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Where I Wanna Be
Artist: The Channelsurfers
Label: Organic Records
Length: 14 songs / 58:13 minutes

Track three here is called "Cheese Review," and mocks the negative reviews the band got for their debut:  "Bands may come - reviews may go / But 'the cheese stands alone.'"  The implication is that their brand of heavy funk is original precisely because of its cheddar nature.  These guys are dorks and they don't care who knows it.

For some listeners, this is as dumb as music gets.  For others, they'll pump it loud and sport a goofy grin the whole time.  Fuse extremely sanitized bits of Sugar Ray, Audio Adrenaline, 311, Limp Bizkit, '70s funk, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Lenny Kravitz, paint on squeaky clean choruses and sugar-sweet harmonies of either cliched Christian phrases or awkwardly creative matchings of metaphors and pop culture references, and you've got Where I Wanna Be.  The line from "Getting Away"--"I like to wing it when I sing the Channelsurfer grooves"--about sums up the thought put into their lyrics.

They've left behind most of the heavy distortion and rapping of the debut, favoring strict, bass-heavy funk and sunny guitar tones here. They're most definitely creative, highly skilled musicians, and they've got the most perfected production around.  You've never heard separation of instruments done so well and vocals so clear.  If you dig spic and span studio-sheen, hop on.  If edginess and real-life music sounds are your bag, run away.

Highlight of the album: the three hidden tracks at the end.  The first, with Guardian's Tony Palacios, is a hilarious solo-sodden spoof of spandex metal.  The other two are simplistic and overly polished but relatively respectable down-tuned groove alterna-metal fests that come too late to save the album, making the bewilderingly immature bent of the majority of the songs even more of a shame.  Great will be the day The Channelsurfers figure out originality is possible via intelligence and grit rather than safe cheese-rock.  No holding of breath here, though.

Josh Spencer          9/3/99


 

Josh Spencer, contributing senior associate editor for The Phantom Tollbooth for over two years, is also publisher and editor-in-chief of spiritual pop culture webzine Stranger Things.  Reviews and articles by him are usually simultaneously published in some form at http://www.strangerthingsmag.com.

Do you remember those old sacred and secular music comparison charts? They usually offered pretty dubious comparisons, but not entirely inaccurate ones, like "If you like Journey try Petra..." Truthfully, you can't always find a neat parallel between Christian musicians and their mainstream counterparts, and that's a good thing. Hopefully, the end of time won't come before the majority of Christian artists offer such works of originality and magnitude that mainstream artist are running to catch up and "join the bandwagon." With the few exceptions of truly original bands like Adam Again, Daniel Amos and the Danielson Familie, however, most "Christian bands" still take much of their inspiration from the larger musical spectrum. You can file Channelsurfers on the chart as the Christianized version of funky modern rock bands like Limp Bizkit and the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Now, given the popularity of these big West Coast bands, the Channelsurfers might be perceived as being on the forefront of the cutting-edge. Regrettably, that is not yet the case. Whereas, the musicianship and production is remarkably topnotch, the lyrical content and integrity of their songs is still lacking. The Channelsurfers appear to be a band with all the right stuff that keep funneling their energies into less creative forms. They clearly have the chops to cut loose and funk-out with the best of them, but the squeaky-clean sheen they've adopted keeps holding them back. Like a jack-in-the-box that never quite gets to pop and surprise. 

Nevertheless, Where I Wanna Be is a spirited, inviting album of poppified funky rock numbers that is good for toe-tapping and singing along. As their sophomore effort, they haven't slumped so much as they haven't forged ahead enough. Their sound has changed a bit, being less wildly diverse and more focused than before, but bowing down at the altar of pop music has come at a price. 

Of note is the song, "More Lonely Guys," which is basically a reprise of their first album's stand-out cut. Whereas, the funky James Brown homage, "Lonely guys," deserved repeating, the sequel offers only a few clever lines and fails to live up to the original's energy. The song is still a reminder that the band doesn't take themselves too seriously, and a whimsical spirit pervades their entire album. This is most clear in the extra, uncredited tracks where the band really lets their hair down for a bit of fun. The addition of these songs makes me think that the band could create an energetic, entertaining, and playful concert experience. Even better, before the heavy hands of production and pop carved these songs to much into accessibility, what were the band's inspired jam sessions like? Maybe the proverbial flies on the wall had the best view, after all. 

Steven S. Baldwin   10/18/99
 

 

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