With music listeners craving the latest and greatest, maintaining relevance in the music industry is a difficult task. Some artists that attempt to stay current "sell out" too much for their die-hard fans. Others refuse to adapt to newest trends and fade from the listener's interest. Treading the line between accessibility and artistry, TobyMac has stayed at the forefront of the industry for most of the three decades he's been making music and This Is Not A Test will only continue to solidify that status.
With well-placed horn sections and a hook that will be locked in your head all day, "Like A Match" introduces Toby's fun and varied musical palette as he declares the importance of sharing the love of Christ with others. "Backseat Driver" might be too corny for some, but it's nonetheless a catchy song about giving control of our lives to God. Toby's son Truett appears in the second verse in lieu of an exclusive "Tru-Dog" track, which is a welcome change given how awkward "Mac Daddy" was on Eye On It. The title track keeps the momentum going with a fresh blend of EDM and rock but the album changes gears on the more laid back (but still upbeat) "Lights Shine Bright." Though the chorus is repeated one or two times too many, it's an enjoyable song characterized by hefty bass and a little Jamaican flavor.
After a short press conference interlude at the end of "Lights Shine Bright" (featuring a cameo from Jamie Grace), "Til The Day I Die" cranks things up with a hot hip-hop beat and meaningful lyrics: "blood, sweat, tears / It's a callin' / and if I can't walk, then I'm crawling." Up-and-coming rap talent NF almost steals the show here with a slick rap that contributes to more than half of the song's lyrics. Lightening the mood, the funky "Feel It" is a danceable tune about experiencing God's presence in our lives. Like "Lights Shine Bright" before it, the song is a little longer than it needs to be, but a false ending and a surprise appearance from Tauren Wells of Royal Tailor keeps the music from growing stale.
Album highlight "Move (Keep Walkin')" is the most dynamic tune on This Is Not A Test, with soft acoustic strumming, dance-pop flavored guitar riffs, chilling gospel choirs, and playful horns all driving the music at various moments in the song. But the selling point of the song is the gritty chorus which commands listeners to "move" and press on when your prayers aren't being answered. Toby doesn't leave us there though. On "Love Broke Thru" he sings of God's relentless love for all of us stubborn and hopeless fools. This narrative song, which is slightly reminiscent of "Wonderin'" from Tonight, features a steady drum beat over talking/rapped verses and a soaring reverb-heavy chorus where Toby even uses falsetto.
Nearing the end of the album, the humility focused "Beyond Me" is one of two straight-up CCM styled songs. It wasn't a strong lead single, but it fits well in the context of this album and provides a nice preface to the track that everyone's been waiting for: "Love Feels Like." Being the first DC Talk studio recording since 2007 (Kevin Max's "The Cross"), this is a glorious reunion. The "Luv is a Verb"-themed lyrics and edgy pop/rock sound may not be groundbreaking, but between Toby shouting "this is what love feels like," Kevin's graceful yet haunting vocals, and Tait's smooth delivery, "Love Feels Like" is a vocal masterpiece. After such a monumental track, "Undeniable" has a big role as closer, but its all-too-familiar CCM sound and lyrics end the regular album on a weaker note.
The deluxe edition of This Is Not A Test includes two b-sides and two remixes which add nice value for those who can't get enough of Toby's music. "We Lift You Up" is an upbeat worship song featuring Ryan Stevenson, while "Fall" is a love song to Toby's wife Amanda. The latter is a sweet song, but it seems a little less personal than "Made For Me" from Eye On It. This might be a taste difference, however, as some people might find the new song easier to relate to since there are less specific details about their marriage. Soul Glow's rendition of "Beyond Me" introduces a lush post-chorus and more lyrics towards the end of the song and the Garcia mix of "Like A Match" is a safe but entertaining interpretation of the album opener.
Those that did not like the surplus of mid-tempo radio-ready tunes on Eye On It will be pleased to know this album is loaded with energy and musical diversity. Toby's ability to dabble in a variety of styles and utilize several guest features, without sounding like a dilettante, is impressive. With catchy beats and Christ-centered lyrics, This Is Not A Test is another solid entry for this talented solo artist.
Maintaining relevance in a constantly shifting musical landscape is an accomplishment for any artist, but TobyMac has been doing it for almost three decades. Packed with passion, catchy beats, and Christ centered lyrics, This Is Not A Test continues to solidify Toby's legacy in the Christian music industry--even if it isn't necessarily groundbreaking. The eagerly anticipated DC Talk recording "Love Feels Like" will be embraced with open arms by longtime fans as the haunting melodies of Kevin Max, shouting from Toby, and smooth vocals of Michael Tait creates an extraordinary experience. Balancing the nostalgia is an equally impressive hip-hop tune "Til The Day I Die," featuring up-and-coming rap talent NF. This song, along with others like "Feel It" and "Move (Keep Walkin')," will keep spinning in your head long after the record stops, encouraging listeners to live out their faith and press on in difficult times. Expect big things from this beloved CCM artist when This Is Not A Test drops on Friday, August 7th... --->
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