This one is definitely going to take more than one day, so bear with me.
I just recently (yesterday actually) ranked all of Petra’s albums. I had a good buddy (Hey there Phil!) suggest that I do the same thing for the Newsboys. I am never one to back down from a musical challenge so I have decided to jump into it headfirst. I am going to take a slightly different approach (for simplicity’s sake). Instead of ranking them in order, I am going to put them in chronological order and rate them on a five asterisk scale. After that, I will attempt to rank them. We’ll see how it goes.
Read All About It (1988) ***
Honestly, I like this album for what it is: cheesy Eighties rock music. There are moments where they channel mainstream bands like Men At Work and INXS. The only problem is that the album feels like it is about five years too late. Had it come out in 1983 or 1984, it would have fit right in on the soundtrack to a John Hughes’ film. Lyrically, there is nothing challenging but that is typical of most Christian music from the time. Opening track I Got Your Number is probably the best song on the album and it hearkens back to Neil Finn’s Split Enz output. Some may think I’m being too kind giving it a three but it is much better than it gets credit for. I’ll say it again, had this come out five years earlier, it would be considered a landmark album in Christian music.
Hell Is For Wimps (1990) **
I have often wondered how the Newsboys managed to stay signed long enough for Steve Taylor to come aboard. The truth is that I never listened to them until 1996, when Take Me To Your Leader came out. I remember seeing them in CCM magazine along with DC Talk and they just didn’t seem like a band I would like. I was actually surprised to discover that I like a good bit of their older stuff. That being said, I feel like they take a step backwards on this one. There are a few good tracks and the production (by Michael Gleason) isn’t bad, but it was dated when it was released and it hasn’t aged well. Stand Up For Jesus is the one stand out track but it isn’t enough to elevate the album out of mediocrity.
Boys Will Be Boyz (1991) **
This is probably my least favorite album from the Newsboys. I do recognize that they were having a line up change with every album and it had to have been difficult to carry on like that. This one isn’t much better than its predecessor but it isn’t a horrible album. I do want to stress that. None of their albums are terrible, but these early ones aren’t anything noteworthy. They are on the same level as most CCM during that period. This one does stand out due to the fact that they begin to move away from a straight ahead rock sound and starts to incorporate hip hop elements (Peter Furler tries to rap).
Not Ashamed (1992) ****
1992 saw yet another line up change but the most important change was the addition of Steve Taylor as producer and songwriter. This one also sees Peter Furler taking over more vocal duties. Synthesizers dominate the sound of the album and the songwriting is leaps and bounds over previous albums. It was their first commercially successful album and rightfully so. The one moment where I wince slightly is the rap during their cover of DeGarmo & Key’s Boycott Hell.
Going Public (1994) ****
Newsboys followed up their first success with an equally (and slightly better) album. Steve Taylor remains as an integral part of the process even though the band line up changes again. It is interesting to note that Duncan, Jody, and Jeff came into the picture at this point and are still in the band to this day. Shine is probably one of their best known tracks. Another thing to consider is that Peter is the primary vocalist on nearly every song.
Take Me To Your Leader (1996) *****
Not only do I believe this is the best Newsboys’ album, I believe it is one of the best Christian rock albums to ever be released. For the first time in their career, almost everyone associated with the previous album returns. Phil Joel does come aboard as bassist and vocalist and adds another dimension to their sound. This album boasts that there are no samples or drum loops (something they were often criticized for) on any of the songs. What is present is a slightly edgier and grittier sound. While not openly ripping off Nirvana, it is obvious that the goal was to produce an album that was current. There isn’t a bad song on this album. This was the first album I ever heard from them and I even saw them on the opening night of the tour. If I was going to pick just one album to represent the Newsboys, this would be it.
Step Up To The Microphone (1988) ****
This isn’t a slam on him, but you barely miss John James on this album. He had been singing less and less and the addition of Phil Joel filled any gaps that may have existed with James’ departure. I actually got the Entertaining Angels pre-release and was excited at the direction they were moving. There was a definite Brit-Pop vibe to it and their were hooks (vocal and guitar) all over it. This is still one of my favorite albums that they have released.
(end Part One)