Release Date: March 10, 2015
I’ve been a fan of Kevin (Smith) Max since I first heard dcTalk’s Jesus Freak back in high school. His has been one of my favorite voices in all of music for nearly two decades now. For whatever reason, however, I lost track of his work for the better part of those years. When he signed on to helm the re-formed Audio Adrenaline a couple of years ago I was somewhat shocked and took notice of what was going on. The subsequent album that Audio A released (Kings and Queens) was pretty solid and Max’ vocals were on point. I was rather disappointed, when late last year I learned that the band had broken up because I felt that they could have come back with an even better album after having toured together for two years. [“Audio Adrenaline” still exists. No founding members are present. Max was replaced in mid-2014 and the slate was wiped clean earlier this year and re-started with 4 all new members (wha??)]
Broken Temples is Max’ twelfth studio album. The album opener “Good Kings Highway” sounds like the inevitable continuation of the Audio Adrenaline sound that was teased at the end of Kings and Queens. There’s a U2-ness to the guitar riff and Max channels his inner Bono as he did on tracks like “I Climb the Mountain.” The doubled, octave vocals create a fantastic effect and the song has a fantastically catchy melody. It is followed by “Light Me Up” which tends a bit more toward typically CCM rock – that’s not a knock, though. This track is probably more catchy than its predecessor, just not quite as inventive.
Three songs into the record, though, he loses me. “Just as I am” has a very “now” sound, it’s just not a sound that I like. There’s some electronic action going on that I find distracting and there’s something with the syncopated beat that has a ska vibe about it. “Clear” has a very 80’s tone and I think I would like it on its own, but in context it is kind of a downer sonically. But these two songs are only a blip on the radar.
The later tracks on the record return to the mainstream-ready alt-rock style that boosted the first two tracks. “That Was Then This is Now” is a slower ballad that again oozes U2 vibes all over the place. “White Horse” may be my favorite track on the record. It builds well and has a great anthemic feel. The final track “Infinite” feels a little “on the nose” to me. It’s a throwback to Max’ earlier work and has a radio-ready CCM feel – which is fine, but just doesn’t feel like what I expect from this artist.
The album also includes two remixes, sandwiched in before the final track. The remixes are by none other than Derek Webb and definitely have a feel of his previous work, specifically his Stockholm Syndrome album. Oddly, the two tracks chosen are the two that liked least on this record and the remixes didn’t do much more to endear them to me.
In the end, I think that this is a watershed record for Kevin Max. It shows that he can release a record that is mainstream approachable and still CCM friendly without losing his trademark style and edge. The songs stand on their own and could be toured with a simple acoustic setup or he could recruit any of his numerous old friends from the industry to put together a touring band and make a big production of it and he would succeed.
The Audio Adrenaline experiment brought Max back into the mainstream of “Christian music” – a hyper-selective subculture that had not readily embraced him during his post-dcTalk solo years. Now, without a record contract, Max funded the album through a PledgeMusic campaign. While he was clear about his faith in describing the record,
Lyrically, I wanted to reflect the changes I had experienced
of God working on me throughout the years. Redemption is not a foreign
word to me, it is something I have lived out and at a great cost. God has
met me in the valley of my own temptations, failures, inadequacies and
doubts. I have been tempered by defeat as well as by great success. My
legacy is the story that God is continuing to author and finish in my own
personal journey of the soul.
the Christian music industry is not one to embrace those they haven’t been hand-picked for stardom. With that in mind, it’s exciting to see the trajectory of his career from this point forward