Style: Message-driven pop; compare to Phil Wickham, Chris Tomlin, Tenth Avenue North
Top tracks: "Crazy Enough," "Only You Remain," "Won't You Be My Love"
MercyMe is famous for writing hits. Big hits. Their name-breaking single, "I Can Only Imagine," was recently awarded platinum status in the digital domain for 1 million downloads, a first in Christian music. And though smash singles have certified that every one of their albums has gone gold or platinum, the band's message has remained strong, ministering to millions with the gospel of hope.
For their fifth studio recording, The Generous Mr. Lovewell, the inspirational heavyweight shifts the focus from the sweet by-and-by to the here-and-now. Igniting a "pay it forward" campaign centered around the record's fictional title character, frontman Bart Millard explains Mr. Lovewell's example in a press release: "He may not be the next Billy Graham, but he's changing the world in every little word and deed." Rather than resting on their laurels, the popular band is personally taking the challenge via a corresponding "Lovewell" radio program by awarding regionally nominated families a gift package of show tickets, a personal acoustic concert, and financial resources.
Themes of sacrifice pervade this 11-song CD, kicking off with "This Life," a surprisingly programming-heavy accompaniment and a directive to get busy living and giving. That's followed by the title track, a whimsical pop tune brimming with glockenspiels, Beach Boys-esque background vocals, and two-beat handclaps to introduce the album's benevolent leading man: "He believes it's the little things that make a great big change … C'mon Mr. Lovewell we could use a few more just like you / That care enough to give this life away."
In an uncharacteristically moody cut, "Crazy Enough" explores the world through the lens of love over a brooding bed of thick bass lines and glassy guitars. The modern pop/rock of "All of Creation," already No. 1 at radio, is CCM industry-perfect, while the power praise anthem, "Only You Remain" continues the band's stirring worship legacy.
But the real prize is Thad Cockrell's piercing "Won't You Be My Love," epitomizing the project's entire mission in a spine-tingling, God-to-man conversation: "Won't you be my chain breaker / Won't you be my peacemaker / Won't you be my hope and joy / Won't you be my love?"
Longtime band producer Brown Bannister (Jeremy Camp, Steven Curtis Chapman) maintains the group's arena-worship core while new collaborator Dan Muckala (The Afters, Backstreet Boys) exercises his slick pop programming skills. But lyrically, Lovewell could have been better. Though the band has never spoken in allegory, the title's intriguing philanthropic push fails to penetrate the entire project.
Still, MercyMe remains a lyrical fortress for an inspired constituency looking for straightforward spiritual encouragement. And with Lovewell, MercyMe's message remains a serious asset to this industry.
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