‘Better’ album review
artist: Stars Go Dim
release date: May 17, 2019
star rating: three out of five
review by Levi Yager
There are bound to be expectations for an album named Better. While not the point of the album, it had me wondering: is this going to be better than a lot of Christian worship music out there these days? I’d say the answer is “mostly.”
The first few tracks come in strong and give enough energy and earnest enthusiasm to get the listener on board. “It’s Gonna Get Better” is a breezy, relaxed opener about persevering through hard times and hoping the best is yet to come. It relies heavily on synthesizers, as does the rest of the album, and it ends up as one of the more memorable songs. It’s followed by “I Look To You,” another mid-tempo cut. “I Look To You” is unique in that there are a couple rap features two-thirds of the way through that add a tasteful hip-hop flare to the song. It’s definitely a standout moment on Better. “Heaven On Earth” then brings some new spice to the record in its super-catchy “oh-oh’s” paired with a groovy rhythm. It also has a little acoustic guitar work, which complements the album’s mostly-synthetic-sounding palette nicely.
Aside from the fifth song, titled “You Know Me Better,” the middle of the album largely fails to build off the momentum it had going early in the game. “You Know Me Better,” for its part, is actually one of the best songs on the album – especially content-wise. It’s about trusting your identity is in God. Musically, it takes a pretty simple approach, but it hits all the right notes for what it sets out to do – and there’s a neat choir-like bridge that adds a nice touch, too. Sadly, though, everything else up until the last three tracks feels like a retread in one way or another. The worst offender is “I Believe,” which dives headfirst into tired worship clichés and comes off as just another skippable Sunday morning song.
Thankfully, the album regains its composure when “Invisible” steps into the spotlight at number ten. It’s a soft song that includes some acoustic guitar once again, and its dialed-down approach helps the track shine at this point on Better. Additionally, the song builds quite well. Then there’s “All Free,” hands-down the show-stealer of the album. It’s an all-out celebration drizzled in dance vibes that kicks and struts with unbridled attitude. “All Free” is courageous, contagious and a total blast. “Autobiography (When I Found You)” is the next and final song, and it does a great job of closing out the album. It’s an upbeat, retrospective track with some of Stars Go Dim’s more eclectic flavors taking the stage. There’s even electric guitar playing rhythm on this one, which is kind of a rarity to hear on Better. Also, solid group vocals show up here with an undeniable soul-choir feel. For all of Better’s inconsistency, “Autobiography” leaves a good and lasting impression by the end of it.
If you’re already a fan of worship or pop, you’ll probably find at least a few things to be enjoyed on this record. Otherwise, Better might not work any miracles for you. On the positive side, Stars Go Dim play to their strengths for the most part; Better features lead singer Chris Cleveland’s signature vocal undulations and frequent visits to falsetto territory, and the record innovates just enough overall to be more engaging than not. The instrumentation and crisp production take obvious major cues from modern mainstream pop music (it’s all about the vocals and the beat), yet it proves compatible with Stars Go Dim’s core, established worship style. Although Better isn’t the best worship album of our time, it’s still better than a lot of others. And that may suffice for many listeners.