The Light Meets the Dark
Artist: Tenth Avenue North
Label: Reunion Records (05.11.2010)
Length: 11 tracks / 45:17 minutes
While untold multitudes of musical journalists have dedicated their valuable time and effort to covering artists who have fallen victim to what has now become known as the dreaded sophomore slump, the truth of the matter is that the much ballyhooed second album curse is actually all but moot for the majority of bands. This largely boils down to the simple fact that most debut efforts aren't anywhere near groundbreaking or commercially successful enough to serve as a stumbling block for the releases which come after them.
As anyone with a radio and even passing knowledge of the Christian pop scene can tell you, such is certainly not the case for the West Palm Beach-based pop outfit, Tenth Avenue North. The group's first album's leadoff single, "Love Is Here," made it to Number 3 on the Christian chart and was one of the twenty most-played songs on Christian Hit Radio that year. The follow-on single, "By Your Side," was even more successful, hitting the top spot on the CHR charts and perching there for nearly a month. The group went on to sell more copies of their debut album in 2008 than any other new Christian act and nabbed the coveted GMA Dove Award for New Artist of the Year. "Side" was ranked as the third most popular Christian song of the past decade by Billboard Magazine, who declared, "To say this band is going to be the next big thing feels like an understatement.”
Where the freshman outing rose and fell on the shoulders of "Love," "Side" and other infectious, straight-ahead pop numbers in the vein of MercyMe, David Crowder Band and artists of their ilk, the better part of Light Meets the Dark is built around semi-ethereal pop/rock pieces that alternate between quiet, understated verses and soaring, anthemic choruses, a la the prototypical Coldplay or early-period U2 piece. While such an approach is hardly problematic, in and of itself, the bulk of the new album's tracks lack the unswerving attention to hook and melody that rendered the greater part of the first record so absolutely infectious. This becomes particularly problematic when several such faceless tracks are placed back to back at the beginning of the album, where most artists place their strongest material. Indeed, it isn't until the fifth cut, "All the Pretty Things," that the T.A.N. cooperative actually manages to tie the inherent energy of the first four songs to a distinctly memorable melody line.
To the band's credit, "Pretty Things" is hardly the only winning cut on the sophomore project. Listeners will likely be able to whistle the tune to the beautiful, piano-driven "Any Other Way" for months after hearing it only once. And the absolutely spectacular "On and On" is, at once, wispy and sweeping, as haunting as it is unforgettable – in a word, perfect. Even so, the combined strengths of these tracks are still insufficient to carry the rest of the album and, ultimately, only serve to place its shortcomings in that much clearer focus. It bears noting that none of the songs on the new record are out and out duds. And front man Mike Donehey and his cohorts should be awarded at least partial credit for trying new musical avenues rather than simply spitting out a carbon copy of the first record. That said, Light Meets the Dark, despite its generally pleasant demeanor and intermittent moments of transcendence, is, at best, a pale cousin to the far-superior debut and constitutes a necessary purchase for only the most devoted members of the existing fan base.
Bert Gangl, the Phantom Tollbooth (05.18.2010)