The Phantom Tollbooth

Artist:  Beam
Label:  Kingsway (UK) GMI (Netherlands)
Length:  12 tracks/59.07

With a touch of Petra here, some Jeruslem there, and a fair sprinkling of Pearl Jam, Beam's debut album is fairly predictable fare. Although the band hail from the Netherlands, they've been developing an international platform for themselves ever since their appearance with Larry Norman on a recent live album. They've also turned in some popular sets at Holland's annual Flevo Totaal festival, one of the biggest Christian music events in Europe.

At the French holiday camps I used to visit with my parents, the Dutch were known for their language skills, and this album bears testament to that. The lyrics are sung in English, and for the most part it's difficult to tell that language isn't the singers' native tongue. The band show a strong focus on Christ in their lyrics, with the requisite mix of pain, hope, and joy.

The music is fairly skillfully performed, the mood is generally built by a driving rock sound and slightly strained vocals, and the shifts from quiet and slow to loud and fast are carried through deftly. But we've heard it all before, and much of the album comes across as a more modern version of Jerusalem's rock anthems, or as a tamer attempt at some of Pearl Jam's work. The engineering also leaves something to be desired, as the sound feels rather dry and tired, and it can do with a little more spark and some more top-end to bring the songs to life.

The music Beam specialize in is often popular live, and it will not surprise  me to see them put on a great concert. But in the end, an album needs something more to keep a listener's attention, and that is sadly lacking here.

James Stewart (5/10/99)