Album Review - Kutless - To Know That You're Alive

I haven't been a Kutless fan for very long. I'd been listening to Strong Tower, an anthology of worship songs, and started to listen to some of their older stuff. This record marks a departure from most of their older music.
To begin with, they are no longer relying on the songwriting skills of lead singer Jon Micah Sumrall exclusively; they wrote much of this record collaberativly. New guitarist Nick Departee has added some additional flavor to the band. Perhaps the biggest change is in producer; for this record, the band teamed up with Pete Kipley, who has worked with such bands as MercyMe and The Afters. Granted, that resume does not really have hard rock as its strong point, but this record is far more melodic then its predecessors. A kinder, gentler Kutless.

Not to say that die-hard Kutless fans will be disappointed. There is still plenty of bite to this puppy. In fact, this album counterbalances the lighter songs with some of the bands heaviest offerings to date. The Disease and the Cure simply pounds, while describing Jesus' sacrifice as a relief from, sin. Overcoming Me also satisfies the head-banger in me, while adding some nice synth to the guitar, filling some sonic space missing on earlier albums.

The MercyMe-type production influences come out in Complete, a piano-and-strings song that fits in well with my favorite cut off the record, You. True, You is a pure 80's acoustic pop ballad, the kind of song that the hair bands used to throw on a record to show their gentler side. But this song is complex and layered, and Skid Row never sang with this much feeling.

While the band has certainly reached out musically, experimenting with different sounds, intrumentals and effects, they still seem to be in the same old box when it comes to lyrics. Perhaps they are still channeling some of the 80's hair bands, because they fail to deliver on some of the promises made in the lyrics. The title track does a good job of demonstrating God's understanding of our suffering and pain, "I know your pain is for a reason/You need to feel just to know that You're alive" but there is no suggestion that God has an answer for it. Guiding Me Home is just banal, indicative of the problem with much CCM today - repetitive, uninspired songwriting.

On the other hand, Promise You is great, not about pain for pain's sake, but about forgiveness, and freedom from bitterness in the facve of abuse. "I can't deny these thoughts of hate/The poison adding to my shame/Forgiveness can't take scars away/But I forgive you anyway" This is a great theme, and an important one for people dealing with abuse, bitterness and unforgiveness. Lyrically, this is the high point of the record for me.

While To Know That You're Alive shows a lot of growth and change for Kutless, unfortunatly most of it is in the production of the record, not the songs themselves. One would hope that as the band matures and grows spiritually and emotionally, they would bring more complex themes to their songwriting. I await the next album; this one shows flashes of excellence that indicate better things may be coming from the boys from Portland.


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