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By Surprise - Click to view!Every individual has a guilty pleasure, whether it be watching old Beavis and Butthead reruns on VHS or locking yourself in a closet to listen to Backstreet Boys and N*Sync albums. I'm happy to pronounce that mine is neither of the above, although I am a fan of the occasional, sugary pop song. The point of the story? My guilty pleasure is making the three-hour drive home from college with Joy Williams's By Surprise in my CD changer. Ok, so I'm a shameless fan. Right. Whatever.

What makes this delight of a record point and laugh at the vast garbage heap of other contemporary pop? Joy's lyrics. God is given the reverence and due respect He deserves; He does not play the role of a comforting boyfriend who whispers sweet nothings in your ear at night. Instead, God is described as the sovereign Creator, Sustainer, and Life-Giver through adoring lyrics centered around the themes of love ("I Wonder"), mercy ("New Day"), and power ("Surrender"). While it's almost to the point of worship, By Surprise doesn't fit the bill of a typical modern worship album by any means. "Every Moment" stresses the importance of living your life to the fullest: "Give every minute to the One who's given today." Joy reveals her fun, sarcastic side on "Beautiful Somehow" as she sings a sort of autobiography about how her Father loves and accepts her in spite of her faults, and He loves us in the same way. Williams also pulls off a decent, soothing hymn in "The Love of the Lord Endures," a testament to the fact that worldly possessions will never be enough: True happiness is found through a life in Christ.

Naturally, as with most pop records, some songs work better than others. The opener, "New Day," tests Joy's vocal range, likening her to pop divas such as Jessica Simpson or Mandy Moore, but the unusual, tribal chant throughout the track certainly kills a lot of the listener's enthusiasm. "Every Moment" infuses Vanessa Carlton's piano-based pop with Sheryl Crow's gritty, vocal talent, yielding a cut better than either of those artists could imagine. "Every Moment" is definitely the epic peak of the disc, but unfortunately the title track falls prey to bad mixing and overproduction, as does "Every Day." Elsewhere, "Surrender" falls into place as the choreographed, dance-along single that produces mass amounts of energy during concerts. Never fear though; if heavy, synthesized pop isn't your thing, "Wish" will win you back using its more lush, AC friendly instrumentation. Perhaps the best track on the project, "Wish" takes vivid, candid snapshots of Jesus Christ's life from birth to death and places the listener in the pictures, leaving us only to wonder what it must have been like for Christ, knowing that He would have to sacrifice Himself to save the rest of us.

Simply put, Joy is a joy. By Surprise is only her second release, and yet this talented, young vocalist flies miles ahead of the game. If you've been numbed by the sticky residue that most pop music leaves behind, try this record on for size and listen to it guilt free. Most importantly, though, concentrate on the message throughout Williams's songs. More than likely you'll find that God can be more than a romantic interest. He can be Lord of your life.
- Rick Foux
March 2003
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