Review Summary: Sixteen delightfully simple and catchy pop rock/synth-pop songs with only a couple duds to be found. (Oh, and a pretty good remix as well)
Even the most loyal and faithful of fans has to admit that the Newsboys are dead. From the departure of various members (most notably longtime bassist Phil Joel), to the embarrassing nail-in-coffin Go
, and finally the recent hiring of Michael Tait as live vocalist, there’s no doubt that the once juggernauts of Christian music have become imitators of their past selves. People unfamiliar with them might hear a song like “Wherever We Go” and assume the Newsboys are a worthless pop band (composed of middle aged Australian men who brag about how “wherever [they] go, that’s where the party’s at”).
Such an assumption is far from correct, in fact, one might say the opposite is true. A bit like Smash Mouth or The Killers at their best (or Muse at their most poppy), the Newsboys produce strong, catchy pop rock tunes based around instrumental hooks, choruses and various keyboard elements. While the songs are undeniably rooted in the fundamental rock genre, many of them utilize enough outside influence (usually funk, old-time gospel or a slight bit of hip-hop) to remain interesting by themselves. Add the fact that both Peter Furler and former vocalist John James are proficient in most everything this side of metal, and you have the potential for some pretty good music – which is more than delivered on Shine
The album kicks off (unsurprisingly) with “Shine”, which might be the band’s best-known and recognizable song. Beginning with a catchy keyboard line and slowly building to the verse, “Shine” serves a representation of everything else you can expect to hear on these greatest hits: funky rapping and excellent singing, an extremely catchy chorus and several memorable instrumental parts throughout. This momentum is maintained as other huge hits like “Not Ashamed”, “Breakfast”, “Take Me to Your Leader” and “Entertaining Angels” keep the first half of Shine
going strong. Even “Joy”, one of the three new songs released on the album, fits right in with the others musically and contains one of the better guitar riffs here. Most of the songs following “Entertaining Angels” don’t quite maintain the quality established beforehand but nonetheless work great.
It’s at “God is Not a Secret” where we encounter one of the two problematic tracks. Previously the opener and first highlight from the band’s best album, Take Me to Your Leader
, it has been given a lame sort of “makeover” (apparently) courtesy of Toby Mac (who's also featured on the song) which fails considerably. From the get go, the song is just trying too hard, as the lone guitar intro has been replaced by loud drum claps and Toby Mac’s trite shouts of ”Clap your hands everybody!”
and ”You gotta step to it!”
(sadly, things only get worse from there). It’s all campy at best, and needlessly alters a song which was great before.
Immediately following “God is Not a Secret” is “Where You Belong/Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus”, which is the only real
slow song on Shine
. It’s here where the one limitation of the Newsboys’ music comes out full-force: the lyrics. Even a cursory glance over song titles such as “Praises”, “Spirit Thing” and “God is Not a Secret” should reveal the fact that they’re a Christian band, and choruses such as ”I’m not ashamed to speak the name of Jesus Christ”
or ”You give me joy that’s unspeakable”
should make it extremely obvious. Only two of the songs don’t contain any direct references to Christianity, so everything else on Shine
could get quite annoying to anyone who doesn’t like being “preached” to.
The final tracks end the record strong…for the most part. “Who"”, the last of the three new tracks, stays up-tempo throughout and serves another one of many simple yet memorable guitar riffs (as well as an Grade-A chorus). “Believe” maintains a similar feel to “Praises” while adding string parts that work just as well as they do on “Entertaining Angels”. However, “I Got Your Number”, which is one the band’s earliest songs, neither fits in here nor works by itself. Its mostly goofy nature combined with a weak vocal performance makes the song a filler track. For the finale, it’s an 8-minute remix, which retreads almost all the main parts from the preceding 16 tracks. Like many electronica songs, the “Mega-Mix” gets repetitive but doesn’t linger at any one place too long, and also builds from section to section.
In the end, Shine
is one of the best ways to experience the Newsboys. It takes most of the best songs from their long career, contains almost no filler, gives due attention to the best albums (Take Me to Your Leader
and Step up to the Microphone
), and completely ignores the worst one up to that point, Love Liberty Disco
. What you have here is a collection of nothing but great pop rock tunes, and since most everything after this was crap, Shine
might help you temporarily forget how far the band has fallen since then.
Take Me to Your Leader