Friday, January 31, 2014

Music Review: Thrive by Casting Crowns

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Powerful lyrics and fun music to encourage and challenge
Cons: A couple songs are okay but don't completely speak to me
The Bottom Line:
Masterful release
Casting Crowns still delivers
Music to touch heart

Casting Crowns Thrives with Their New Release

I have been hooked on Casting Crowns since their self-title debut a decade or so ago.  Their lyrics have amazing abilities to challenge me and uplift me.  I've heard it argued that their lyrics aren't necessarily anything new, but something in how they write touches me.  And that continues with Thrive.

The disc starts out with the title track and what it is easy to argue is the theme of the disc.  In this song, lead vocalist Mark Hall sings of our need to be plugged into God because He is the one who will sustain us in the world so we can do more than just survive.  I'll admit it's not a terribly deep song, but it is a fun mid-tempo anthem that really starts the disc off right.  And the choir that sings much of the chorus is a fun addition, too.

It might be a stretch to say how all the rest of the songs on the disc fit into this theme, but it is easy with many of them.  There are songs of encouragement - an easy fit.  And yes, they do include some of those songs of challenge as well.  Honestly, for some of these it is easy to argue that if we are not living in God's word, we won't be able to thrive.  In fact, while they don't say it outright, that's the theme of the closer for sure.  But we'll get there in a moment.

"All You've Ever Wanted" is a typical Casting Crowns anthem.  It's piano driven but clearly supported by the rest of the band.  This is a song of confession where Mark sings about the desire to live the Christian life on his own strength when all God is really looking for is our heart.  He's already done all we need, which is a pretty powerful reminder.

I really love "Just Be Held."  They're entering mid-tempo ballad territory here.  The song is written from God's point of view as He tells us to just let Him hold us during the storms of life.  I especially love the line from the chorus, "Your worlds not falling apart it's falling into place."  I do love songs about trusting God, and this falls into that camp.  It's a powerful reminder of just who God truly is and should be in our lives.

Another powerful song is "This is Now."  The song is written from Peter's point of view after he's denied Jesus and is struggling with what he's done.  What is really amazing about this is the third verse when Jesus counters Peter's thoughts and puts his betrayal in the past.  It's a great reminder of just how much Jesus loves and forgives us.

Along similar lines is "Follow Me," a song that one of the women in the group sings.  It looks at many of the lives Jesus touched while on the Earth and the power of his love and forgiveness.  You have to really pay attention to the lyrics as each verse starts out with a few lines from the person and then Jesus' response, yet when you pay attention, it's a beautiful song.

Encouragement of another kind comes in "Dream for You."  Written from God's point of view, it looks at how He had much bigger plans for David and Mary than they were dreaming.  The idea that God can give us more than we could ever dream is very special.  And it doesn't hurt that this song is very fun and upbeat with a great guitar lead instrument.  The choir is back for the chorus.  Matthew West actually co-wrote several songs on the disc, and this is one of them.  His fans will definitely notice the influence in the lyrics and song style.  I could see this on one of his discs as easily as it fits in here.

Along similar lines is "Heroes."  It's a song that offers encouragement to those who are living with struggles in their daily lives yet choosing to do the right thing and live for God in the midst of trials and persecution.  How is it the same?  To me it feels like the flip side of the coin.  While "Dream for You" is about God taking the ordinary and making it something more than the person dreamed, "Heroes" reminds us that doing the right thing for the right reasons is still following God.  As the bridge says, "You may never know their names/But they're moving mountains just the same."  It makes me want to tackle a few mountains in my own life.

Not every song on the disc speaks to me, but even the lesser ones have their good qualities.  "Broken Together" speaks to the idea that all marriages are between two sinful people.  While the one pictured here is obviously very broken, the idea that the two would come back together and build something from the lives of two broken people is beautiful.  It's definitely one of the slower songs on the disc.  Probably it's because I'm single, but it doesn't grab me quite like the others.

Then there's "House of Their Dreams."  It pictures a family drifting apart by sin and the busyness of life.  I like the chorus, but somehow the verses seemed labored, but maybe that's just me.  And when I say that, I mean both musically and lyrically.  This is another of the slow songs, and it just seems that Mark is speaking more than singing.  That impression is probably helped by the fact that there is minimal piano and even less guitar behind him on the verses.  I will admit I like the third verse although it still suffers from the same musical problems the first two do.

Earlier, I mentioned challenge in some of Casting Crowns songs, and there are two that definitely fit that category here.  The first is "Love You with the Truth," a song that reminds us if we truly love our unsaved family and friends we will be speaking the truth of the Gospel to them.  However, I love the line from the chorus, "I'm not pointing my finger, I'm holding out my hand."  Too often, we can do just the opposite (please say that isn't just me), so this is a good reminder of how we should approach those we care about who are still trapped in sin.

Speaking of being trapped in sin, the disc closes with "Waiting on the Night to Fall," an extended word picture of the old man of sin waiting for a chance to drag us back into sin.  Talk about convicting and powerful!  It's a serious warning wrapped in a slow and thoughtful power ballad that compliments Mark's vocals perfectly.  You can really hear the strings on this one as the song grows in intensity.

While there are a couple of songs that don't grab me, even they have their moments.  Overall, this is one of Casting Crown's best releases.  If you are a fan, rush out to get Thrive.  And if you haven't given them a chance yet, this might be the perfect disc to change your mind.

CD Length: 51:24
1. Thrive
2. All You've Ever Wanted
3. Just Be Held
4. You are the Only One
5. Broken Together
6. Love You with the Truth
7. This is Now
8. Dream for You
9. Follow Me
10. Heroes
11. House of Their Dreams
12. Waiting on the Night to Fall

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