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Slow down as you approach the gate, and have your change ready....
Label: ForeFront Records
Time: 13 tracks/73:57
Empty is the first of three solo projects that will be released this year by the individual members of dc talk. In this case, "solo" is a loose term since Tait is a band comprised of Michael Tait himself, Pete Stewart (formerly of Grammatrain) on guitars and brothers Lonnie and Chad Chapin (bass and drums, respectively) in the rhythm section.
Though Tait was probably the soul third of "Rap, Rock and Soul," this record is written, played, produced, packaged and marketed as a driving album of straight-up rock 'n' roll. In fact, this ear candy of an album slides so easily into the mainstream rock category and is absorbed so easily into the listener's brain that it almost seems fluffy at first. This record is like powdered Jello. It dissolves immediately and at first seems to leave only a murky trace of what was there. Fortunately, Jello hardens, and this album proves more solid and densely packed than it first appears. Surprisingly, it rewards multiple listenings.
One key to this phenomenon is Stewart's guitar playing. He plays each catchy hook with such verve that you'd think it was the first and last lick he'll ever play. Tait and Stewart have collaborated before. Tait produced Stewart's self-titled solo effort, and they clearly benefit from their history together. Stewart knows how to encase a power vocal in a wash of sound and, without the added pressure of being a frontman, he shines that much brighter for the focus he brings to his instrument. Both Chapins are solid as well. Lonnie Chapin's bass finds its way agreeably up in the mix, and Chad Chapin's drumming is what you expect from a rock four piece: an aggressive backbone.
Another key to this record is Tait's coming into his own as a frontman. He wrote or co-wrote all the lyrics and much of the music. He doesn't have quite the ear for a punchy turn of a lyrical phrase as that of fellow talker Toby McKeehan, the principal songwriter for the trio until they went egalitarian circa 1998's Supernatural. Tait proves to be an able songwriter, but he has some ground to cover in becoming a musical wordsmith. However, this lack of slickness doesn't always work against him. The best songs, in my opinion, are the ones that contain the rawest lyrical emotions and textures. "American Tragedy," "Unglued," and "Talk About Jesus" are the best examples.
The latter cuts a nerve in its take on Matthew 25 from the perspective of someone who is spiritually searching. "You talk about Jesus," he says, "[but] all I see is pain when I look around." He later asks, "When I was down and out and I needed a hand/Did you see a chance or just a desperate man?" That makes the Larry Norman refrain at the end all that much more biting. "Oh you say we're all equal, all men are brothers/But why are the rich more equal than others?" Many artists have done their take on hypocrisy, but all too often it's an "insider's" perspective. Kudos to Tait for taking a step forward on this one.
Though all the songs clearly come from a personal place in his heart that the passion in his voice belies, a few otherwise solid songs lapse into a certain amount of dependence on cliché. File the two opening tracks, "Alibi" and "Loss For Words," under this category. One song that manages to keep this monkey off its back is the current radio hit, "All You Got." The message is nothing shocking, but the music and words weave such an intimacy in Tait's voice that it draws the listener in.
The most notable drawback of this record is its length. At over 70 minutes, it clocks in a good 20 or more minutes longer than most CDs released today. More than one song crosses the six minute barrier. Some songs get lost in the glut of time as a result, robbing them of their distinctiveness. Shorter and sharper should be the watchwords on the next album.
The real test for this band actually lies ahead. They've already proved their musical chops, and the signs of gelling as a musical outfit are certainly there. The challenge will be if they will grow to a point where they can play on their strengths even more and find a way to exploit each other's weaknesses. A few more risks down the line would be good, too. The album falls pretty neatly along the lines of gritty rock and power ballads. It would be nice to see them venture out of this radio-friendly format on a few songs. Good albums succeed in their safety, but great albums excel by treading dangerously close to falling off into musical oblivion. But one album does not a musical career make. This offering is intriguing enough and has enough upsides to compel me to stick around and see what's next. Overall, a solid debut from these newcomers.
Megan Lenz 7/29/2001
I had relatively high expectations for this project based upon the involvement of the two key members: Pete Stewart and Michael Tait. Stewart made incredible music with his rock band Grammatrain and released a wonderful solo album on his own in 1999. Michael Tait of dc Talk helped Stewart produce that solo album and sang background vocals on many of the songs.
It was my hope that the collaboration of Stewart and Tait would prove beneficial once again, even though this time dc Talk-ster was in the spotlight. But Pete Stewart is not nearly involved enough. While Michael Tait has attempted to create a rock album that will appeal to fans of dc Talk and Christian music in general, he let Nashville influence him too much to make a release worth remembering.
The Empty CD lyrics are not quite what you would expect from dc Talk. Michael Tait is trying to expand his horizons by making a release worthy of the moniker of alternative. Though the lyrics may make a soft stab at being alternative, a closer look will reveal that they fail in that quest. The songs on Empty focus for the most part on relationships, God, and the standing of Christianity in the world today. Generally, Tait does well to stick to the relationship side. I found myself enjoying songs like "All You Got" and "Loss For Words" but when Tait takes on cultural issues in songs like "American Tragedy" and "Talk About Jesus," he comes up short. While the messages in the songs are certainly something I can agree with, they have been said and presented better elsewhere. Nashville is finally starting to say some of the things I've been thinking for awhile, yet now that they present those thoughts, I'm repulsed by how long it took them to catch on.
The music of Tait exists largely in the alternative rock genre and Pete Stewart does some fine guitar work, salvaging the record enough for me to want to go back and listen to a couple songs for the music. The solo on "American Tragedy" is particularly well done.
The ending of the song "Bonded" sums up the album. It features Pete Stewart doing an intricate high guitar solo while Michael Tait's vocals are so loud you have to strain to hear the guitar. If Mr. Tait would quiet down and Mr. Stewart would pipe up, it would be a thoroughly enjoyable project. On second thought, maybe Pete Stewart should just release another solo album.
Trae Cadenhead 8/10/2001