Whether you're an American Idol wannabe or a politician seeking the presidency, you can't escape this scriptural truth: Many are called, few are chosen. But what happens once you land among the chosen ones? The Newsboys could tell you first-hand, even as they prepare to release their new album, Restart.
After all, how many groups boast a discography with 16 albums and five gold records? And since the arrival of dc talk alum Michael Tait as lead singer, things have only gotten better: 2010’s "Born Again" spawned three No. 1 radio hits, and 2012's "God’s Not Dead" sold more than 300,000 copies. So yes, fans keep choosing the Newsboys—which makes Restart all the more remarkable, because it dares to put so much of that loyalty to the test.
With all the fervor of rookies seeking their first record deal, Tait and his bandmates Jody Davis (guitars), Duncan Phillips (drums), and Jeff Frankenstein (keyboards)—combed through reams and reams of demos and song ideas. Their goal? To compile a stellar collection of tracks into an album like no other … not just in the band's history, but in Christian music history itself as well. In fact, you could sum up the song selection process this way: Many tunes were called, and very few were chosen.
"At the start of this record two years ago, we knew we'd be taking great risks," Tait says. "But people will be excited about this album because we've pushed the music and taken it further than we've ever taken it before—we’ve gone through more songs than ever."
The search, in this case, boiled down to what Tait calls "world-class songs." (Remember, this comes from a guy who sang on quite a few worldwide hits in his dc talk days.) "If you have one or two of those, they'll be there when the Newsboys are dead and gone."
No one's tallied all the numbers just yet, but at least 50 compositions were considered for Restart, putting a team of about a dozen producers and seven mix engineers to the test. Songs were recorded, and recorded again; listening sessions at the Sparrow/Capitol CMG offices turned into regular Tuesday afternoon affairs where Tait and his teammates poured over prospective album tracks as the coffee flowed freely. Imagine the musical equivalent of four-star chefs concocting a tantalizing, secret sauce. "I've never been through such a distilling process," says Tait.
While that might sound extreme, you’d be hard pressed to find another record that so successfully embraces tight pop, modern rock, and worship music, and does it all with such focus. Restart sparkles with intensity, passion, and melodic majesty from start to finish. Pop grooves this incessant and immediate don't surface every day, but from the first listen, tracks such as "Disaster,” “That’s How You Change the World" and “Restart” stay with listeners a mighty long time.
Will they kick out the jams live? Oh, yeah. Tait, who’s logged more that 600 live shows as Newsboys front man, won't settle for anything less than songs that rouse the crowd from the word "go" (or "restart," if you prefer). "'Love Like I Mean It' might be the people's favorite," he says. "The crowd, when they get to the chorus, they scream their heads off: ‘LOVE LIKE I MEAN IT!’" He laughs, and continues: "That's a first for us as performers. We've never had a chorus with just five words."
But if these tracks move your body, they'll move your heart even more. Because when you consider it, what would the Newsboys be without their uplifting message—a constant dating to the band's founding in 1985? The title cut speaks to the group's ambitious reach for stars, and the humble heart that comes with a second chance: "Oh Lord I'm a different man/You gave me a second chance/ I was lost, I was falling apart/You came along, You hit the restart."
The single "Live With Abandon" proves equally poignant, even as it gallops home with percussive keys and drums that stomp their way up the mountaintop: "I wanna live with abandon/ Give You all that I am/ Every part of my heart Jesus/ I place in Your hands." Tait chooses his words carefully to avoid overstatement when he compares Restart to one of Christian music's greatest records, one that he played a big role in shaping.
"I have not felt this way about anything I've been involved in musically since 'Jesus Freak,'" he declares.
So if you're a longtime Newsboys fan, forget what you know. If you're new to the group, you can't imagine what's in store. Restart isn't just an album: It's a spirited pop manifesto from a band driven to recast itself almost from scratch. They didn't have to do it this way, but in music, as in the walk of faith itself, a road less traveled makes all the difference.
Other paths called, including a few of least resistance. But this is the one, the only one, they could choose. Or as Michael Tait sums it up: "The pressure was there to make more of the same. It was there from the start. But why not risk something? Why not restart it?"