Prime Cuts: The God Who Stays, Truth Be Told, Grace Upon Grace
Overall Grade: 4/5
Many of Matthew West songs have had that commercial sheen making them extremely amicable. This is why West is the poster child of what CCM music of today is like. His songs are slick, snappy, and they pack ear-worm melodies. As a result, over his illustrious career, he has mustered 7 #1 records and countless top 10s. However, underneath the gloss, it's sometimes hard to figure out where his heart is. Does he mean what he sings? Or is he merely pandering to what Christian radio wants? Though not all of that is eradicated, this is his first album in a long while, where he actually sings his soul out. Yes, there are still the made-for-radio ditties, but the highlight of this album is mostly in the ballads. Flourished with lots of Scripturally-soaked lines incarnated through sufferings, many of them just make a beeline for the heart.
One of the reasons for this record's more introspective tenure is captured in the album's cover. Featuring an old polaroid picture of a 13 year-old West sitting on a blue couch, this was the time when West stumbled across a Billy Graham crusade on television that changed his life. Within such a context, it makes perfect sense that the album begins with an excerpt of "Just as I Am," a hymn Graham had used as the soundtrack for his altar calls. "Just As I Am" naturally rolls into the title cut "Brand New," where West tells his own personal testimony of how he came to know Christ narrated through song. Another testimonial-type of a song is "Walking Miracle." Diverting his attention away from himself, West strings together stories of various individuals who have had experienced the healing prowess of Jesus. Its in such testimonial songs where West truly shines.
The album's apogee is in the power ballad "The God Who Stays." Filled with lots of heart-tugging lines of how God accepts us when the world walks away, this is tear-inducing and heart renovating stuff at its best. Be ready to be floored by the visceral "Truth Be Told;" a song that exposes our facades we often put in front of God and other people. Not to be missed is the hymn-like ballad "Grace Upon Grace." With a robust message that centers upon the mystery of God's grace and a power-punched chorus, this song could even be sung in congregational worship. Another heart-mover is the ode to the tragedy of teen-suicide, "Too Young Too Soon." This sober ballad ought to be a wake-up call to Christians to notice the storm of loneliness in others.
With all these expositions on the album's ballads, this doesn't mean that the album is bereft of West's signature propulsive tunes. West returns to his commercially wrapped form with "Not Today." Adorned with crashing percussions and a bombastic chorus, "Not Today" locks into the made-for-success formula. The same can be said about beat-driven pseudo-conversational like "What If." With a titular like "Love on the Radio," there needs no further commentary.
Fans who have grown to love West through his hits "More," "The Motions," and "Do Something," will find many similar entries to enjoy. However, for others who want to dig deeper into the deeper recesses of West, the ballads mentioned above are a treasure trove worth exploring with truths worth emulating.