Anthem Lights was originally a solo effort out of Los Angeles run by vocalist Chad Graham who, in 2007, realised the need for a group of singers to make his songs work. An independent EP under the group's working title 'Yellow Cavalier' in 2009, followed by a record deal and name change to Anthem Lights in 2010, led to a debut release of the album by the same name in early 2011 (thank you Wikipedia...). The group (at the time of the album's recording) consists of four vocalists: Chad Graham, Caleb Grimm, Alan Powell, and Kyle Kupecky who incidentally left the group to pursue a solo career. The image of Anthem Lights definitely borders on the stereotypical 'boy band', with music that serves Nashville's speciality: catchy pop/rock infused hooks and flawless vocal harmonisation.
Can't Shut Up
The album gets off to an electrifying and somewhat attention grabbing start with 'Can't Shut Up' - an energetic opening track that seems to capture the apathy of many purposeless young people and transforms it into a passion for sharing the Good News through Christ's redemptive message. While this pop/rock infused song might be merely testimonial from the group's perspective, this song should resonate loudly with those who seek to make a difference in their spheres of influence as Christians with a priceless story to tell to a hurting world.
I Want to Know
'I Want to Know' is another equally energetic track that echoes the Psalmist David's heart in desiring God and a closer relationship with Him to become a 'man after Your heart'. With a very catchy chorus hook and references to the testimony of a church leader making difference in his community, a necessary connection is made between the believer's relationship with God and their effectiveness in His Kingdom.
The album then takes a slightly slower turn with 'Circles' which retells the struggle of the believer to live an upright life by his own efforts. This song's chord progression wallows slowly along as the group sing about the futility of their own efforts to rectify wrongs that only God can make right, and while the song offers a glimmer of hope with the line, 'I need your healing touch', the song still seems to end on the same 'circular' note of inadequacy without ever really explaining the solution that Christ provided with his sacrifice on the cross. Continuing on this rather introspective trend,
Can't Get Over You
'Can't Get Over You' almost seems to answer the mystery that the last song presented. The opening line explains, "I love the way you love like no other; it's got nothing to do, with anything that I do," and continues on a more worshipful note asking for a closeness of relationship with God despite the mistakes for which we condemn ourselves. Musically, this track slows the pace of the album considerably, but not without retaining that familiar 'boy band' vibe that rings clear through the chorus' harmony.
The following song - 'Stranger', explores the theological view of the believer as a 'stranger on the earth' and merely 'passing through' on their way to heaven. While several Christian recording artists have penned songs along a similar theme, this song's message seems slightly out of place on an album that has two reoccurring themes: believers as light in a dark world, and pursuing a personal relationship with God.
In my opinion, the potential issue with the 'stranger' perspective of Christianity is that believers may be tempted not to take responsibility for the world in which God has placed them and given them dominion over, and instead withdraw from society, refraining from addressing issues of social justice. While this is obviously not the message of the song, it seems to send a mixed message amongst the other tracks that encourage the believer to get out there and make a difference in the world God created.
To me, this song feels to be the low point of the album, but rest assured...the album quickly returns to its positive, (not to mention energetic) outreach-focused theme with current chart topper 'Outta My Mind'.
Outta My Mind
This pumping chorus encourages us to seek God's perspective on this planet "outside my own little world", seeking the lost, and following God's missional heart for His creation. This song also makes use of a fundamental element of nearly every popular song on the radio, and that is one of vowel repetition in the chorus - "Get me outta my mi-i-i-i-i-x20-nd". In short this song highlights both the theme of Anthem Lights and the group's ability to produce potentially very wide-reaching dance tracks.
The edgy track, 'Lifeline', quickly brushes over the metaphor of Christ as the lifeline, capable of saving us in seemingly impossible circumstances. The track takes an abrupt change of rhythm half-way through the song which leads me to believe that this short song was more of a B-sides project to flesh out the album.
Returning the 'outreach' theme, 'Lighthouse' clearly states the responsibility of believers to point those who are lost at sea towards their home, and towards their Father.
Freedom into Slavery
The following track, 'Freedom into Slavery', reproduces a very Maroon 5 feel, yet dives much deeper lyrically than most of the other offerings on the album, as it explores humanity's nature to abuse the freedom God gave us to choose to follow Him. By reversing these roles - viewing freedom to do whatever we want as slavery and viewing Christ's yoke as freedom, the group reflect Paul's attitude in Romans 6 verses 15-18.
"So, since we're out from under the old tyranny, does that mean we can live any old way we want? Since we're free in the freedom of God, can we do anything that comes to mind? Hardly. You know well enough from your own experience that there are some acts of so-called freedom that destroy freedom. Offer yourselves to sin, for instance, and it's your last free act. But offer yourselves to the ways of God and the freedom never quits. All your lives you've let sin tell you what to do. But thank God you've started listening to a new master, one whose commands set you free to live openly in his freedom!" (The Message).
Where the light is
The final track takes probably the most sentimental perspective of any song on the album as the group finish their first signed effort with 'Where the Light Is'. This quiet - yet building song encourages the believer in their quest as light in the world saying 'where the light is, darkness must be bound.' While this song is uncharacteristically refined and mellow compared to the rest of the album, it serves as a worthy 'concluding thought' to the group's message.
Overall, this album is a very positive and energetic experience, bringing plenty of tasty hooks and vocal talent with an unusually clear-cut message of the role of the believer in God's world. While I definitely think this album will appeal more musically to the male audience, I have no doubt that the sentimental tracks and the dance-infused anthems coupled with the group's image will gain/have gained plenty of traction in the female audience as well.
Enjoy...and God bless.
Blaine Packer is studying a Bachelor of Cross-cultural Ministry at Worldview Centre for Intercultural Studies in Launceston, Tasmania.
Blaine Packer's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/blaine-packer.html