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Music Inspired By Narniathe Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe
Artist: Various Artists http://www.narnia.com
Label: EMI Music / CMG Label Group
Length: Time: 11 tracks / 42:09 min.

This is a classic story of an opportunity missed. What could’ve been a timeless musical tribute to one of the greatest fantasy allegories ever written, feels instead, like simply another compilation intended to give wider exposure to popular (and ’wanna-be-more popular’) CCM artists. There is the strong sense that these songs were more likely assigned by corporate types than inspired, in an attempt to ride the tidal wave of Narnia movie frenzy. That is not to say that there aren’t some good songs on this collection—there are. But unlike Aslan, who is not safe, but is good, these songs, for the most part, are safe—very safe.

I should add here, that there is multimedia content on the CD that offers clips from the film, a movie trailer, information about the game (!) and short interview clips with several of the featured performers.

All of the artists on this CD are doing exactly what you’d expect. You get well-crafted pop from Jars of Clay and Steven Curtis Chapman, emotional ballads from Jeremy Camp and Bethany Dillon, pop hip-hop from Toby Mac….. Do you get the pattern here? The rest of the artist roster reads like the play-list of your local CCM radio station (if you have such a thing in your neck of the woods): Rebecca St. James, Delirious?, Nichole Nordeman, The David Crowder Band, Kutless, and Chris Tomlin—a formidable line-up to anyone interested in mainstream Christian pop music. There is very little artistic stretching here, and, at times, very little to be found that specifically relates to the Narnia movie at all. It can be argued, to an extent, that any song about Jesus and His kingdom can be construed to be about Aslan and Narnia, and I think that this is an obvious device used to justify a few of these song choices. 

All of this is not to say that none of these artists rose to the occasion. While some songs simply relied on a random reference to winter or spring to ’justify their Narnia,’ others did directly reference the work that they were ’inspired’ by (perhaps Toby Mac more than any other—but I do find it hard to reconcile hip-hop with Mr. Tumnus and friends). 

In “Lion,” Rebecca St. James offers a strong song with lyrics that explore the mystery and majesty of Narnia’s monarch. The David Crowder Band’s “Turkish Delight” is appropriately mischievous and fun. Delirious?’ offering gives little reason to be included on this ‘inspired by Narnia’ collection with the lyrically generic, “Stronger,” - a song that has little to do specifically with Narnia, but does have a nice Beatles-meets-Queen vibe about it. Kutless delivers a song that deals with “a land filled with fantasy,” but it is only Nichole Nordeman that really turns in an ‘inspired’ composition, delicate and transparent. “We were meant to open doors / and we were meant to face the danger,” Nichole sings as the song begins—her obvious grasp of the deeper meanings of Narnia, and her fragile approach to the truth she sings about, makes this the stand-out track of the album, for me.

I suppose that the sad truth is, the recording industry is largely about what artist can be marketed today for the best return. It is an industry trapped in a creative hundred-year winter. There is music that has been inspired by “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe,” and it can be found on The Chronicles of Narnia: the Original Soundtrack CD, and the classic Roar of Love album by The Second Chapter of Acts, as well as on selected CDs and tracks by various other bands. To ask for a compilation of such truly ‘inspired’ songs would indeed be a fantasy worthy of C.S. Lewis, himself. I strongly suggest the two previously mentioned CDs for some wonderful Narnian music. In particular, The Roar of Love, features such artists, in addition to The Second Chapter of Acts, as Phil Keaggy, Kerry Livgren and Michael Omartian. 

The bottom line is, EMI has put out a collection of songs, bound together by a somewhat tenuous thread of a theme. If these songs speak to you of Narnia, that’s a good thing. If mainstream Christian pop music is what you love, you should love this CD. In that sense it is good. …..and safe.

Bert Saraco (4/26/06)

- Add a tock if you bought the last Carman CD—subtract a tock if you’re saying, ‘who’s Carman?’


How can a reviewer have the temerity to criticize an album that won a Dove Award? From where you sit, if you smell the sarcasm of my rhetorical question, you already know the answer. If the question leaves you scratching your head, you might be spinning in the swirling, homogenized vortex of the CCM world. In fact, Music Inspired by Walt Disney Pictures and Walden Media present Chronicles of Narnia-The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, picked up a Dove at the 37th Annual Dove Awards for Special Event Album of the Year. Yay.

Before I show my teeth, let me attempt to be fair. This project is not a soundtrack and it's not horrible. The neo catch phrase "Inspired By" largely exonerates the producers of most criticism related to the integrity of C.S. Lewis' The Chronicles of Narnia. Subjective inspiration need not carry any obligation to reflect the ambiance, mystery, and character of its object. Each song can be what it wants to be. If the movie elicits feelings of generic faith, generic hope, and generic love, there's nothing that prevents writing generic songs of faith, hope, and love. While I don't mean to imply that individual songwriters weren't moved by what they saw on screen, I do suggest that
if these artists were roused profoundly, that except for a few exceptions, it doesn't show in the songs.

Granted, this is not a problem with the artists or the way they view the movie. It's systemic in the world of CCM. There is no doubt that those associated with this project were more influenced by the constraints and rules of CCM, than they were by the movie itself. Indeed, it might be disingenuous to claim that the artists writing and recording this project were influenced at all by the movie, as the title explicitly does. Since the music was released on September 27, 2005 and the movie in December, 2005, allowing that much lead time would be needed for the respective projects to be produced-how could these artists be "inspired" by the movie, when they probably did not see the finished product?

While it's not accurate to label this collection of songs as wholly plain label, they surely don't rise to the level of creativity and artistic beauty that one has a right to expect from such an esteemed compilation as C.S. Lewis' fabled masterpiece. While the film that inspired this music did a credible job of giving life to one of the beloved stories from the Chronicles of Narnia, which has sold over 85 million copies worldwide in 29 different languages, the inspired soundtrack seems ... uh ... short on inspiration.

As a businessman and former radio guy, I appreciate and empathize with marketing and business considerations. Hey, it has to sell. Otherwise, what's the point? Some record people were hired explicitly to insure that this project would sell. I get that. Indeed, in going mainstream, the decision makers chose some mainstream artists I actually like: Jars of Clay, Steven Curtis Chapman, Bethany Dillon, Nichole Nordeman, Toby Mac, and The David Crowder Band. Truly, they could have done worse. But sadly, the same diversity that increases the odds that you will find at least one song you like, also cheapens and compromises the effort, and makes it feel uncultivated, forced, and borderline superficial.

Though slickly packaged and marketed, the diversity of styles makes this project reminiscent of something closer to a grade school collage, rather than the thoughtful, artistic project it could have been. First, if the producers were shooting for true diversity, they could have included an independent artist or two-without significant compromise in sales. Artists in the indie world rarely drive their songs with a foot on the gas and brake pedals, as we often observe in mainstream CCM. That is to say, indie artists, because they aren't beholden to financial projections, and the intrusive hacking away at their art, are free to create without restriction and trepidation. Secondly, though great art doesn't always sell, had those in charge of this project taken a more thoughtful, artistic approach-with a project was sonically even and with more lyrical depth, the sales may have been better than expected. Instead, though we enjoy the artistic cream of the current mainstream CCM crop, the songs trend towards shallow, generic, and all over the board. Moreover, a decent percentage of fans were going to buy this project regardless of who wrote and recorded the songs, just on the strength of its name.

It's time that radio and records, program and music directors, consultants, executives and those employed by them, begin to mine the courage and artistic integrity that litters the landscape in the exploding world of independent Christian music. Have you ever purchased an entire soundtrack just because you were wholly captivated by one song heard in the context of a movie? I have; many times. And several of those purchasing decisions were made as the result of hearing a song recorded by an artist or band of which I had no prior knowledge. At some point, unless we want to witness further deterioration of the CCM projects, those that make important decisions regarding what and who is heard, really ought to look in the mirror of their own motivation.

Some of the best selling and most critically acclaimed soundtracks have come from artists that weren't especially well known: Cabaret featured music and words by Fred Ebb and John Kander, Bridge over the River Kwai featured the words and music of Sir Malcom Arnold, and Singing in the Rain was done by Arthur Freed and Ignacio Herb Brown. In short, I think a case can be made that fame doesn't necessarily prevent a project from selling, especially when it's done thoughtfully and artistically, is properly promoted, and of course, given face time in the movie.

Sometimes it takes guts, which is admittedly easy to have when one is hypothetically spending money that belongs to somebody else. On the other hand, valor isn't really esteemed in the CCM culture. With jobs on the line and sales projections to meet, decision-makers play it safe. In simple terms, we should not be surprised that the producers chose the approach they did.

Let me be clear. These artists are at the top of their game. The songs by Steven Curtis Chapman, Jars of Clay and Nichole Nordeman are good songs. Artist, producer, and former independent singer/songwriter Ed Cash, has a major role in the production of these songs.  And God bless him; he does the best he can in the context of the environment in which he finds himself. "Turkish Delight" from the David Crowder Band is deliciously catchy and energetic. Virtually, all of these artists have superb voices. Young Bethany Dillon is especially notable. Jars of Clay sounds as good as they have in years. No doubt, most of these songs would sound impressive on the radio.

Still, the game that these great artists play, as pawns really-is fraught with compromise and concession. And yet, while there's a time and place for these concepts in a believer's life, it should not be in their art. Infuze recently quoted Wes King as receiving this feedback from a record executive: "People have enough trouble in their lives; they don't need you singing about it." Sadly, the philosophy driving words such as these is legion, if not always expressed so explicitly.  he songs from Music Inspired by Chronicles of Narnia is long on redemption and joy, but short on pain, fear, doubt-and humanity.  Most of all, it's short on humanity. While believers pine for the mercy and grace of God and love to sing of it, not one of us have discovered those transcendental truths without wrestling with the pain of living.

Tuning into the average Christian radio station, listening to the average sermon, conversing with the average Christian-indeed, playing the average CCM CD, is one likely to hear truth? Ostensibly, yes. But with trepidation, the world wonders; What's hiding beneath the synthetic sheen? Something ... nothing ... everything?

Isn't it worth a look? C.S. Lewis thought so. Do you?

Curt McLey  4/27/2006



In the days leading up to the the long awaited release of Disney/Walden Media’s fantastic interpretation of C.S. Lewis, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, EMI released this Music Inspired by CD to the Christian Market. I heard of the project late summer at a concert where I worked a Narnia booth…the members of Kutless came and told us they would be on the soundtrack! I confess a love of all things Narnia, but was slightly disappointed with this release. It is not a bad collection songs, but the compilers would have done better by modeling their efforts after Aslan the Lion…good, but not safe. 

The first three songs by major artists (Jars of Clay, Steven Curtis, and Jeremy Camp) start the CD off on middle of the road auto-pilot. They are not bad songs per say, but they don’t have that "grab you by the ear and take notice" sound. Things perk up a bit with Bethany Dillon’s nice "Hero," Delirious? decent "Stronger," Rebecca St. James anthemic "Lion," and Nicole Nordeman’s moody "I Will Believe." TobyMac kicks it up a notch and contributes what may be the best cut, on "New World" featuring his trademark rap/rock stylings, and running a close second is David Crowder Band’s way-cool disco fun tune written from Edmund’s perspective "Turkish Delight." The song ends with the funky, prophetic, sign of the times refrain "the more I have, the more I want." Kutless contributes a pleasant rock ballad that could have been an outtake from their "Strong Tower" CD. Chris Tomlin rounds the collection out with a solid praise song directed to Aslan called "You’re the One." 

It should be noted as the title mentions the music herein is "Inspired by" Narnia. None of these songs were actually in the movie, and each has varying levels of connection to C.S. Lewis magic kingdom. Interestingly, the two best cuts (from TobyMac and The David Crowder Band) have the most to do with Narnia! The CD packaging is beautifully done, with a magnificent picture of Alsan on the cover, and small pictures from the movie accompanying the lyrics. The CD cover unfolds into a mini-poster of the majestic Aslan peering over a sun-drenched Narnia with the powerful catch phrase "Aslan is on the move." All-in-all Music Inspired By The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe is a good, not great release. 

Barry Nothstine  4/27/2006

Barry Nothstine hosts Soul Frequency ( http://www.soulfrequency.com) a weekly FM radio show showcasing progressive rock, instrumental rock, power-pop, psychedelic rock, rock classics and more—great rock for the ages!


A companion (or alternate) piece to the original movie soundtrack, the Narnia Inspired By album features newly-written material from various Christian pop and rock acts. For the most part, those involved stick to that which they know and do best. Jars of Clay’s “Waiting for the World to Fall” is an engagingly wistful slice of harmony-rich modern pop recounting youthful wonder lost. The eminently spirited “New World” shows Tobymac’s dexterity with both hip-hop and grunge to be little diminished since his glory days with dc Talk. The falsetto vocals on “Open Up Your Eyes” lend Jeremy Camp’s characteristic guitar-driven pop/rock  a mesmerizing, almost haunting quality. And even Kutless’ by-the-numbers acoustic post-grunge hits the mark on “More than It Seems,” thanks to the group’s skill at forging instantly-memorable hooks and melody lines.
 
A handful of the performers opt to venture outside their comfort zones. “Stronger” shows UK Brit-poppers Delirious admirably taking on psychedelic-tinged Beatlesque pop. Similarly, “I Will Believe” finds Nichole Nordeman trading her inspirational adult contemporary-leaning pop for a shimmering R&B/alt-pop hybrid that stands among Narnia’s most transcendent entries. And modern worship artist David Crowder’s splendidly tongue-in-cheek “Turkish Delight,” with its wah wah-laden guitars, soaring string flourishes and dance-friendly rhythms, sounds like nothing so much as a lost nugget from the golden age of disco – a comparison only furthered by its gloriously abandoned cries of “The more I have/ The more I want!”
 
As with so many “inspired by” releases, the better portion of the tracks on the _Narnia_ disc could be argued to have, at best, a tenuous connection with the movie they represent. Taken on their own merit, though, they do their authors exceedingly proud, nearly to a song. Indeed, while only a few of _Narnia_’s entries represent a marked musical departure for their composers, the majority of the material on the project equals or betters that written by its contributors for their own records. What the Narnia Inspired By effort admittedly lacks in inventiveness, it makes up for in accessibility and uniformly strong material. Surprisingly cohesive for a multi-artist collection, the Narnia record is one of the more solid movie-related albums to hit the shelves in some time.
 
Bert Gangl  5/31/2006


 
 
 

 

 
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