#3 - The Mission Bell, Delirious?
Any predictions on the top 3 should have included at least one of Delirious?'s ground-breaking studio albums. The only one to make it into my list is their penultimate - The Mission Bell. Undeniably the most successful British Christian rock band in the universe, Delirious? have at times come close to receiving my "slightly overrated" badge. At such times it is only necessary for me to listen to this album and the doubting Thomas within is silenced.
The album kicks off with Stronger; an odd choice in my opinion. The song progresses at a stately pace and sounds vaguely mysterious, which strikes a contrast with its triumphant lyrics - "Hallelujah, here we come". Those words could be the theme for the whole album - there's a lot of noise and general anthemic "let's do it!" kind of feeling in here. This is embodied perfectly in track 2, Now is the Time, for which Delirious? collaborated with the genius Matt Redman. This track has probably been the theme tune to every youth mission/social action project for the last six years.
Next up, it's my favourite tune - Solid Rock. With an ever-so-steady beat, and that delightfully simple yet powerfully confident blues riff, this song sounds like its name. Great choir work on here too, but the real vocal highlight comes when tobyMac turns up to rap his way through the old hymn My Hope is Built on Nothing Less.
All This Time is a more reflective, brooding sort of piece. (Did I say piece? That's what you call classical stuff, right, like Mozart and stuff. I must hold this band in high esteem.) Well, the following track, Miracle Maker, is an absolutely epic song - a classic if ever there was one. More choir here and emotive string playing. If there was a music video for this (is there?), it would certainly feature Martin Smith singing in gale-force winds, while lightning flickers in the distance. Just epic.
Here I Am Send Me and Fires Burn are in a similar vein to All This Time. The pattern of moody, tension-building verses exploding into a powerhouse of a chorus almost becomes repetetive, but the songs are so unique and sitrring that you don't really mind, or even notice.
Our God Reigns is a fascinating song. I read somewhere that they wrote the chorus first, and envisaged using it in a worship song. It actually ended up as the crux of a song about famine, AIDS, abortion and the generally shocking state of human affairs. Not exactly easy listening, but great to listen to.
That choir is still going strong as we get into track 9, Love is a Miracle. In fact, this is basically Martin Smith pretending he's in a revival tent in America in the 1960s, poetically delivering some testimony accompanied by a gospel choir. A nifty sample from "That's my king!" (google it if you need to) makes its way onto the album here.
The shortest and most rockingest song on the album is definitely Paint the Town Red. The "here we come" line from Stronger gets its own chorus. This song is like running up a mountain. Somewhere near the summit there is a small, dark and inviting cave called Take Off My Shoes which changes everything. I think this is the most beautiful song on the album - musically and lyrically. An intimate meeting with God is played out through delicate piano work and ethereal guitars. And speaking of the celestial, we finish off with I'll See You, a song for a loved one who has died. Moya Brennan's Gaelic vocals float around mistily. Martin thinks about meeting Jesus in heaven and lets out a few woohooooos. The combination works.
This whole album works very well. In fact, just writing this has given me a new appreciation for the work that's gone in. The writers, composers, performers and producers showcased on this album are worthy of a very large round of applause.