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Artist: Newsboys
Label: Sparrow
Time: 10 tracks / 37:31 min.

1998ís Step Up To the Microphone was supposed to signal a new era for the Newsboys, one of Christian musicís flagship bands, and for the most part, it did, showing that the band could survive without departed lead singer John James and longtime producer Steve Taylor. The album showcased a new, more serious, more textured pop-rock sound and image for the band. And it was a success. 

1999, however, brought a sharp 180-degree turn with Love Liberty Disco, a restrained, glossy, pure pop album. With more ballads than ever before, and lacking the aggressive guitar sound of before, Love Liberty Disco alienated many fans and caused people to wonder where the Newsboys were going.

All questions are answered with the release of the next step in the bandís evolution: Thrive. This new collection of 10 songs exudes happiness and even buoyancy. To coin a phrase, Thrive is most aptly termed Ďjaunty rock.í Peter Furler and company turn in their most well-balanced and certainly optimistic collection to date.

The lyrics are unabashedly positive. The introspective Peter Furler who sang "Now itís more than I can take / and I feel like I could break" on Love Liberty Disco has been replaced by a joyous Furler, singing lyrics like "a million raindrops falling from a blue sky / kissiní your cares goodbye." The only hints of melancholy come in Thriveís title cut, which finds Furler speaking of walking through a "valley of shadow." But by the time he hits the chorus, the questioning has been replaced by God "lift[ing] me up with tender care."

Other standout songs include "Cornelius," a fun, bouncy song that features the band membersí families on backing vocals, "It Is You," a sweet praise song and hit radio single, and "John Woo," which references the popular film director.

If thereís a problem with Thrive, it's that the album is aimed too directly at bringing back past Newsboys fans, and does nothing to reach out to new ones. But that's a minor fault.

Much more upbeat than Love Liberty Disco and not as brooding as Step Up To the Microphone, Thrive allows the band to stretch their musical talents and have fun in the process. Newsboys fans should come flocking back upon hearing Thrive.

John Wilson  2/24/2002

Many fans felt that Newsboys peaked with Take Me to Your Leader.  That faction looked at the albums Step Up to the Microphone and Love Liberty Disco as a steady decline from the heights to which Newsboys' fans had grown accustomed.   The commonly held view was that with the departure of their lead singer and of producer Steve Taylor, the group had taken a different direction, one of finding their own way, that while interesting, was less satisfying to those who had been around since Going Public.

For those who feel this way, Thrive is for you.  Steve Taylor has returned as producer, and Peter Furler's vocals are more like that of Take Me to Your Leader than any previous CD.  The "disco" sound of the last album has been replaced by fuzzy guitars and real drums.  The result is a short but sweet return to the old sound of the Newsboys.

"Giving It Over" is about letting God be in control, about "giving myself over to a true love that lasts".  "Live in Stereo" could also be known as "Breakfast, Part 2," given its sound.  "Million Pieces (Kissin' Your Cares Goodbye)" is more of a ballad that musically combines the styles of Charlie Peacock and Steve Taylor.  "Cornelius" is another Taylor sound-a-like, reminiscent of Taylor's "Shortstop" from the Roaring Lambs compilation.

"It is You" is a modern praise hymn, while "Rescue" is probably more like the Love Liberty Disco era than any other on this CD, featuring a catchy keyboard background.  "Fad of the Land" seems like a Steve Taylor throwaway, railing against the pressures of trendy living and temporary satisfaction.  

"Thrive" shows its subject pining for closeness to God:

Will you lift me up with tender care? 
Will you wash me in the palm of Your hand?
Thrive marks a return to the old Newsboys, with elements of humor and loud guitars and a well-turned phrase.  If Steve Taylor is their Svengali, I can only hope they remain under his spell for many more years to come ­ that is, if he's not releasing his own material any time soon.

Brian A. Smith 4/3/2002



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