The Phantom Tollbooth

Better Than This
Artist: The Normals
Label: Forefront Records
Length: 11+ tracks at 53:18 minutes
Three young men from Normal, Illinois, found each other way back in grade school and started playing together. And I don't just mean on the monkey bars, these guys started playing music together. Now around 19, this trio has reached a maturity in song-smithing that few bands can claim at the outset of recording. Signed by Eddie DeGarmo to Forefront Records, and helped by Billy Smiley, in one year, the Normals have written and produced a fine record full of smooth, classic harmonies and tangibly talented guitars.
Andrew Osenga plays guitars and sings lead. Along with Mark Lockett, also on guitars and vocals, Clayton Daily on bass and vocals, this threesome and some impressive guest musicians make the music on Better Than This, their debut. Among the guests helping out, besides the afore mentioned Billy Smiley, are Steve Hindalong on percussion and drums on four cuts, and Leigh Nash, of Sixpence None the Richer, who lends her beautiful voice to improve the tune "If Tomorrow was Forever."
The band's vision is to see kids come to Christ through their being normal, transparent Christians, in song and in person; and the individual guys have been involved with Young Life and youth ministry preparing to take the gospel to young people through a music and song pastorate for quite some time. The songs are honest, and evangelistic; sometimes telling stories and sometimes just exhorting one to know the love of God. Musically the sound owes much to PFR, and very much to Jars of Clay. My first listen through this cd was not very satisfying because they sounded so much like these other bands, and I was distracted by the derivative-musical thoughts that were playing my too critical mind. However, they soon won me over with a few repeated listens, as their talent and personality were clearly manifest. Even though I still contend that they sound quite a bit like Jars of Clay at times, I can't argue with the results here. Truly, The Normals make such good records, at such a young age that if they are going to stay in it for the long haul, they could make some genuinely great music someday soon, someday very soon.

By Tony LaFianza (10/14/98)