Release Date: October 22nd 2012
Reviewed by Joshua Andre
Singer songwriter Bebo Norman, with an almost 20 year career and many hit songs such as “Pull Me Out”, “Great Light Of The World”, “Disappear”, “God Of My Everything”, “Cover Me” and “I Will Lift My Eyes”; has been on quite a journey this past couple of years since 2010’s Ocean- “…the last few years have been pretty intense – a long, slow progression, or digression, into a spiritual desert. I struggled to write anything hopeful. But I wanted to be true to the season I was in, so I simply wrote about the hopelessness I was experiencing…”. With such a great extent of brutal honesty and transparentness that Bebo brings, there is also in this transparent experience, songs which focus on frailties of the human condition and the questions we all want answered but are too afraid to ask. A sense of real freedom in the 11 offerings from Lights Of Distant Cities and a stark change to some of the radio friendly albums he recorded in the past, is also shown; and this unique track list has given me an appreciation to listen to songs free from the expectation of radio and commercial success; as Bebo has said previously, that his career is past its commercial peak. Regardless of ‘tags’ and ‘brands’ though, and whether Lights Of Distant Cities receives any commercial or critical acclaim and success, Bebo’s new album is one to savour, and will show us parts of ourselves that we may not even be aware of. Such a revealing album, this one may be Bebo’s best and most exposed yet, propelling him to near the top of my favourite songwriters, along with Andrew Peterson, Brandon Heath, and Steven Curtis Chapman.
Because Bebo went into this recording process writing for himself, and what he was dealing with, as opposed to what he thought listeners would want to hear, as if there was no radio- “…we wanted to make a record true to the spirit of creativity and not the spirit of ‘what do people want to hear.’ In that sense, this record might be more honest than any I’ve ever written…”; there is a fair amount of musical diversity that one wouldn’t normally expect in this release. The enthralling opener which is title track opens with a synth undertone, and gradually grows into a guitar based anthem celebrating the lights and stars praising the nature of who God is, and what He has done for us! Especially in the chorus, I am extremely captivated by the imagery that Bebo expertly crafts as he proclaims ‘…You come alive like a melody, and You shine, You shine brighter than a new day, and I’ll sing along to the mystery, as the lights call out to the distant cities…’. Jesus’s trademark stamp is all over creation, and all we have to do is look, as see his handwork cry out that He is Lord. “The Broken” follows suit, and though a bit mellower, is equally as adventurous musically. With a banjo present creating a folk acoustic atmosphere, this upbeat bright melody, with a pulsating drum beat, showcases poignant lyrics and emotional vocals. With Bebo crying out and expressing his questions to God ‘…God of the universe, do You hear the cries that pour out from the earth, can Your hands of glory reach down and heal the hurt of the broken?…’, we are met with utter confusion to suffering in the world, and a sense of desperation, yet this first single is not sung in bitterness, but a sense of true longing to understand the heart of the Father who’s plans are far greater than our own. Well done on such a confronting track.
After these two near flawless tracks, Bebo’s song writing is taken to another level in “At The End Of Me”, depicting how broken we are as people ‘… I’m like a promise…broken every time I open my mouth…for such a long time…such an uphill climb to find… I’m so over myself…’, and how much we need Jesus. As dark as the verses are though, is as bright as the chorus is, as Bebo reminds us that Jesus knows our inner most secrets and fears, and promises that when we cannot go on, He can, and that ‘…at the end of me, that’s where You start…’. Such a comforting ballad is also impressive as Bebo’s passionate vocals mixed in with some strong guitar work, and a bass riff that is mesmerising are included in this album highlight! The acoustic “Daylight Breaking” follows and what we hear is a raw, intimate story that is very haunting in the guitar plucking that is throughout. About how in the hopeless and darkest of situations, we can hold on and look to God and ‘…see the daylight breaking…’; this uplifting and motivational potential single is encourages and gives us all hope that there is light at the end of the tunnel, which is Jesus! “World Gone Dark”, another acoustic type track is littered with electronic effects layered on Bebo’s voice and hand claps and other unique instruments, and we are shown a musical experience reminding me of Rend Collective Experiment’s offerings. As Bebo prayerfully cries out ‘…in the world gone dark, I want to feel a spark…’, this unequivocal intense longing and yearning to feel Jesus’ presence is contrasted in my favourite song on the album, “Sing Of Your Glory”.
In a recent interview, Bebo had a special place in his heart for this middle track of the album: “…As I continued to write, I felt very alone in the verses, and they became a quick and honest outpouring of feeling very spiritually isolated from God. But when I was back home alone in my writing room I kept coming back to this chorus that was ironically the most worshipful of the entire record…Sing of Your Glory is probably one of my favorite songs on the record, mostly I think because of the stark contrasts in the song. It is perhaps the darkest song on the record in lyrical content, ripe with the deepest of my fears that tend me so often toward spiritual despair. But it is also possibly the most worshipful song on the record because…it is my reminder to sing always of the goodness of God, regardless of my temporal emotions…”. With such exposure vulnerability in the song, and a swelling crescendo, accompanied with sublime piano work, and emotional and heartfelt lyrics, especially as Bebo declares in the bridge ‘…oh God of Light, of ancient skies, I sing it out, You’re alive…I sing of Your glory now and forever…’; Bebo reminds us all that God is, and always will be in the future, so we can praise Him in our dark times, and give everything to the Author of all of our plans. Definitely this would be a hard song to sing, given to dark subject matter in the verses, but it gives me hope and comfort as well to know that Jesus is, and doesn’t depend on our circumstances, therefore nor should our faith be shaken by them!
The last half of the album is just as compelling as the first. The acoustic driven ballad “Collide”, the first song Bebo and Gabe Scott wrote together; is based on building kingdoms in this life, and worshipping material things, and how humans can never be satisfied with earthy possessions. Like how the Israelites built the Tower of Babel in Genesis; what we have on this Earth cannot satisfy or sustain us, but as Bebo cleverly points out as the laid back song progresses, Jesus is the One we can search for and find rest and peace in: “…there’s that underlying, undeniable truth the despite our best effort to find our value in pretty much everything else, there is rest in wait for us at the end of our search, in the infinite patience of God…”. “Wine From Water” speaks about Bebo’s wife and the struggles of marriage in general, either in his own life or friends and family, or other people that he knows ‘…So I won’t say anything, when the silence is threatening, there are miracles still unseen, we are wine from water…’. Again another acoustic guitar only track like “Daylight Breaking”; this song reminds me that God can achieve the impossible, and we can rely on Him to make a bad situation turn good, just like how He created wine from water in John 2:1-11.
One thing I am always fascinated and amazed by is Bebo’s constant dependable poetic imagery and writing, which is further on display in “Go With You”, the album closer, and “Just A Glimpse”. “Go With You” is a personal story about family, about being content in life, because of the promises and good things that God gives us, and the reference of ‘going with you’ is clearer in the verses when Bebo explicitly talks about the relationship with his wife, and staying committed to her for a lifetime. “Just a Glimpse” is more upbeat, with a probability of being a single very likely in my opinion. A piano pop tune at heart, “Just a Glimpse” is a prayer to God to reveal more of Himself to us, to our hearts, so that we can be more in love with Him every day, and that we can see that ‘…the veil would fall, and all that seemed hidden was here all along, and You’d take me back, back to the start, lost in Your affection, lost enough to find again the light that steals away the dark…’. Jesus is revealing Himself to his children everyday, and this revealing and confronting track is a desire to bask more in His presence so that we can’t live or breathe without Him. What a fantastic worship song!
Yet the most illuminating and brutally transparent song is “Outside Her Window Was The World”, as Bebo sings about a girl cutting herself and feeling suicidal, and that feeling based on a tragic circumstance in her life ‘…she took a broken piece of glass and held it in her hand, sharp as a razor and a wire, from the ground, it was a broken piece of love that she tried to cover up, and outside her window was the world…’. While the piano centred verse seems to be morbid, suddenly the chorus breathes new life into this ballad, as Bebo cries out that Jesus heals wounds so deep, and replaces and restores hurting and broken hearts; and this girl (whether she is hypothetical or not), is free to live fully in Jesus, as He is the Redeemer! We can truly declare ‘…come on, set fire, burn through the wreckage, leave it all behind…’!
“…Like the lights of distant cities we’ve dreamed of and never seen, this record is a nod to all that draws us forward in life, that stirs our hearts and peaks our imaginations to remind us that there is still so much to be hopeful for. This record is an invitation to dive into the mysteries of this world with complete confidence in the simple goodness of God…”- Bebo Norman is one of the most seasoned, accomplished and professional singer/songwriters Christian music has ever produced, on par with the likes of writers Jason Gray, Andrew Peterson and Steven Curtis Chapman. With a myriad of genres explored in this authentic and candid tapestry of interconnecting themes and melodies, Bebo has given us 11 thoughtful and pleasing treasures, with plenty to extract and explore after each successive listen. While the 2012 October release date is full of many lyrical gems, such as Newsboys, Hyland, and Jonathan Thulin; Bebo’s release is bound to garner some buzz, and Lights Of Distant Cities is one of the most lyrically sound and vulnerable albums I have heard in a while! Hats off to Bebo, for making an album true to yourself, and for constructing and fashioning epic moments of total sincerity that we can all relate to!
- Lights of Distant Cities
- The Broken
- At The End of Me
- Daylight Breaking
- World Gone Dark
- Sing of Your Glory
- Wine From Water
- Outside Her Window Was The World
- Just A Glimpse
- Go With You
Favourite Tracks: The Broken, At The End of Me, Sing Of Your Glory, Outside Her Window Was The World, Just A Glimpse