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Review of Hawk Nelson's "Made"
on April 2, 2013
Prime Cuts: What I'm Looking For, Words, Through the Fire
Jesus doesn't sell records. Neither do notions of hell, sin and doubts. This is why in today's Christian music public affections for Christ have often been guised as faux love songs. Jesus has often been caricatured as the generic "you" or 'he." Sin and hell are often tabooed. And in today's culture where self -confidence and positivism are the hallmarks of spirituality, doubts are often sneered upon as the rhetoric of the unregenerate. However, ever since their 2004's debut record "Letters to the President," Hawk Nelson have never been coy about their faith. And they are not about to with their debut record for the Fair Trade Service label (also home for Phil Wickham, The Afters and Citizens' Way). However, with "Made" there are a few departures vis-à-vis their previous efforts. For starters, Hawk Nelson has shrunk from a quartet to a trio with lead singer Jason Dunn's departure. Instead of auditioning for a new lead, long time guitarist Jonathan Steingard has stepped up to the fore. Moreover, while their preceding record "Crazy Love" was a return back to the punk roots of their "Letters to the President" days, this new disc is decidedly more mainstream pop. Part of such a directional pull came from the inclusion of producer Seth Mosley (Hillsong, Jenny Simmons and Sanctus Real) who helmed 9 of the 11 cuts here.
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Ironically, for a band that has always been most vocal about their faith, they have made a greater impact in the secular world than the religiously reticent. Over the years, they have appeared on NBC's drama "America Dreams," they have had their song "The Show" used in Saturday Night Football commercials and their songs have been included on blockbuster movie soundtracks such as "Charlotte's Web" and 'Yours, Mine and Ours." How could a band like Hawk Nelson have such an impact without sacrificing an iota of their faith? First, Hawk Nelson knows how articulate the universal longings of the human heart in palatable ways. Even though the boys may be dealing with a hefty subject such as life after death on "What I'm Looking For," they do not come across as churlish or intrusive. Rather, nuanced in the form of a personal quest for something more than just our mere physical existence, the boys probe the issue of mortality with observations we have all made along life's journey: "I need more than a temporary high/I need more just a momentary life/If I breathe my final breadth tonight/I wanna feel you'd welcome me inside."
Second, the universal appeal of Hawk Nelson is that they know how to speak for (instead of speaking at) their fans. Listening to the songs on this record is like being invited to be pals with these guys. Never judgmental or condescending, they know how to identify, sympathize as well as encourage us in our different challenges. On the title cut, the guys not only do not ridicule our struggles with how our bodies look, rather, they allude us to Psalm 139 where we are told by God that we are wonderfully made by Him and for Him. On "Every Beat of My Broken Heart" Hawk Nelson vicariously helps us offer our brokenness to God asking Christ to use our predicaments to draw closer to Him. With Mike Donehey of Tenth Avenue North making a cameo on "Through the Fire," here we find Hawk Nelson praying with us (and for us) in seasons when we "can't see your (God's)face or hear your voice right now."
Third, Hawk Nelson knows how to party. These boys really do love God, life and all of God's blessings; and when they party it's so contagious that you can't help but join in. With an infectious peppy tune that grooves the rhythm along, "Elevator" (which features Blanca of Group1Crew) is a track One Direction would kill for. While the flowing hooky lead single "Words" wraps its danceable beats around the towering message of the New Testament writer James where he warns, "words can build you up/words can break you do/start a fire in your heart or put it out." At the end of the day, such sagely Scriptural wisdom is what changes the way we live with each other. It has a way of creeping into our hearts in ways that are gentle, loving, understandable and yet transforming