Reviewed by Tony Cummings
One of the great privileges enjoyed by the Cross Rhythms team is the honour of, occasionally, identifying true popular music classics - albums that stand as milestones of focussed creativity. Now of course in the cash-tight realm of ministry music there aren't the multi-nationals' studio budgets or their promotional crock of gold poured out to ensure an album goes platinum, wins Grammys and "proves" the genuineness of the "classic" description. But then, of course, true creative stature has nothing to do with the amount of money heaped on its recording or its promotion or, for that matter, whether five thousand or five million people purchase the album. Art and creativity don't work like that and though there are plenty of lazy, eat-what's-fed-them consumers who'll buy all their music off the Best Sellers list, anyone who digs deeper into the hundreds of thousands of songs and recordings released annually will soon find songs and whole albums which have missed mass critical acclaim, or indeed any kind of acclaim at all, yet any test of subjective intuition and emotional response will lead to a listener's conviction that the album they've listened to is not merely good. it is a classic. Trusting CR readers will forgive such a lengthy preamble. With no further ado let me state that I am convinced that 'Dying To Be There' is of that rare status. It may not sell millions or win cabinets full of awards but by any criteria I can use - performance, songwriting, production, even artwork, it is a pop music masterpiece. When The Bobsta and MC Presha left thebandwithnoname there were many in UK Christian music circles who wondered whether we'd seen and heard the last of these radical Manchester musical evangelists. Their impossible to categorise but intoxicating blend of breakbeat, R&B, hard rock and dance music had delivered two exceptional albums in 'The Blitz' (2002) and 'Schizophrenix' (2003) but now that rapper and singer Chip K was left all on his ownsome surely the magic had departed. We needn't have worried. The digital single "Justified" (featuring tbc) and "Pull Up The Vinyl" showed that Leon, J and Straff were exemplary new additions, the band had lost none of their crunching power and that "Vinyl" indicated they could even take on the ricocheting streetsounds of UK grime. But even that taster of what was to come didn't fully prepare us for the passion, power and precision of this album. From the moment Zarc Porter's gentle piano comes on as the ultimate quiet before the storm and a beat hard enough to make a sheet metal worker scurry for the earplugs, we are clearly in for a sonic feast. And indeed producer Porter has herewith created his masterwork, the nuanced layers of sound, the masterly control of loud-quiet-loud dynamics and the occasional masterstroke of instrumentation (who else but Zarc would have thought of accompanying one song with little more than a single harmonium?) all make 'Dying To Be There' unforgettable listening. But let's also pay tribute to fine lyric writing. Many is the Christian songwriter who has tried to pen evangelistic lyrics and merely delivered trite clichés or glib platitudes. Not so with these songs. Be it the reality of sin ("I've been corrupted by this evil temptation/This indulgent disease crawling into my bones/I've been crippled by the pull of persuasion/I've been polluted by this terrible world I've been shown"), justification ("All you need is a real salvation/Death defied we'll walk on free") or the central Gospel message itself ("Think hard before you make a decision/Discard livin' your life in a prison") these lyrics consistently hit home. Whether it's the crazed punk element that fuels "Misfit", the raw beat and belching bass line of "Reach For The Mic" or the sublime worship on "Dying To Be There/Great Is Your Name", these are tracks to listen to again and again. And if that wasn't enough you've got hidden tracks including an evangelistic message which powerfully spells out the salvation message and a bonus DVD which includes the vid for "Shake It Down", live footage from the Royal Albert Hall with the band bounding through "Justified" and a tbwnn interview. I'll end as I started - a classic CD.
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