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Step Up to the Microphone - Click to view!While not nearly their best project to date, The Newsboys do indeed Step Up to the Microphone on this distinctly different record, with their revised band lineup minus former frontman John James and big chief songwriter/producer Steve Taylor (now his own boss at Squint). From the opener "WooHoo" to throughout the entire album, a devoted Newsboys fan could tell the difference--while most of us everyday Christian music buyers are left in the dark. Yes, even with the slick packaging and promotion, something is missing here. Remember "Breakfast" and "Spirit Thing"? John James' unique voice and stage presence can never be replaced, but the guys are doing a fair job at continuing on in this ministry even without the band's heart and soul. An overall theme of standing up for our beliefs is set against a sound canvas of the oh-so-alternative Newsboys guitars (Peter Furler and Jody Davis), bass (Phil Joel), keyboard (Jeff Frankenstein), steady rhythm (Duncan Phillips) and a new element: live strings. And while you may have thought the latter addition may clash with the 'Boys slightly edgier sound, this record works best on the two cuts with strings, "Believe" and the mega-mega-big hit "Entertaining Angels." While Steve Taylor previously did all the songwriting, here Newsboys shine their own talents with much the same results: clever, original lyrics conveying simple yet all-consuming messages of purpose. The gospel of Christ and getting out of ourselves and IN to others. Back to the songs, there's the anthemic track 5, encouraging us to go beyond what we are now and keep "Tuning In" to God and the poignant closer "Always." The particularly interesting Tracks 7-8 are a saga of a new Christian; "Deep End" summarizes her friend's views of her, while "Hallelujah" is her worshipful cry to God. Despite its strengths, Step Up to the Microphone does have some really vital problems. First and foremost is that theres just 10 tracks ~ now I know that the norm now, but still its not much of a project at only 42 minutes long. Second, after to listening to it awhile, I got this incredible headache--that may be partly me, but I love edgy music, and this CD comes off as more of a repetitive alternative than anything artistic. Third, the jazz-influenced title track is obnoxious, as is "Truth Be Known" and "The Tide." So really it depends on how you look at it. Either way, I think we all agree this is NOT their best offering to date. Get Step Up to The Microphone if you're a big Newsboys fan--otherwise spend your hard-earned money on an album worth buying.
- Josh M. Shepherd
May 1999
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