It may at last be time for listeners to stop comparing The Afters to Switchfoot. It seemed that with the Dallas band's first two major-label albums, I Wish We All Could Win and Never Going Back to OK, there was a never-ending comparison between their slightly poppy alt-rock sound and that of the more well-known Switchfoot. Now, with Light Up the Sky, The Afters have taken a definite step in the direction of more mainstream pop rock.
This change is never more evident than in the opening title track, an infectiously catchy and intensely mainstream pop song. It's happy, enjoyable, and not very deep. "Lift Me Up" continues right along in the pop direction, with a noticeable absence of electric guitar accompaniment that will leave many fans wondering what happened to the band's old sound. And yet, the melody is too strong to dismiss, which is something that can be said for much of this album. On the other hand, "Start Over" is decidedly less appealing, with it's canned Coldplay-esque violin track and overly repetitive chorus that drives its way into the listener's head in a bad way. Fortunately, "Runaway" picks up right where "Lift Me Up" left off with a mellow chorus that is sensitive and encouraging. Meanwhile, the only track that really showcases the band's past alt-rock sound is "We Won't Give Up," which ends up being somewhat catchy but not very compelling.
The lyrics on Light Up the Sky are pretty typical as well. The title track is about God's ever-present glory in creation, while "Runaway" addresses the issue of finding strength in Christ to deal with life's struggles. "I Am Yours" is about as simple a message of belonging to God as you'll find in music these days. Other topics mentioned are Heaven and, naturally, the power of redemption.
There are two ways to look at Light Up the Sky. Many fans will probably see this album as a sell-out, with The Afters abandoning their true sound just to score some radio hits. On the other hand, one could say this is merely the band adapting to the changing times, and managing to continue to make catchy, enjoyable music. There's certainly no questioning the fun factor present in some of these tracks. At the same time, one can't help but look back more fondly on the raw rock sound of songs like "The Way You Are," and when you listen to a track like "Say It Now," there's no question that some of these songs could have been much more than they are. The 'catchy music vs. sell-out' debate will certainly not be resolved here, so it's best to just say that in the end, Light Up the Sky is a mostly enjoyable album with many high points but also a good portion of unrealized potential.- Review date: 9/12/10, written by Timothy Estabrooks of Jesusfreakhideout.com
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