The Afters were one of those rare acts, when they debuted in 2005, who left an impression on pop/contemporary fans and some indie fans alike. Their accessibility and winning single "Beautiful Love" garnered them success on MTV and even placement for the song as a TV show theme. But before too long, news of The Afters began to slow, especially as the guys started work on a follow-up for 2007, which would ultimately be delayed until early this year. Their sophomore effort, Never Going Back To OK, is a strong collection of a dozen tracks that continue what the guys began with I Wish We All Could Win and take a few steps further.
The album mixes some familiarity with new territory for this Dallas, Texas foursome, immediately throwing a deliciously bizarre curveball with the Beatles-esque opener "The Secret Parade." When listening to such a start, bands like dc Talk come to mind as they offered something completely different when their 1995 album Jesus Freak released. What's important to note is that as the album progresses and The Afters shift gears from rock anthems to alternative rock to ballads and even pop, the guys pull off each style masterfully. Never Going Back To OK is a fitting title for a band that was determined not to release a stinker for a sophomore record when many bands who come out of the gate with a stellar debut tend to drop the ball or crack under pressure on the second try.
But "The Secret Parade" is thematically a bit of a tongue-in-cheek look at the state of the church throughout history. A theme that, interestingly enough, is followed by the rocking title track which is about living life to the fullest and never being content to stay where you're at in life. "Keeping Me Alive" opens with an almost U2, "Beautiful Day" piano solo, before ending any similarities and giving way to more of a classic Afters sound. Lyrically, the song shows the first hints of the worshipful heart that the debut so boldly possessed. While that is something that's missed on this album, The Afters are a band whose honesty remains pure from song to song. Even when they're going for something more lighthearted, it feels natural for them, and it's important that the band didn't force themselves to pen blatant worship or praise songs like those on the previous record. Still, spiritual themes are a thread that run throughout this album's duration - from brokenness in "Tonight" to boldly living out our faith in "We Are The Sound" to finding life in Christ through surrender in "Falling Into Place" and finding God's meaning for our lives in the Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy-inspired "Forty-Two." Nearly each track reinforces the theme for seizing the day and how our lives in Christ come into play.
It says a lot for an album when the only thing even remotely wrong with a record is when a song - despite how good it might be - is seemingly completely out of place. "Myspace Girl" is an infectious pop tune inspired by the true story of the band's former bassist who met a girl at an In-N-Out, fell in love at first sight, but never had the guts to talk to her. He later tracked her down on Myspace and they eventually got together and married. The song is rather silly - unlike any other track on the album, and if it weren't for its validity as a true story, would be a completely out-of-character song for The Afters. The other problem is it immediately follows the beautiful ballad "Ocean Wide," which was inspired by the broken marriage of a friend of the theirs. While "Myspace Girl" is a good song in and of itself, it just feels misplaced on the record, especially with serious and poignant themes surrounding it.
To roundout what is otherwise one of the most solid alternative / pop rock albums of its kind to come along in recent memory, the emotionally charged "Summer Again" is a moving ballad that songwriter and vocalist Joshua Havens admits has a meaning that's open to interpretation. While it appears at times to be about the loss of a loved one, the song also suggests a theme of renewal and redemption, partly exemplified through the imagery of the changing seasons. Never Going Back To OK then closes on a high note as it takes the album out in an almost similar fashion to how it began. The song thematically poses the question of where you stand in life, perhaps even spiritually, as the verses ponder, "Eyes are on you / The pressure is on / Where will you stand when the lines have been drawn... / No you can't pretend that forever / Will never come knocking at your door." It's a great way to leave the album with plenty for the listener to chew on after the last note has been played.
Never Going Back To OK is a diverse sophomore effort from The Afters that makes time for the serious and the beautiful, all the while providing a great deal of thematic substance for the music listener to consider. With each spin, Never Going Back To OK only gets increasingly more enjoyable as the album really is all that we've been waiting for (and more) from The Afters. It's musically rich with in texture and production, thoughtfully written and performed. As 2008 is already off to a great start with memorable new music, consider the latest from The Afters to not only be right up there near the top of the list of highlights, but chalk it up as a favorite for the year.- PReview date: 1/19/08, Review date: 2/24/08, written by John DiBiase of Jesusfreakhideout.com
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