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not all that amusing: a review of Chris Rice’s new CD

I pre-ordered Chris Rice’s new album, amusing, back a couple of months ago when it was advertised by eb+flo. This is Chris’s first album with his new record label, INO, so I was looking forward to hearing what the effort would sound like. The album doesn’t hit the stores until tomorrow (Tuesday August 23rd), but I received my copy in the mail last Friday. Having now had the chance to listen to it a couple times, I’ll hazard an opinion or two.

The Music
Musically, Chris makes the most of being on a new record label that has, apparently, given him much more musical freedom. The styles are varied; from the Steven Curtis Chapman-esque bluesy-country-rock of Love Like Crazy, to the made-for-adult-contemporary-radio sound of When Did You Fall, to the quiet piano-driven tones of Sleepyhead Sun, he explores many sounds that will a suprise to those familiar with his discography. I could complain that it isn’t very cohesive in sound, but that’s the case with most of Chris’s albums, so I won’t suddenly hold it against him now.

The Content
The subject matter of the songs is perhaps also typically varied; he includes a couple songs that deal with romantic love which lead me to wonder if he (the long-time bachelor) has a new relationship that is driving these thoughts. But the interviews I’ve read don’t mention a thing about it, nor do the liner notes. Bummer.

The Lyrics
Here’s where I am more disappointed with amusing. It seems to be missing a song or two with the depth that his previous albums have included. Think back on Deep Enough to Dream (from the album Deep Enough to Dream), The Power of a Moment (from Past the Edges), Home Tonight (from Smell the Color 9), Untitled Hymn (Come to Jesus), or Wonder (both from Run the Earth, Watch the Sky). They are songs full of picturesque, thoughtful lyrics, laden with symbolism and imagery. They are the depth that keeps me coming back to those albums again and again. Sadly, amusing doesn’t seem to include much of anything in that vein.

What it does contain in great measure is the more overt, and, to my mind, less-insightful lyrics that eventually drove me away from the music of Steven Curtis Chapman. For instance, the chorus of Love Like Crazy:

Love like crazy
We gotta love like crazy
We gotta love like crazy
The way he loves you and me
‘Cause if the world’s ever gonna change
We gotta love like crazy

This may be insightful and motivating for the high-school camp crowd, but it leaves me wanting more. Or this one:

Life gave me lemonade and I can’t imagine why
Born on a sunny day, beneath a tangerine sky
I live life without pretending
I’m a sucker for happy endings
Thanks for the lemonade
Thanks for the lemonade!

Sure, it’s OK…. but color me a bit disappointed.

This album will not really change my overall opinion of Chris Rice; he’s still one of my favorite songwriters, he’s still provided some of the most thoughtful and worshipful stuff that I’ve ever heard. I’m hoping that amusing is just one slightly low spot in the road that will quickly be forgotten when the next album comes around. It may, though, prompt me to skip the pre-ordering next time and wait to get a listen before making my purchase.

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