Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Music Review: Encore ... For Future Generations by 4Him

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: New recordings of many classics
Cons: I don't agree with all the song selections
The Bottom Line:
A thank you to fans
With new versions of classics
And a few new tracks

4Him's Swan Song

In 1990, four men formed a group that took the Christian music world by storm. Their self titled debut, 4Him, was the highest selling debut to date. Their unique mix of pop with tight four part harmony continued to propel their career through the 90's and into this decade.

In 2005, 4Him decided it was time to move on to other ministries. To thank their fans, they released Encore...For Future Generations. It contains rerecordings of nine of their classic hits plus five "new" tracks.

Of course, any fan will have their own opinion of the hits rerecorded for this CD. Personally, I feel they focused too much on their middle projects The Message and Obvious. Those are my least favorite of their works, so I would have liked to see more from their earlier and later efforts. In fact, their last two CD's get no covers here, despite some great #1 singles.

Very few of these songs sound that different. The tight harmonies are still present, and any fan can sing along right from the start. Such songs as "Where There is Faith" and "Basics of Life" are stripped down from their overproduced original sound, making them feel more modern. "For Future Generations" is a still a great power ballad. While there is a steady and noticeable drum beat, the emphasis musically is on the guitar and piano, making for a simpler sound.

I was surprised by a couple choices they made with these songs. "Strange Way to Save the World" from their Christmas CD made it. That thrills me since I have always loved this reminder that Christmas makes little since when you think about it from a human point of view. This version is just as tender as the original. In fact, it may be more tender, if that's even possible. Also a pleasant surprise is "Voice of God." I've always liked this simple ballad, and the guitar focused cover makes it even better here.

Then there's the medley. Clocking in at almost eleven minutes, it's by far the longest track on the CD. It combines "The Message," "The Measure of a Man," "A Man You Would Write About," and "Why." The first two songs get sung in their entirety while the older ones only get one verse each. I could understand a medley of choruses, but why include so much of the song? I think it would have been better to include these songs as separate tracks. And I doubt it would have made the CD much longer. Plus those last two songs are two of my absolute favorite 4Him songs. But they didn't ask me.

The group recorded one new song for the project. "Unity" also features musical friends Point of Grace and Jeromy Deibler of the group FFH. Based on the title, it will be no surprise when I say the song is a call for Christians to worship God together. It's got a great upbeat feel fitting in perfect with the rest of the CD.

I had seen the writing on the wall when two of the members released solo projects in the last couple years. The CD closes with each member doing a solo track. Andy Chrisman and Mark Harris do songs from their previously released projects (hence my use of the quotes around new earlier). They are solid pop songs that will please any fan of the quartet. The last two tracks are more interesting, however. Kirk Sullivan sings "Get Down Mountain," a gospel favored song inspired by Jesus' promise that if we have faith, we can move mountains. It's not bad, but such a strong gospel sound is out of place on a 4Him CD. Finally, Marty Magehee closes things with the rock song "Runaway Train." It took me a few listens to appreciate this song (I'm not a big fan of straight up rock), but I like it.

This CD is designed as a thank you to their fans. It's got some comments about their career and a retrospective timeline.

I'm sorry to see them go. I've been a fan almost since the beginning, and some of their songs still mean a lot to me. I wish them well in their new endeavors.

While fans don't need Encore...For Future Generations, they will enjoy it. Those not familiar with 4Him's music would probably be better served getting one of their previous best of collections or a regular album.

CD Length: 1:06:21
1. Where There is Faith
2. Before the River Came
3. Basics of Life
4. The Center of the Mark
5. Unity
6. For Future Generations
7. Strange Way to Save the World
8. Great Awakening
9. Voice of God
10. Medley: The Message, The Measure of a Man, A Man You Would Write About, Why
11. Debt of Gratitude
12. Carry the Light
13. Get Down Mountain
14. Runaway Train

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