The Phantom Tollbooth

3 Miles
Artist: The Maroons
Label: ICC (UK)
Time: 8 tracks/37.58

Worship music tends to move in waves. But due to the corporate nature of most musical worship, a new collection of sounds tends to be fairly middle of the road. For those of us who enjoy something slightly more alternative and don't tend in the Nitro Praise direction there's been little to sink the teeth into. Obviously influenced by, among others, Radiohead and U2, The Maroons are trying to bring something new to the melting pot of contemporary worship music, contributing to a path that this album's producers Iain Archer and Dave Lynch began to lay on the R:age album earlier this year.

Stephen Hamilton certainly knows how to use his guitar to build up a mood that isn't quite melancholic but verges on it in a similar way to some of Radiohead's recent work, if less technical. Hamilton is joined by Johnny Parks on vocals and Stephen Orr (drums) and Jonny Gibson (bass) from Halcyon Days, and the band are a strong unit with a rich, layered sound.

Lyrically all these tracks have been penned by the band and while a few verses, such as the first verse of "Always There," feel a little awkward, there is a lot of good material here. I was particularly taken with this segment from "Come What May:"

Come what may
I'm here to stay
When the darkness comes
I won't be pulled away
When I'm in the dusk
Will you make me bleed
Till I walk in the sun
Till I'm crying with need
and this from "Breathe":
I don't know what is going on
I'm still searching for the son
But I know I'm not alone
I'm going to find where my love went
But I'm hoping and praying
That this rain is heaven sent
The art of crafting worship-song lyrics is in some ways more delicate than normal songwriting as making the song resound with a larger audience is more central to the writing. These songs are certainly a strong start. This is a promising debut musically, but there is work to do to tighten a few aspects up. Parks' vocals work better on some tracks than others, for example. I look forward to the next resurgence of this particular wave.

James Stewart (11/14/98)