In 1999 Audio Adrenaline released their fifth studio album, UNDERDOG (ForeFront Records). It was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Rock Gospel Album. The band’s roster at the time was: Mark Stuart (lead vocals), Bob Herdman (keyboards, guitars, acoustic guitar, backing vocals), Will McGinniss (bass, backing vocals), Tyler Burkum (lead guitars, backing vocals), and Ben Cissell (drums).
Starting things off is ‘Mighty Good Leader’, a nifty, upbeat pop/rock song school spirit squads could put to good use. It was actually inspired by lyrics from an old black spiritual. It offers hope through Christ: “What you need is a friend/Someone who loves you/Who is above you/Take away all your sin/Help is on the way (2X)/A mighty good leader is on the way/He’s the only one gonna come to save the day/It’s all right, yeah, uh-huh, it’s OK/’Cause a mighty good leader is on the way”. The title track, ‘Underdog’, is a lively pop/rock gem which is one of five singles from the album. This song could have easily been written by the apostle Paul: “I’m in this race to win a prize/The odds against me/The world has plans for my demise/But what they don’t see is/That a winner is not judged by his small size/But by the Substitute he picks to run the race/And mine’s already won”.
‘Get Down’ won a Dove Award for Rock Recorded Song of the Year. The band wrote it in a van on the way to a writing retreat camp at Hume Lake in California. It speaks of God’s faithfulness to us: “In your weakness He is stronger/In your darkness He shines through/When you’re crying He’s your comfort/When you’re all alone, He’s carrying you.../This valley is so deep/I can barely see the sun/I cry out for mercy, Lord/And You lift me up again”. ‘Good Life’ is a melodic ballad that begins with these words many of us can relate to: “I’ve watched my dreams all fade away/And blister in the sun/Everything I’ve ever had is unraveled and undone/I’ve set upon a worthless stack of my ambitious plans/The people that I’ve loved the most have turned their backs and ran”.
Pete Townshend wrote ‘Let My Love Open the Door’. It originally appeared on his 1980 album EMPTY GLASS. Great Big Sea and M. Ward are among those who have covered it. Audio A’s version seems to find God lovingly speaking to a person: “I’ve got the only key to your heart/I can stop you from falling apart/Release yourself from the misery/Only one thing gonna set you free/It’s my love (4X)”. Next up is ‘Hands and Feet’. Charlie Peacock co-wrote it with four of the band members. It was inspired by a mudslide that wiped out a village in Central America. This now famous mission oriented anthem includes these words: “I want to be Your hands/I want to be Your feet/I’ll go where You send me (2X)/And I’ll try, yeah I’ll try/To touch the world like You touched my life/And I’ll find my way/To be Your hands”.
‘Jesus Movement’ is a light, breezy pop song on which Mark Stuart plays harp. The song also finds a couple of The O.C. Supertones playing trumpet and trombone and Claudia Tapia providing a spoken Spanish vocal. The song reminds us that Christ has followers all around the world and celebrates that fact: “Everywhere I go I can see/I’m not the only one moving, yeah/Moving to Jesus/I went down to Mexico/Mi amigo/I found Jesus living outside the U.S.A./Imagine my surprise.../Oh the joy that filled my heart/To know that I’m just a part/Of a bigger and better body/All the way”. ‘DC-10’ is a curious swing version of a song from the band’s debut album. It encourages us to think about where we will spend eternity: “If a DC-10 ever fell on your head/Laying in the ground all messy and dead/Or a Mack truck run over you/Or you suddenly die in your Sunday pew/Do you know where you’re gonna go? (4X)/Straight to Heaven or down the hole?”
A modernized, laid back version of ‘It is Well With My Soul’, featuring The Nashville String Machine, follows. Guest vocals by Jennifer Knapp are a nice touch. Essentially this hymn is a song of testimony: “My sin, O the bliss of this glorious thought/My sin not in part but the whole/Is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more/Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!” ‘This Day’ is a song of whole-hearted devotion to Christ: “It’s 6 a.m./I’m so tired/The alarm sounds/A new day begins/Before I go/And disturb this peaceful moment/I look to You/I want to say a prayer before my feet can hit the ground/Lord, I give this day to You”.
‘It’s Over’ is an intimate, yet rock number, that is addressed to the band’s concert audiences: “This room will be empty soon/When the music and laughter is gone/This night will be forgot/But the joy you’ve found can go on/Say goodnight to all the friends/Who rocked and rolled beside you/We hope you’ve enjoyed the show/It’s over, it’s over/It’s all over now/The lights come down/Don’t lose your glow/When it’s over, it’s over/It’s all over now/Is it over?/Or has it just begun?” Bob Herdman takes over the microphone on ‘The Houseplant Song’. It is a hilarious story song that pokes fun at the theory that if you expose houseplants to rock and roll they won’t thrive and therefore the rock and roll beat is evil, regardless of what lyrics you attach to it!
UNDERDOG showcases Audio Adrenaline as a pop/rock group who deliver fun, accessible, catchy songs with a Christian faith message. The album celebrates Jesus Christ as ready, willing, and able to help us navigate through and conquer life’s problems. This is a good album to counter discouragement and doubt. This project does not quite have as much of the straight ahead rock sounds of say, 1996’s BLOOM, but it has terrific commercial appeal and youth should gravitate towards it. I’m rating UNDERDOG 96%. For more info visit: www.audioa.com.