Maintaining relevancy in the music industry isn't a problem easily solved. In order to stay relevant in the face of rising trends and popular styles, an artist has to change or, to use a more appealing term, evolve. Some have managed to balance familiarity and change better than others, often resulting in a steady and intriguing growth from album to album. Few bands fit this description better than MercyMe, the longstanding CCM veterans that, despite being eight albums in, continue to push themselves with each song they pen. Since the alternative nod of Coming Up To Breathe, the band has continued to take risks to achieve a sound that's distinctly their own. After a couple of missteps (i.e. the gimmicky nature of The Generous Mr. Lovewell and the diverse but incohesive Welcome to the New), MercyMe has crafted their strongest record since their 2006 magnum opus with the creatively titled Lifer.
It's interesting to note that a common picture of musical progression has an artist moving towards a more subdued and "mature" sound. But MercyMe has never conformed to this image. Unlike many others, they have progressed towards a more joyous and up-tempo sound than what their first couple of records showcased. They've effectively turned the routine form of maturity on its head. The title track on Lifer is a prime example, beginning with a hilarious introduction before jumping straight into an infectious dance tune about being a lifer for Christ (a term meaning a lifelong follower of Jesus Christ). It's an instant highlight and arguably one of MercyMe's best songs to date.
"You Found Me" follows and is yet another fun pop number, featuring verses that flow not unlike something from Colony Houses' latest record, Only the Lonely. "Grace Found You" is a happy-go-lucky funk song that sounds like a faster paced "Wishful Thinking" from Welcome to the New. Yet, it does all it can to avoid being labeled as a "carbon copy" by incorporating an unexpected rap verse into the bridge. It's an ambitious move that works, only further emphasizing the band's willingness to step out of the box.
There are only two ballads on this record, with "Even If" being the best of them. It takes the album's cheerful direction to a profound truth that, although darkness may abound around us, our hope is in Christ alone. "I know you're able and I know you can / Save through the fire with your mighty hand / But even if you don't my hope is you alone....You've been faithful, you've been good all of my days." The final ballad and album closer is "Ghost," but like previous closers, it's held down by being underdeveloped and insignificant compared to other songs.
Additional highlights include the bouncy "Hello Beautiful," the celebratory "We Win," and the hopelessly catchy "Happy Dance." The latter track, in particular, is unlike anything the band has done so far and is this reviewer's favourite moment on the record. "We Win" also features a memorable bridge complete with handclaps and gang vocals.
At this point, I thoroughly believe MercyMe should be held as a prime example of, not only quality CCM music but of progression done right. Lifer is a great album through and through with barely a dull moment to be found within its thirty-five minute run time. Preferably, it could have been a little longer and some songs ("Best News Ever" and "Ghost") should have been given a little more time to develop, both musically and lyrically, but what we have is nothing short of an accomplishment the band should be proud of and one of the best CCM albums of the year.
- Review date 3/28/17, written by Lucas Munachen of Jesusfreakhideout.com