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All Things New - Click to pre-order! It has often been said that life imitates art. For many songwriters and musicians, this is particularly true with regard to inspiration, where the early years of their trade, much like childhood, hold a sort of intrinsic wonder and excitement by virtue of the fact that most things are being seen and done for the first time. As the years go by and the novelty begins to wear off, though, many artists experience a corresponding decline in the passion and drive that first led them to create.

Given the fact that 41 number one hits, 47 Dove Awards, album sales of nine million units, television appearances on CNN and "The Today Show", and work with everyone from President Bush to Donnie & Marie have passed under the proverbial bridge since his First Hand record hit the shelves in 1987, one could rightly wonder what there is left to motivate a venerable Christian music veteran like Steven Curtis Chapman. Ironically enough, it was a three-month bout of paralyzed vocal chords which rendered him unable to sing that served as inspiration for much of the 42 year-old Kentuckian's latest offering.

True to the sentiment of that uncertain time, All Things New features an abundance of somber, reflective material, composed mainly on piano. The airy, soaring falsetto of "Angels Wish" forms the ideal vehicle for its magnificently melancholy-tinged contrast between life in heaven and on earth. The likewise solemn "Last Day on Earth" weds the same breathy falsetto vocals to an ambient, slightly haunting Brit-pop backing with equally moving results. And the standout closing song, "Treasure of Jesus," which features Chapman backed by an orchestra and lone piano, carries with it a reverential intimacy and grandness that only a handful of current-day artists manage to achieve.

This is not to say that the new record is an entirely subdued affair. The title cut tenders a textbook-perfect slice of modern pop/rock constructed around gently loping verses and spirited, all-out choruses, a la "Heaven in the Real World." "Please Only You" couches its yearning plea for unfettered devotion within an irresistibly sunny, peppy pop package, making it the perfect soundtrack to a Sunday afternoon drive with the top down. And the rousing, light-hearted "Only Getting Started" could perhaps best be described as either a funk-infused take on "Signs of Life" or "Got 2 B Tru" meets the Grand Ole Opry.

In fairness, "Big Story," with its unabashed Beatles borrowing, is peppy enough but ultimately undistinguished. "Coming Attractions" and the orchestrally-backed ballad "Much of You," though rousing, are similarly forgettable. Elsewhere, just as "Dive" and "The Walk" borrowed liberally from Chumbawamba's "Tubthumping" and the Doobies' "Black Water," respectively, Chapman continues to quote his influences a bit literally at times. The falsetto vocals of "Angels Wish" instantly call to mind Five for Fighting's "100 Years." "Last Day on Earth" lands uncomfortably close to Coldplay's "Clocks." And classic rock aficionados will be hard-pressed to hear to the Eastern-tinged acoustic guitar runs of "Believe Me Now" without thinking of Bon Jovi's "Wanted Dead or Alive."

Still, that which would border on plagiarism in other artists' hands, usually comes across as nothing more than a guilty pleasure with Chapman. And even his most ordinary compositions are carried across with an endearing sense of professionalism and charm. Chapman's track record must surely be something of a two-edged sword. On the one hand, with the success of any new project being a virtual given, it inarguably affords an increased latitude for experimentation. On the other hand, it simultaneously offers an equal enticement to play it safe and simply churn out more of what has worked thus far. For his twelfth recording of all-new material, Chapman has managed to navigate the difficult middle ground between the two, turning in a solid, well-written effort that offers something for both fan clubbers and new listeners alike.
- Bert Gangl
June 2005
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