Does the difficult second-album-syndrome happen in the Christian genre too? I guess Rend Collective Experiment and their significant fan base will be hoping not. The success of the band’s brilliant debut, Organic Family Hymnal, was down to its musical creativity, deep lyrics and catchy hooks. More of the same please.
Unfortunately Homemade Praise For Handmade People starts off on the wrong foot. Although opener Praise Like Fireworks energetically bursts onto the scene with driving electric guitars and percussion, the repetitive lyrics and happy energy almost turn the song into children’s worship. That may be slightly harsh, but there were several cringeworthy moments throughout. The first song is followed by a contemporary twist to the classic hymn, Be Thou My Vision (titled You Are My Vision). It’s a brave choice, but one that doesn’t turn out well. The track provides yet more cringeworthy-ness. As the banjoes attempt to create a nu-folk vibe, they leave it more in the realm of country and western.
But Rend Collective fans will be pleased to know it gets better from here, as the album begins to sprout creativity and musical know-how. The Cost is absolutely superb. A combination of lyrical brilliance and catchy melody have your head bopping and you find yourself singing along to the chorus from the first listen. Next up, Second Chance and True Intimacy are of the same calibre and quickly reassure the listener that the first two tracks were only a blip. As you continue through the album the Rend spirit that made their debut so infectious becomes evident. Their passion and faith are intrinsically knitted into the very core, and you feel like you’ve joined the collective, contributing to the musical beauty. A further highlight is Christ Has Set Me Free. A tuneful, stripped back number with thoughtful lyrics: “You open horizons in my life, of limitless and cloudless hope”. Amen.
The difference between reviewing secular and Christian music is there’s an extra measurement: How the music provides opportunities for people to encounter God. This is where Rend Collective are at their best. Lyrics are not just musically intelligent, but evoke a personal response from the listener. You only need to listen through once to get a sense that each track has been soaked in prayer.
A difficult second album? Perhaps. At times it suffers from showcasing too many genres; one minute you’re hearing banjoes, the next electric drum loops. After the first two tracks I was wondering if Rend Collective had swapped quirkiness for kitsch, but my fears were eased slightly as I continued. I have to confess I begin each listen of the album from track three. The best aspect of Christian music is that it’s not completely down to critical acclaim and reviews, but ultimately whether the music strengthens our understanding of God – and there’s no doubt that Rend Collective Experiment do just that.
Stand out tracks: The Cost, Christ Has Set Me Free