Steven Curtis Chapman is a slightly intriguing mystery to me. When he occasionally registers in my consciousness, I view him like a cat viewing a curious toddler: with a considerable degree of suspicion and, perhaps, hidden condescension. Where, exactly, does Chapman fit amongst the plethora of contemporary Christian Music, and what forty-four year old continues to make the kind of pop music Chapman does? Less “worshipful” than Chris Tomlin, less all-out rocking (or popping or discoing)than the Newsboys, Steven Curtis Chapman represents a unusual brand of pop to anyone under forty, and a fading one as well.
To a lover of everything indie pop (from the Weepies to possibly even the new Many Moore record), Christian pop seems somewhat ironic. Pop music is usually about guys and girls, which doesn’t comfortably transition to songs about Jesus. At its worst, Christian “AC” pop is a continuous flow of lite spirituality channeled through songs that may or may not be catchy. At its best it’s listenable, gently urging spiritual things without breaking into platitudes or worn-out Christian jargon. If number of awards won means anything, Steven Curtis Chapman is the reigning king of Christian adult-contemporary pop. That moment isn’t gone, but Chapman’s skill as a songwriter and a musician is, to some extent, fading.
That aside, _This Moment_ is actually pretty decent as Christian radio-fodder goes. Without being—and we all ought to know this by now—any musical achievement, it’s moderately fun, affecting, and listenable. Not as good as his best work, but still quite a bit better than a lot of stuff in this industry. Anyone who’s followed Chapman isn’t going to be very surprised: Here we have a few sentimental ballads amongst evangelically-oriented pop that is occasionally good enough to warrant the abscission of criticism regarding the very predictable lyrics.
The album kicks off with “Miracle of the Moment” a song that, when played on K-Love (“positive, encouraging, family friendly music”) might delay your usual knob changing tendencies. “Broken” fares worse, with lots of elements going on that don’t stack up. To de-construct the song and its various elements would be no more worthwhile than the work put into constructing it.”Children of God” is the worst of the trolling-for-airplay pop songs, sounding half like Sanctus Real (or Relient K or Hawk Nelson, you get the idea), and half like Chapman and son attempting their hand at super (and I really can’t put enough “supers” in there) lite punk, with a steady wave of crunching guitars underlining the song’s explosion of cheap sing-song melody.
On the flipside, we have “Something Crazy” which is the kind of jazzy pop song that made Chapman popular in the first place. Drenched in reverb and affects, I truly think it’s about as good, and probably more enduring, than anything the unjustly popular TobyMac has created. It’s also not quite as arresting as some of Chapman’s other preachy (albeit with a very fast word per minute output) hit tunes. On many of these songs Chapman continues his unique approach at conversational songwriting, which he occasionally manages to pull off with disarming, down-to-earth charm.
One of Chapman’s assets on _This Moment_ is his uncanny ability to make familiar elements work better than they usually do (or perhaps ought to). “Cinderella” is a sentimental ballad about the relationship between fathers and daughters (and by far more arresting than the mom-empowerment ballad “One Heartbeat at a Time”), but it does what few country weepers achieve: grips you enough to stop thinking of cynical comments about predictably sappy songs.
Without being at all intimately familiar with everything Chapman (this is his fourteenth album; how many people are?) the album fits squarely within the realm of the familiar. It’s not really unnerving, but “My Surrender” is notable for somewhat close to real confession; we at least believe what Chapman is saying.
The very fact that I was able to sit down and enjoy _This Moment_ is a testament to its above average quality. Indeed, it may be a mere shadow of Chapman’s best, but there are only a few bad songs on here, and a handful of decent ones. I even spent twenty or so minutes in a fruitless search in my living room for Chapman’s Live In This Moment. I didn’t find it, but if I had I imagine it would have been between the lyric sheets for _Thrive_ and Jesus Freak; its case would have been cracked and broken, and the disc nearly scratched beyond repair. That I looked for it is not as great a testament as the music I rarely let out of my grasp: but it’s a compliment nonetheless.
Timothy Zila is a pop music critic for Patrol.
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