REVIEW OF COLTON DIXON’S “A MESSENGER” ALBUM
American idol (AmIdol) alum Colton Dixon calls to mind another Idol. With his platinum blonde Mohawk hairstyle and his slick black biker looks, Dixon's outward appearance looks like a more youthful version of English rock singer Billy Idol. But this is why the comparison ends. "A Messenger" is by no means a 80s punk rock affair. Rather, this is modern pop-rock album where (as Dixon himself puts it) "faith based songs" abound. If comparisons are to be made, "A Messenger" bears greater likeness to the works of MercyMe, Casting Crowns and Coldplay. Following in the footsteps of Jason Castro, Dixon is one of the few AmIdol to be go the Contemporary Christian route. Never reticent about his faith in God, this 21 year-old Tennessee native gave a rousing rendition of "Jesus Paid It All" at this year's Passion 2013 Conference. (One somehow wishes he would have included "Jesus Paid It All" here on this disc.) Dixon wears his faith proudly on his sleeve when he and Sparrow Records have decided to release the Jesus-explicit "Never Gone" as Dixon's sophomore single to radio. And such an act of faith was handsomely rewarded when "Never Gone" became Dixon's first ever number one Christian hit. Even the album's titular "A Messenger" was not serendipitous; rather, its sui genesis was inspired by John 13:16 where Jesus commissions us to be "messengers" of the One Greater than us. Further, the album's title was also likely reminiscent of the days prior to AmIdol where he used to front a Christian rock band known as "The Messengers."
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Most revealing about these 12 cuts is that AmIdol has yet to rub off Dixon. Adopting the same sonic template as the hit TV singing contest where loud singing, clamorous charisma and high-note belting translate to more votes, Dixon has the same approach over most of the tracks. Save for the two ballads "I Rise" and "Let Them See You," there is nose dive approach to all the songs. As soon as the first note starts, Dixon dives into each syllable with charisma and fierce passion as though he was competing with Carrie Underwood and Kelly Clarkson on who can give the loudest and most impactful performance. All of the 10 cuts here are thus bombastically crowded where raging electric guitars and the insistent pounding of drums are turned up to their maximum decibels. Such an approach certainly scores well with tracks such as lead single "You Are." Though God is not mentioned by name, "You Are" is a desperate worship piece to the Almighty where Dixon sings "You are the air I breathe in. You are the hope I'm needing." And if Dixon was a tad more reserved, "Never Gone" would not have the wistful appeal it has when he testifies to God's abiding presence even through our most tremulous times.
However, such a voluminous intensity doesn't work with tracks such as "Noise" and "Scars." With the former, Dixon laments that sometimes the noise of our everyday living tends to crowd out God's voice. But the irony is that the deafening drums and surging guitars precisely is what is drowning out not only God's voice but Dixon's too. "Scars," a co-write between Dixon and Rob Hawkins, tells of how God's most powerful messengers have often been scarred by the trials and sufferings of the world. With such a heart-wrenching message, one would wish the backings were a little sparser and more sympathetic. Towards a tender end is "Let Them See You." What is intriguing is that this really acoustic styling ballad is the only song not co-written by Dixon but by Third Day's keyboardist Scotty Wilbanks. "I Rise" is the other ballad-it starts off gently but again the song gets overwhelmed when we reach the chorus.
On AmIdol we see something about Dixon that is missing from this disc: versatility. On television, Dixon was able to go all romantic with a gorgeous rendition of Billy Joel's "Piano Man," he could go all gritty with Jason Aldean's "Don't You Wanna Stay" and he can even go hypnotically suave with Lady Gaga's "Bad Romance." But when it comes to his debut Sparrow Record, he only goes for one straight approach to most of the songs: loud, louder and louder pop-rock. One would wish his televised versatility would somehow translate onto his own disc.
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