Remember the days when artists strived to express their own voice through a creative sound? When record labels relished the introduction of unique talent with something new to offer? Far be it from me to pretend I know better than today’s label execs, but I’d love to know what study they’re using to justify all the homogeny. While there’s risk in creativity, the alternative is to recycle, which in the end may be cheaper and safer, but certainly not better quality.
Sadly, Chris August is but the latest example of this tedious trend. A self-taught pianist, guitarist, and producer, the singer/songwriter from Dallas, Texas certainly seems positioned to bring something fresh to the Christian pop scene, having worked with Brian McKnight, Jessica Simpson, Ryan Cabrera, and even opened for Ashlee Simpson on tour.
Like any good demo, his debut album starts well enough. “You and I” makes for a bright and upbeat opener about good weather and good times. Things get a little better with “Battle,” offering introspective guitar-driven pop about the spiritual war between right and wrong inside all of us.
But from there, August’s album descends into dull balladry about spiritual longing (“Want to Be Real”), clichéd worship (“I’m Gonna Sing”), and upbeat pop/rock about God’s faithfulness inspired in part by the Prodigal Son parable (“It’s Always Been You”). At least “Canyons” has a little more to offer as an anthemic love song to Jesus reminiscent of Phil Wickham. Oddly enough, it’s the slow and contemplative piano ballad “Winter Time” that makes a stronger impression with more emotional resonance and poetic songwriting.
Ed Cash co-produced the album, and therein lies part of the problem. He ends up making August sound too much like Chris Tomlin, Bebo Norman, and just about everyone else he’s ever worked with. There’s no clear musical identity here, reducing Christian pop down to a formula.
As examples, look no further than the two songs being positioned for Christian radio. “Starry Night” is the one that caught the attention of Word Records in the first place, and no wonder since it’s more of the same. It sounds almost identical to Tomlin’s “Made to Worship,” with worship lyrics of surrender to the maker of the universe—a mishmash of stock ideas from Christian pop.
There’s a sense that “7x70” is intended to be August’s breakthrough anthem. With the title referring to Jesus’s words about forgiveness, August’s lyrics are inspired by the painful divorce of his parents during his childhood. It’s a powerful sentiment from the songwriter and the message certainly resonates. But it’s ultimately a sluggish sounding anthem weighed down by August’s plain vocal (somewhere between Ben Folds and Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard) and a textbook arrangement drenched in strings.
Now let’s talk album title for a moment. No Far Away comes from the song of the same name, though the repeated phrase in the chorus is, “There’s no way to get far away from you.” Obviously that’s too long for a title, but the decision to shorten it makes it sound like bad grammar or baby talk. Sorry, but it’s one of the dumbest titles I’ve ever heard.
Then there are the groan-worthy lyrics to “Loving You Is Easy,” though I’m sure some out there will consider it clever. August demonstrates how loving God is as easy as ABC and 123: “A is for all that you’ve done for me/Being with you’s the only place I want to be/Seeing you’s the only thing I want to see … One cause you’re the only one for me/Two is you and I, and I hope you agree/Three is for the words that you’re making me speak.” It’s a gimmick that might have worked if there were something deeper being communicated, but somehow the wordplay only makes it all sound more trite.
Where’s the hook? What sets Christ August apart as an artist? He’s got potential as a songwriter here, but nothing wows. The music and arrangements are far too predictable. And sorry to say, but the vocals are too thin to impress. This is not bad music, but it is weak and unassuming, rarely grabbing the attention and thus easily forgotten once it’s over.
Standouts: “Battle,” “You and I,” “Winter Time”