About ten seconds of the opening strains of "Healing on Planet Earth" should be all it takes for most of those who hear it to draw the all-too-obvious conclusion: the new Mad at the World album (the band's first collection of all-new material since 1995's The Dreamland Café) sounds very little like anything currently playing on Top 40 radio. Music lovers who came of age at the turn of the new millennium will probably recognize a certain similarity to the synth-infused indie-leaning pop stylings of artists like Franz Ferdinand, Arcade Fire and Ladytron. Those old enough to remember the birth of MTV and the then-nascent channel's proclivity for playing British new wave and synth-pop acts like Simple Minds, Yazoo and Ultravox, on the other hand, will be quick to tag this latter trio of artists as a closer, and arguably more correct, point of reference.
While many bands who adopt this sort of '80s-inclined sound could rightly be dismissed as mere fad chasers or revivalists, it bears noting that brothers Roger and Randy Rose -- who constitute the heart of the Mad at the World collective -- come by their Me Decade aesthetic honestly, given that their debut release hit the shelves during the waning years of Ronald Reagan's second term in the Oval Office. For those who recall the age of skinny ties and cheaply-made music videos, this does lend the proceedings a certain historical significance and legitimacy. This being said, one doesn't have to have, say, the entire Depeche Mode back catalog committed to memory in order to enjoy the buoyant synth-laden grove of "My Old Best Friend," the terse, invigorating rhythms of "You Are Free" or the joyfully sweeping textures of "Moving and Moving Out," all of which do decided justice to the new wave and post-punk artists from whence the Rose brothers derived their greatest influence.
The fact that the lyrics are more narrative than worship-oriented might disqualify the band in the eyes of those for whom the acts they hear on the radio serve as the first and last word on that which should qualify as Christian pop music. A closer inspection of the record's wording, though, reveals the heart of a band intent on relaying the love, grace and forgiveness of their God within the context of the struggles and uncertainty inherent to the human condition rather than simply recycling the now-ubiquitous words and phrases that dominate so much of what is heard on Christian radio and during the average Sunday morning contemporary service.
Naysayers are sure to look cross-eyed at the new MATW outing, or any piece of work, for that matter, that would deign to act as if the last three decades never happened. Then again, it is arguably this sort of unapologetic audacity that winds up working as Hope's most potent asset. One's particular views on the music of the 1980s and any given artist's willingness to borrow from it aside, in the end analysis, this album, like any other, ultimately sinks or floats based on the underlying merit of its songs. To that end, with only one or two weaker moments to its credit (thanks to meandering slower numbers like "Can You Feel My Pain" and "Just Beyond the Clouds of Grey"), the long-in-coming Hope project acquits itself splendidly.
- Review date: 1/4/18, written by Bert Gangl of Jesusfreakhideout.com