With over a decade of music to their name, you could say Sanctus Real has officially reached veteran artist status, a title with blessing and curse attached when the time for new album comes around. On the upside, they need no introduction. The 2002 Sparrow debut Say it Loud brought their modern rock sound from the garage to the world, and the Dove award winning follow-up Fight The Tide proved Sanctus was here to stay. But with that kind of longevity comes plenty of expectations for every new release, questioning if it will break new ground or follow what works, if it will surpass or pale next to their best work. So how does Sanctus Real's fifth offering Pieces of a Real Heart measure up? This time around, they take a different musical direction, but it just might be some of their most mature and honest work to date.
Long-time Sanctus fans have no doubt noticed a progression away from the early rock edges in favor of more pop sounds since 2006's The Face of Love. The last two albums still opened on full-on rock notes -- the aggressive "Turn on the Lights" and their signature rock anthem "I'm Not Alright" -- so it's almost surprising when the opening track of Pieces... kicks off not with a driving guitar solo, but playful banjo picking. "Forgiven," the lead single, has remnants of the more rocking Sanctus of days gone by in the intro's big guitar buildup, but the verses reveal a gentler, poppier sound. Yet that's not necessarily a bad thing, because this song has an addictive quality that's undeniable, and the comforting declaration "I don't have to carry the weight of who I am / 'Cause I'm forgiven."
Pieces of a Real Heart is an album that finds strength in brokenness, navigating the tension between humility and confidence, joy and pain. They're no strangers to dealing with themes of imperfection in their music and have delivered their share of touching ballads over the years, but this time around the lyrics have an honest, almost questioning edge wrapped in an often deceptively happy pop rock vibe that's ready to turn up and sing along. "These Things Take Time" is one example of what happens when a cheerful, clap-along beat is paired with lyrics like "I wanna know why pain makes us stronger / I wanna know why good men die... Tell me is it easier to doubt, or harder to believe?"
Still, nothing quite expresses that honesty like the ballad "Lead Me," a song lead singer Matt Hammitt wrote reflecting on his role as a husband, father, and a man in need of God's direction to lead his family. It's a deeply personal story song that describes the apparent perfection of a family longing for a leader and calls out to God to "lead me 'cause I can't do this alone," but one I'm grateful they shared with the world as a strong, introspective moment on the album.
There's still a homage or two to the edgier side of Sanctus Real, most notable in "Take Over Me," which sounds closer to past heavier tracks, and, to a lesser extent, in the catchy bounce of "I Want to Get Lost." Though the next few songs don't quite hold up to a stronger first half, "Keep My Heart Alive" wraps the album with a tender prayer: "Take these empty "hallelujahs," and fill my lungs again / 'Cause I want to sing, and I want to mean it / I want to feel again / And let the world hear the sound of something divine." This sums up the heart of these songs, anthems for a weary soul in a broken world.
This is definitely more of a pop album than is common with the guys of Sanctus, but don't let that stop you from giving this collection a chance. There are fun moments for sure, but there's also something about the conviction and vulnerability of these songs that sticks after a few listens, sinks into the heart, and doesn't let go. It's hard to play the comparison game and debate how it measures up to their past work, so maybe it's best to let this one stand on its own. Pieces of a Real Heart is a solid album and a great addition to the latest chapter in Sanctus Real's career.- Review date: 3/7/10, written by Jen Rose of Jesusfreakhideout.com
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