Signs of Life (Sparrow)
Steven Curtis Chapman

By Kory Wilcoxson

There's a certain catch inherent for reviewers tackling contemporary Christian albums. Our nature is to examine them with a critical eye, but the subject matter makes it difficult to respond negatively. What do we say? "This record praising God really sucks!" We would spend eternity in an elevator listening to the Muzak version of Devo's "Whip It." No thanks.

That said, it is on to the task of Kentucky native Steven Curtis Chapman's latest, "Signs of Life." It looks as if Chapman's image switch with Bryan Adams is complete. Now Chapman has the crewcut look (but without all the pockmarks), and Adams looks like a Goo Goo Doll. Go figure.

While the looks have changed, the songs remain the same for Chapman, whose been a favorite in CCM for what seems like decades. There's no disguising what he does -- Chapman makes vanilla rock, songs as well suited for pop as for Christian.

On Signs of Life, Chapman is at his best. The tunes are powerful and even -- dare I say? -- a little soulful, as on "Free." Chapman knows how to put a song together, and "Lord of the Dance" and the title track are begging to be sung along with at a concert.

So what if he's not funky? So what if his music tends to have that same Hootie sound over and over? Chapman not only sells arkfuls of records, he packs a poignant and complex message into his lyrics. Chapman's music is pleasing not only to the ears.