For Chris Sligh, the two years since his solo debut meant big changes and a good bit of soul-searching and decision making. He considered stepping back from the singer role to focus on production and songwriting, but making songs won out in the end, and the result of his work has arrived. His Word Records debut The Anatomy of Broken, co-produced by Sligh and Steve Bashir, offers a batch of fourteen soulful pop songs reflecting on the paradox of brokenness and wholeness.
Chris Sligh considers himself more songwriter than singer, and his involvement in writing and producing helps hold the album together and keep it true to the artist. Still, there's no mistaking that his voice is a star on this record. His passionate vocals recall fellow American Idol alum Phil Stacey when he belts out emotional ballads. The lead single and first track "Only You Can Save" starts the record on a high note as he whispers the story of an encounter with a homeless man, then proclaims, "I wanna reach my hand out to the lost / 'Cause I know Your hand can save / Only You can save." It's a powerful, moving song, and an excellent start to the album.
The following track, "In the Weak," is another emotionally-charged song, backed by piano and strings and exploring a similar story of "ones left in the streets" and finding God "in the helpless and the poor," but by the time "Our Love" rolls around, listeners may be tempted to wonder if these dramatic ballads are all he's got to offer. His voice is perfect for this style, but fourteen tracks like them would be way too much. Maybe that's what makes the jangly guitar and singalong chorus of "One" such a welcome highlight. The rest of the first half doesn't stand out too much from the current CCM pop scene, but it turns out that the second half is where he really shines, saving the musical best for last.
"Catching Up" takes a quieter approach with just guitars and synth, and the lyrics turn the focus inward: "My sickness isn't catchable / cause all of us are sick with what I have." Next comes "Naive," perhaps Anatomy's most musically unique song. It starts with a minute and a half instrumental buildup that sounds more like a Mutemath jam than mainstream pop, then morphs and shifts between mellow reflections on doubt and a driving chorus. The energy doesn't let up with the almost danceable groove of "Chasing Down a Name," and "Beginning Not the End" sweeps in with a classical piano and strings arrangement. The creativity in songs like this prove he can write and take risks with his music, leaving one to wonder why some of these more interesting arrangements weren't pushed to the beginning to break up a slightly stagnant first half.
Lyrically, the concept of "Only You Can Save" sets the tone for the whole album. These fourteen songs explore many facets of brokenness through lyrics that keep coming back to imperfection. The best summary is that we are all broken and have a responsibility to love each other because of our mutual need... an excellent message that's open to be explored in many different ways. "Sunny" is an exception, a cheerful love song that almost seems odd in the mix, but turns out to be a fun, lighthearted break from the more serious, reflective lyrics.
Chris Sligh is a multi-talented and competent songwriter and musician, and The Anatomy of Broken rings true to the heart of the artist. The fourteen songs can get a bit bogged down in lyrical self-repetition in some places, and perhaps this disc would have done well to trim some of the weaker tracks to let the more diverse second half really shine. Still, fans of his first project and soulful, well-written and produced CCM pop will definitely find plenty to enjoy here.- Review date: 9/13/10, written by Jen Rose of Jesusfreakhideout.com
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