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Now the News
Length: 15 tracks/47:01
Since his introduction to the Christian music industry with Things I Prayed For, Eli has always represented a unique lyrical vision, sort of a pop-folk minstrel. His prophetic intensity is at times touching, but often has been lost in the over-production of Christian music's ambition. Now the News, Eli's third album, contains his most outspoken work to date, but still tends toward the generic and is not imaginative enough for much lengthy consideration.
"Beggars," the opening cut, is an example of the kind of over-production that dominates Now the News. The track opens with Eli's unique voice over acoustic guitar, but on the downbeat of the chorus, this intimate atmosphere is interrupted by the intrusion of a full band. In these situations, the studio players hinder Eli's personal voice from coming through, making the work too generic. (For a better understanding of this concept, imagine Steven Curtis Chapman production on a Bob Dylan album). The music is engaging, but does little to stimulate the imagination.
In his better moments, Eli functions as a pseudo-Dylan, a social crusader with plenty of remedies for society's ills. Sometimes this works: "Now the News" is hard-hitting, speaking to the dichotomy between speech and action, almost Pete Seeger-esque in its prophetic vehemence. "Never Knew You Look Like That" is framed gently, allowing the emotion of Eli's voice to shine through more clearly. It seems his vocal approach is more effective when less literal and more fraught with emotion. "Waves of an Ocean" is also successful, Eli's passionate vocal delivery married to a driving drum beat and fluid rhythm guitar. Most disappointing, however, is the way in which the album's vision is hindered by under-developed musical ideas.
"Pilgrim Song" visits a well-traveled theme--"this world's not my home, I'm just passing through" (see Rich Mullins' "Land of My Sojourn")--but the message is not particularly well-put, and as "Be Thou My Vision" fades in at the end of the song, we see another misplaced production idea. It would have been nice to hear this theme play a larger role in the song.
On Now the News, Eli presents himself as a sort of itinerant singing preacher, with an emphatic message of social reconciliation which resounds throughout the album. Clearly, Eli believes in what he's doing, and has some nice things to say. The problem is finding a way to translate this into a unique musical language that suits his personal vision.
Glenn McCarty 5/19/2001