilled, and their sound is very accessible. They have penned many great tunes--"Perspectives," "Strong Tower" and "Sea of Faces" to name a few--but they have released just as many songs that are safe and generic, hindering their ability to put out the masterpiece they are clearly capable of. Surrender continues with this trend of producing a mixture of average songs and standouts. It is a significant step up from their recent projects Glory and Believer, but it is not quite as strong as their older material like Sea Of Faces and Hearts of the Innocent.
"Tear It Up" bursts right out of the gate with heavy hitting guitars--something we haven't heard from the band in a while. The song is about destroying the unstable, self-centered foundations we've built our lives on and rebuilding ourselves on the solid rock of Jesus Christ. "Tear It Up" is not as exciting as the opening tracks from some of their previous albums, such as "Not What You See" or "Hearts of the Innocent," but it is a good start. "Bring It On" immediately drops the rock edge for a pleasant CCM sound. Thematically, the song tackles the brokenness of this world and longs for Jesus' return. It is a refreshing message, but the song stumbles a bit with an overuse of the clichéd phrase "bring it on" and forced rhymes. The quality of the album increases with the alternative rocker, "Mirror," which uses looking in a mirror as a metaphor for a vivid encounter with God. Sumrall longs to hold onto this moment of clarity as a reminder of God's presence in his life. The songs in the middle of the album--"Love Come Crashing Down" and "I Will Go"--cover familiar CCM themes of God's love washing over us and following Christ no matter the cost. There is a certain sincerity and passion in Sumrall's voice that helps offset the somewhat generic nature of the lyrics and music found in these songs, especially "I Will Follow."
While there are a few good cuts on the first half of the album, the strongest tracks are found on the back half. "Overcome" builds a full band sound off a steady guitar riff in the intro. The lyrics here are slightly stronger than its predecessors', declaring the power of Jesus to conquer our hardships and brokenness. The mid-tempo rocker, "Not Too Far," and the radio-ready "Loved" are also nice additions to the album, but the band really hits their stride towards the end with the cover of Bethel Music's "One Thing Remains." It is a refreshingly poignant worship song that Kutless makes their own with a great drum beat and intriguingly intricate electric guitars. The album closes with one of their best songs to date, "My Heart Is A Ghost." This album highlight opens with a grungy guitar and ambient sounds creating a lonely atmosphere. It is the perfect way to introduce the song's weighty theme of feeling spiritually jaded and apathetic. There is a tangible desperation and deeply rooted trust in Jesus in this song that forces you to reflect on your own spiritual health. The last two minutes of the song are purely instrumental, which is something many CCM artists shy away from. Music can speak just as loud as words and they pull that off here with a gritty outro that captures a sense of urgency in the spiritual battle against apathy. The song fades out while the band is still going strong, leaving a somewhat uncomfortable and unresolved tension. This is the closest they've come in a while to revisiting their post-grunge roots, and it is exciting to see how much of an edge they can still display.
Kutless fans old and new will want to give Surrender a spin. It's not without its hiccups, but you might be surprised how much you'll like it.
- Review date: 11/6/15, written by Christopher Smith of Jesusfreakhideout.com