Monday, July 8, 2013

Music Review: The Struggle by Tenth Avenue North

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Many great songs that focus us on God
Cons: A couple songs that don't work; needs a touch more variety
The Bottom Line
Facing some struggle?
These songs will lift your spirit
Back to the Father

Tenth Avenue North Offers Hope in the Midst of Struggle

The Struggle is the third studio release from Tenth Avenue North.  It features the addition of two new band members (Ruben Juarez on bass and Brendon Shirley on keys.  But they've still got the pop/rock sound fans know and love as well as lyrics that will encourage and challenge.

The disc starts off with "Shadows."  And if you let those first few seconds of calm lull you in, you'll be surprised when things pick up for this upbeat rocker that really gets rocking when the chorus starts.  The melody has takes a surprising turn or two.  The song itself is about the life we live chasing the shadows that is the world around us when we should be focusing on the light that is God.  For me, the money lines are the second verse.  "My heart is an ocean raging/And Your grace is all that keeps me from drowning/My mind creates deceptions/So I cling to reassure sinking."  Yep, that's me.

They follow that up with the title track, which looks at our struggle to live as people free from the power of sin.  There are images of holding on to the chains Jesus already broke and not trusting God, but it was the chorus that grabbed me right away.  "Hallelujah/We are free to struggle/We're not struggling to be free."

"Worn" is a song born from desperation.  I don't know the actual story behind it, but the verses speak of failing hope and just struggling to live day to day.  The chorus begs God for a glimpse of the hope he promises.  It doesn't offer anything beyond that, but it's much more moving because of it.  This is a ballad that really shows off the piano and is a beautiful number.

And for a complete change of pace there's "Losing," a song about the struggle to forgive those who have hurt us.  The lyrics may be a bit simple here, but the call for God to help me forgive is one I need to make all too often.  The music itself is what is most interesting here.  It starts out fairly poppish, but on the bridge it heads toward a rap/hip hop mix before rounding out with a choir joining them on the final chorus for a Gospel feel.  It's a mix that, well, aside from the bridge actually works for me.  It's certainly not going to be toward everyone's tastes, but give it a chance.

Then comes the first real miss - "Don't Stop the Madness."  I get what they are trying to say here - God uses the trials to grow us.  But the chorus actively calling for them really doesn't sit well with me.  While the Bible reminds us to "Count it all joy" when we face trials, I don't know that we should actually be asking God for them.  It's a very catchy melody, so guess which chorus is always stuck in my head after listening to this disc.

The next few tracks cover topics such as the joy of Heaven contrasted with the sorrow of Earth and God's grace for all.  They've got the now familiar mix of pop and rock that is mostly prevalent on the disc, although they do go from mid-tempo to ballad and back.  These are good songs, but they don't stand out to me in the way the early part of the disc does.  Okay, I still don't quite get "Hostage of Peace."  I just don't think the analogy they are going for quite works like they want it to, but maybe I'm missing something.

But the last two songs are really good.  And this is going to be surprising since I usually complain about songs with repeated lyrics in the chorus.  Both are very focused on worship.  Up first is "You Do All Things Well," a song of surrender reminding us that God works beauty out of ugly things.  It's a quieter song that truly lifts the spirit.

And disc closes out with another quiet song, "Lamb of God."  Piano and strings take the lead here on this minor key song.  The chorus just soars with "You are holy/You are worthy/You are holy/You're the Lamb of God."  Nothing amazing with the lyrics, but heartfelt worship that is just beautiful to hear.  It gets even more gorgeous as the choir comes back at the end.  As it fades out, it leaves you to contemplate our great God.

While a few songs stand out, Tenth Avenue North could still use a little more variety to their mix.  But the lyrics are well worth sitting down and reading as you listen through the songs because there is some stuff there that will make you think.

So The Struggle will not be a struggle for the band's fans to enjoy.  And anyone who wants lyrics to challenge and encourage will find much to enjoy here as well.

Disc Length: 50:50
1. Shadows
2. The Struggle
3. Worn
4. Losing
5. Don't Stop the Madness
6. Where Life Will Never Die
7. Strangers Here
8. Grace
9. All The Same
10. Hostage of Peace
11. You Do All Things Well
12. Lamb of God

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