Did you guess? Were you right? Here it is...
#1: Casting Crowns, Casting Crowns
That's right, Casting Crowns have taken the top spot with their self-titled debut album. Having written such beaming reviews of numbers four to two I'm wondering how to make this one sound like it deserved to beat them all. Of course, this is my personal list and I don't need anyone to agree, but I'd find it hard to believe that any rock-tolerating Christian would not love this record. It's a beast.
Casting Crowns are a challenging band to listen to at times, not because the music isn't wonderful, but because the songs they write often probe pertinent issues within the Church, as you can see simply by reading the title of the first track: What if His People Prayed? You might call this a sneaky tactic - writing a very provocative piece about what the Church could accomplish on its knees and then setting it to the most fantastically thrilling music ever conceived. You can't not listen. You can't listen and ignore the words. It's a trap! What a great trap to fall into though, and it's cleverly executed in track 2 also; If We are the Body. Some more great lyrics here to motivate us to reach out, like, "Jesus paid much too high a price for us to pick and choose who should come". (Before you accuse the band of being all self-righteous, you should listen to Stained-glass Masquerade on their Lifesong album. While you're there, you may as well listen to the whole album. It's great too.)
So what treats are in store for us next? Ah yes, we have The Voice of Truth, a song with similar impact to the Footprints in the Sand poem, but without the feeling of having heard it a billion times before. I guess you could listen to it a billion times though if you wanted that feeling. Anyway, it's like a power ballad but less corny because it's actually all entirely true. It's a similar story with Who Am I, not connected at all to the Jackie Chan film, this is a song about the incredible fact that God cares about us.
I love this album because it combines eternal Biblical truths with a refreshing blend of genuine human experience. The song American Dream is a story about a workaholic guy who ruins his life trying to get rich. Hope I didn't spoil the ending for you. And Here I Go Again is about the common experience of trying to find a way to tell a friend that God loves them, but lacking in both time and courage. The melodies of these songs are so well crafted you'd think they had always existed somewhere and Casting Crowns just dug them out of the ground.
The second half of the album is more worshipful. Praise You with the Dance is a brilliantly fun tune that turns into a full-blown ceilidh at one point. Another great thing about this album is that the female backing vocalist (name, anyone?) takes a lead in some songs. Variety is the oft-neglected spice of Christian music. You can tell that she's having a ball with this foot-tapping number.
Glory is a song that you could sing in church on a Sunday, but you'd struggle to get the band to sound anywhere near as good. There's a fantastic breakdown section with some sweet harmonies. In fact, this album is full of really delicious harmonies, and Life of Praise is no exception. If my life were a movie, this could be the song that plays over the credits.
At the end of the album the whole mood changes. Imagine you've just been at a huge rock concert, leaping about and sweatily chanting and whatnot. As you're driving back from the gig you suddenly realise the lead singer is sitting on the back seat. He pulls out an acoustic guitar and begins gently strumming, serenading you as you journey home. That is what Your Love is Extravagant is like. A stripped-back, soft and beautiful serenade. Only they're not singing to you of course. The album ends with a quiet tribute to God's astounding love. It's superb.