Hard to believe that Natalie Grant has already crossed the ten-year mark as a solo artist, and harder still to realize just how far she’s come in that time.
For the first five years, Grant seemed destined to become another “pop diva,” content to sing the usual Christian adult contemporary fluff with a pretty and powerful set of pipes reminiscent of Celine Dion and Whitney Houston. Social activism, however, challenged her to raise her game—as an artist and a Christian—and she evolved into a more modern sounding singer with more personable songwriting, beginning with 2005’s Awaken. Since then she’s become a mom, a mentor, and a top-tier artist in the music industry, winning four Female Vocalist Doves in the last five years.
Just as she challenged herself five years ago, she’s now challenging others to do more with album No. 8, Love Revolution. Her hope is to rally listeners to leave their comfort zones and enact the change needed in the world around them in answer to God’s calling on our lives. “I’m waving goodbye to my pretty little life, taking Your hand and crossing that line,“ she sings in the opening track, “Daring to Be.”
Considering that “Held” and “Home” were the big songs that helped catapult Grant’s career in 2005, are there any with similar potential this time? You bet. With Grant’s producer, co-writer, and husband Bernie Herms involved, you can count on a more inventive approach to straightforward pop-worship. Going the David Foster/Celine Dion route would be the predictable choice for Grant. Want to hear how “diva pop” can be done in a creative and diverse way? Take notes.
Co-written with American Idol winner Jordin Sparks, “Human” features a very modern sound with heavy programmed drums and synth bass. Though it would’ve been cooler to hear Sparks herself make a guest appearance for a duet, this is still an excellent pop song, celebrating our humanity as creations of God, called to serve one another with our lives. Lead single “The Greatness of Our God” is another highlight, utilizing electric guitars to rock it up more than the standard AC ballad. What might have been a little routine in the hands of another artist is more impressive here with the production of Herms and the committed vocals of Grant.
Herms really demonstrates some terrific production instincts on songs like “Your Great Name.” As evidenced by the acoustic version of the same worship anthem included at the end as a bonus track, there’s something lacking compared to the original version’s more dynamic arrangement. Indeed, rather than settle on the standard pop band with strings arrangements favored by most vocalists, Love Revolution plays more like diva-pop as accompanied by Coldplay (e.g. “Fix You”) with dynamic guitars, synths, and percussion. It’s a technique that helps praise anthems like “You Deserve” (boiling worship music down to its basic purpose) and “Power of the Cross” (with a riveting vocal performance that borders on yelling) sound far more interesting.
Grant and her husband also smartly vary their song selection enough to let the beautiful simplicity of “Song to the King” shine, emphasizing the lyric and vocal with only piano accompaniment underneath. There’s also room to play with other styles. “Beauty Mark” tackles an aggressive funk-pop flavor that’s reminiscent of Maroon 5 with horns and a bluesy piano part that flirts with Latin—terrific ear candy, blending modern sounds with a retro feel. There’s also some soulful gospel chic in “Someday Our King Will Come,” keeping a hopeful eye towards Christ’s return.
Strangely enough, the album’s openers are among the weakest. “Daring to Be” is more routine with its dance-pop style, and the title track is a standard pop/rock song about being called to love others. Additionally, “Desert Song” offers Psalm-derived praise that plays a little too obvious. None of these are bad, but they all sound routine compared to the album’s powerful highpoints.
There’s no question that Bernie Herms deserves at least as much credit as his wife in crafting her last few albums into something more contemporary and stylized. But it also goes to show that a little more creative effort goes a long way in making Christian pop songs more interesting. Love Revolution yet again establishes Natalie Grant as the standard by which other female pop artists in Christian music are inevitably compared.
Standouts: “Beauty Mark,” “Human,” “The Greatness of Our God”