The Phantom Tollbooth

Strange Blue Thing
Artist: As If...
Label: New Dawn Music
Length: 13tracks/52.22 min.

Having become something of a fixture on the live scene, As If...'s debut, Forget Me Not, garnered them some acclaim and worldwide radio play but didn't quite break them through to the top of the UK Christian music scene.  This follow-up aimed for a slightly more commercial sound while maintaining their distinctive techno-pop-rock sound.
Phil Heard's percussion is supplemented by quite a selection of electronic drums. I'm not quite sure what to make of them. They differ from most recent releases, tending more towards the synth-pop end of things than the current dance scene. They are augmented by spacey keyboard sounds, guitar, bass, and a metal detector. The vocals are very flexible and are mainly delivered by Phil Goss, with some help from guest backing vocalist Nancy Sawyer. The group is officially a three-piece, with Goss playing guitars and keyboards and producing the album, Phil Heard on drums and percussion, and Steve Rothwell on bass.
Lyrically, the album is simple and direct; those looking for lyrics steeped in metaphor or poetic twists will be disappointed. There is a little interesting imagery, and unfortunately, a few couplets were misjudged, but if it's direct evangelism or exhortation that's wanted, it's here aplenty.

The overall result varies in its success. "Detection of Metal Substances" is creative in its use of atmosphere, and along with the eastern sounding introduction to "Backwards,"it is one of the highlights for me. I was also impressed by the backing vocals of Nancy Sawyer, whose harmony with Goss on "How I Feel" is nicely carried out. With those who enjoy this style of music I expect this to be a success, but I wouldn't be surprised to hear complaints from those outside of the scene that parts sound a little dated.

As If... can be an impressive live act and this album is sure to please their growing fanbase and help it develop further. I don't think this will be the album to break through, but it's a pleasant listen.

James Stewart (12/17/98)

On their second proper album and follow-up to 1995's Flame EP and 1996's Forget Me Not, As If... have blended sounds both old and new to create a brand of music rarely heard in the CCM community. Their experimental techno-pop-rock sweeps the spectrum from near rave-styled songs to more commonly accessible electronica rock hybrids. They are at their best with the latter. Actually, their songs are generally more structured and less ambient than most rave material, but some similar sound shades are favored here, resulting in song-driven pop smarts in a range of techno rock environs. Guitars crash, jangle, and crunch along to a more electronic-based bottom end, with lead vocalist Phil Goss's voice and keyboard compositions wafting over the mix.

Over the course of these thirteen diverse tracks, the musical textures fluctuate from delightfully fuzzy and cluttered to more crisp and clear. Early listens suggest an eighties vibe that actually grows less apparent with repeated listening. Thoroughly faith-focused, their sound is certainly darker than New Order but never as dour as Depeche Mode. Neither is it as aggressive as Under Midnight or Prodigy, nor as ambient as Moby's mellower work, and gratefully not as peppy and dismissible as Erasure. In fact, their overall sound is closer to an even more modern spin on early nineties work like The Farm, E.M.F., Jesus Jones, and even some of Duran Duran's more electronically driven moments. The members of As If... cite bands like Genesis and Queen as influences, but the creative spirit of electronic pioneers Howard Jones and Thomas Dolby seem more likely. Regardless, the result shows ambition, creativity, and pop sensibility and proves to be a good listen. As an added bonus, the production is exceptional and the album artwork has pages and pages of well done computer generated images that accompany a complete set of lyrics.
Speaking of which, the lyrics are primarily of the straight-forward, faith-encouraging variety and prove to be carefully constructed without being obscure. They rarely verge into sublime cleverness, but manage to keep from the abyss of utter triteness. One of the best songs on the album, "Area 51," uses the supposed site of the USA's UFO stash as a vision of hell in a song that also paraphrases both Shakespeare and William Blake liberally:

Consistently strong, there are some excellent stand-out examples of music in this genre, such as "Lost of Found" and "Backwards," among others. The space-age vibes and odd sounds, like a metal detector, all contribute to an album's worth of faith-filled fun. This isn't thoroughly ground-breaking work, but it comes close. Expect great things from this band.
Steven Stuart Baldwin (1/16/99)