Audio Adrenaline – Kings & Queens
March 12, 2013
What It Sounds Like: Chorus filled, ready-for-the-radio pop/rock with hints of 80s influence here and there. Audio Adrenaline wants you to turn this up loud and sing along – no ifs, ands, or buts about it. They’re ready for arenas, channeling their inner U2 with Kevin Max at the helm.
Let’s get something straight right off the bat.
This is not Audio Adrenaline….
I mean, it is Audio Adrenaline; look at the name of the cover of the record. But, this is not the Audio Adrenaline that you remember from years past. This isn’t “Some Kind Of Zombie” Audio Adrenaline. This isn’t “Until My Heart Caves In”. It certainly ain’t no “One Step Hyper” Audio A!
But it shouldn’t be. On stage, we have one surviving member of the AA that we knew from the Creation Festivals and the youth group days, which is bassist Will McGinniss. We have new players on the guitars, keys, and drums (Jared Byers – Bleach and The Honeymoon Thrillers – man, it’s good to see you), and the powerhouse vocals of Mr. Kevin Max leading the way into the new generation of Audio Adrenaline 2.0. Who would have thought that we would someday see members of the two biggest Christian rock acts of the 90s merge? A dcTalk/AA mashup. Dreams sometimes do come true.
So why keep the name Audio Adrenaline at all? It’s simple. This band has a mission, and almost all of it ties back to the Hands And Feet project that AA started back in 2004 to help and care for the abandoned and orphaned children in southern Haiti. The reason that we even have this record in the first place is to help further this admirable cause. That’s why this is Audio Adrenaline 2.0. It’s not simply about the music – it’s about the heart and soul of what these guys wish to accomplish. It sounds blasphemous to call Mark Stuart their “former lead singer”, although that is exactly who he is – though he is still thankfully kept in the center of the audio action, having songwriting credits on five out of the ten tracks that make up 2013’s Kings & Queens – and even appearing in a welcomed (and essential) vocal guest spot on King Of The Comebacks.
I knew that Audio Adrenaline were not simply trying to cash-in on a brand, but I tried to keep my expectations for Kings & Queens at a minimum. Every record is something new; it could be wonderful, or it could fall flat on its face. It’s so tough to think of AA without Mark singing, or Tyler playing guitar, or Ben on the drums. Can I accept this? Do I even want to? Michael Tait started fronting the Newsboys a couple years ago with very muddied results. Why should KMax fronting AA be any different?
Let me simply say – it is different. Worlds different. Different in the best way possible.
Kings & Queens is in a solid running for record of the year. It’s only March. Let’s not get hasty, I know – but it’s in the running, no doubt. What we have here is very tight, super solid collection of ten songs that are unashamedly Christ-seeking in their nature, certainly aimed at a Christian marketplace – but done so much better than any other recent pop/rock records that have been released in the genre.
Lead single Kings & Queens is a half-ballad/half-rock song complete with strings…and enough emotion to make you get out your wallet and throw whatever cash you have in there into whatever donation box may be around. This may sound like a ploy on AA’s part – it’s not in the slightest. We’re so blessed in the United States, and these kinds in Haiti have next-to-nothing, and in 99% of the cases, nothing at all. We all need to do more. I need to do more. But the question is…will we actually get up and try to do something about it, or will we stay safe in our own little lives? Man, will I stay safe in my nice, little compact life? What’s it gonna take? I ask you these questions, and believe me, I ask them to myself at the exact same time. Seek this music video out. It’ll hopefully push you (and I) to make some of these things a reality. I want to live this life unsafe / Unsure, but not afraid / What I want is to give all I got somehow / Giving up / Letting go of control right now sings Kevin on the powerful track three, Believer. I ask us all again – what’s it gonna take?
The record itself kicks off with He Moves You Move, and if you’re anything like me, it’s gonna be tough to get past this track and listen to the rest of the record, because it’s just that upbeat and catchy. The whole thing is essentially perfect, but KMax’s vocals on the post-chorus just soar among the stars – it’s hard for me to get past it. I have an term that I overuse, and that term is “pop/rock perfection”. I can say very truthfully that I think I finally have a song that fits that description more than any other song I would try to attach it to. Pop/rock perfection – personified. I would be amiss not to also mention the album’s closer, The Answer, in this same breath of wording as well, because it boasts my favorite chorus on the record. It’s simple, powerful, driving, and across-the-board encouraging – And when I rise and when I fall / You are the Answer / I know it’s true ’cause I’ve tried it all / You are the Answer. I hear Kevin’s songwriting all over this, and in addition, it’s so fantastic to hear his attempts at a pure-pop vocal. He excels immaculately. Job well done. I have no criticism.
It’s so wonderful to hear tracks that just don’t completely blend together and sound the same. Change My Name, along with Seeker, have a bit of 80s influence to them (to my ear, anyway). King Of The Comebacks is a pop song with a little bit of funk and dance thrown in for good measure to spice it up. The re-imagining of Martin Smith’s Fire Never Sleeps simply works. It changes it up just enough to sound new, but not enough to make it seem like an overly artistic move. Kevin’s vocals are so strong – he’s taking aim at Bono on the likes of the aforementioned Fire Never Sleeps and the arena-ready I Climb the Mountain.
Audio Adrenaline 2.0 (or as I read somewhere else online, Audio K, which I think is a wonderful nickname) is alive and well. This is a blessed collective of artists who have come together for a genuine purpose, and have set the bar very high with their first release. They actually sound like a true band; not just some group of dudes that have been thrown together to make a record. Kings & Queens may have a very polished sound – nothing like the grit on older AA tracks like Will Not Fade or We’re A Band – but that’s because this is a band with a new direction and a new(er) sound. The past is the past, and this is the present. There’s a clean break here. I don’t know what I could have even suggested for a better execution.
Ten-Star ratings in my book are for records that appeal to my ear from star to finish, with no virtually favorite tracks on the record – just straight winners all the way though. Maybe some tracks edge others out, but they’re all wonderful – there’s not even an inch of filler in the mix. Can I slant them for bringing in other songwriters to write some of these? Fire Never Sleeps, Kings & Queens, and I Climb The Mountain don’t include any writing credits from the current AA members, and we see a strong presence from Me In Motion’s hit writing leader, Seth Mosley, on numerous tracks. I’ll dock them for that, simply because I can. I want terribly to give this a 10, but I’m refraining for the moment, just because it’s hard to give a record a perfect score – I don’t want to be making a snap judgement, no matter how positive it may be.
This is wonderful.
It’s anything but a letdown. This record deserves a 10.
I’m making a one-time exception and breaking the mold of suggesting two tracks, and this time, making it three.
If you had to listen to three tracks: He Moves You Move / Kings And Queens / The Answer