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Friday, September 19, 2008

Sanctus Real - The Face of Love (Sparrow/EMI)

Sounds like … the melodic modern rock of Switchfoot, U2, Mae, downhere, Coldplay, Kevin Max, and Luna Halo.

At a glance … The Face of Love represents a new level of maturity to Sanctus Real's songwriting and rock style, though the songs don't quite live up to the hooks and energy of the band's previous efforts.

With a heart balloon on the cover and a title like The Face of Love, some fans might fear Sanctus Real has gone soft. Though some of the band members have begun to experience marriage and parenthood in recent years, they remain entrenched in rock without resorting to the overly sentimental. However, it's been a trying year for Sanctus Real, and not just with the departure of their original bass player Steve Goodrum (replaced by Dan Gartley). On the day he became a new dad, drummer Mark Graalman learned his own father had been diagnosed with terminal cancer; he died just two months later. Around the same time, singer Matt Hammitt's grandmother also took a turn for the worse and ended up in hospice care before passing.

All this right when it was time to ride the wave of success from 2004's Fight the Tide, which (deservedly) won the 2005 GMA Award for Modern Rock Album of the Year. The grief and uncertainty had squelched the band's creativity and passion. But producer Chris Stevens (Shawn McDonald, tobyMac) recognized this as an opportunity, challenging Sanctus Real to instead let their emotions fuel their music. Those efforts yielded what's being described as the band's most personal effort to date.

Surprisingly, this is not the album you'd expect in response to two funerals, preoccupied with the shortness of our days and the hope of life eternal. Only the powerful closer "Benjamin," written for Graalman's newborn son, touches on the recent losses: "Children born while fathers die/It's that circle of life that we all live in time … He gives and He takes, and it makes us stronger." It is indeed an album of brokenness, searching for answers and comfort from God, but more from the angle of grace and love. Taking cue from the mood swings of the Psalms, The Face of Love is essentially Sanctus Real's blues album.

Which is not to suggest that the album is a dramatic musical departure. While early buzz suggested a radical stylistic reinvention, this is very much the same melodic rock band—Hammitt's remarkable lead vocal (like a younger, raspier Bono), Gaalman's sharp drumming, and Chris Rohman's robust guitar work are all here. "Don't Give Up" in particular sounds like another rocker off Fight the Tide, and some will call the title track derivative of U2's "Beautiful Day" (popularized on Christian radio by Sanctus Real) or Coldplay's "Speed of Sound." But props to the band for occasionally detouring from their familiar in-your-face approach, sometimes scaling down or else backing many of these new songs with ambient effects that provide a floating alt-pop quality to "Benjamin" and much of "Magnetic." The album also kicks off rather unconventionally with the slower powerhouse single "I'm Not Alright," comfortably resting somewhere between Switchfoot's "Meant to Live" and Coldplay's "Fix You."....

Continue Reading at this Christian Music Review

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