For King and Country is a CCM band known for their explosive live shows and extensive use of percussion. They also released their sophomore album Run Wild. Live Free. Love Strong in the summer of 2014. Expectations for their second full length album were high with all of the momentum the band had gained after being a part of the Winter Jam Tour Spectacular just 2 years earlier. There were a multitude of people waiting to hear more from the Australian duo who captured the attention of listeners in early 2011, but could their album release deliver?
The tension leading up to the release of the album was palpable. Fifteen-second teaser clips of new songs were being released almost weekly, leaving the most avid fans piecing together these snippets in an attempt to have a sneak preview of the title track “Run Wild”. Fix My Eyes, the album’s radio single, quickly took over CCM radio after just a few hours of being available to the public. The publicity the project was receiving was that of a much older, much more experienced band, yet For King and Country had only spent a couple of years in the main Christian media spotlight. For many artists, the term “sophomore slump” comes to mind with this type of anticipation. The feeling of let down that fans get after the second album from an up and coming artist leaves them less satisfied than the first. However, For King and Country would prove this notion false upon release day.
The title track, “Run Wild.” featured Reach Record artist Andy Mineo. This would seem to be a peculiar pairing given For King and Country’s signature sound. Upon reviewing the artist features when I first received the album, I have to admit that I was rather skeptical about Mineo’s cameo on the track. The two’s music had no obvious chemistry or relationship to the other. Throughout the track I found myself anticipating Andy’s appearance. The melodic tone of the tune did not offer an apparent space for a rap. The constant metaphors that the lyrics used to point to an imprisoned state of being for a human gave vivid imagery to the listener. It allowed them to connect with the song’s message and acted as an emotional tether to the feelings of the writer. It was after being enwrapped in this that I noticed Andy had already begun his appearance on the track. To my surprise his entrance was made seamless by the signature percussion that For King and Country is known for. The steady break down of the verse allowed Andy to flow easily into the piece and continue the pattern of vivid imagery in the first verse. It was quite an impressive musical feat to say the least. No momentum was lost in the transition. This was not the theme for the rest of the album.
The next track, Fix My Eyes, functioned as the album’s radio single. Its familiarity gave listeners the chance to sing along to the infectious erythematic quality of the track. The same catchy toe, tapping timing, went on during To The Dreamers, a rather light hearted selection that encouraged the listener to follow their dreams despite set backs. The rest of the album becomes a bit of an emotional roller coaster due to the theme of each track. After To The Dreamers was the emotionally fueled, piano laden balled Shoulders. The song itself is elegantly written, but comes from a place of deep vulnerability that brings memories of pain for those who can relate. This emotional stress was elevated by the interruption of No Turning Back. While a slight reprieve, the roller coaster of emotion that is this album resumed with Without You featuring front man, Luke Smallbone’s, wife, who in this track is only known as Courtney. It is no secret that Luke’s battle with a digestive illness earlier in the year almost cost him his life, but this song brings the struggle to light. However, its placement within the album seemed almost awkward with its stark contrast to the previous upbeat track. It seems as though the track listing caused unneeded turmoil to the listener who, after hearing No Turning Back, felt as though they could leap for joy. The duet between wife and her once ill husband easily pulled at the heartstrings of those who understood the lyrics. This memory of Luke’s near death experience is concluded with sentiment that neither was ready to continue without their loved one in their lives. This is ironically proceeded by the upbeat melody of “Long Live”, which showcases the band’s percussion skills, but feels extremely separated from the heartfelt lyrics of Without You. The song order gave no time to process, come to terms with, or digest the heavy themes of the previous songs. It proves to be a rather bumpy road for listeners even though the songs and lyrics were perfectly written. While not one syllable was wasted, there was some difficulty digesting their meaning due to the shock of tempo and volume change within the song progression.
The album proceeds to take a break from its rather bumpy journey of emotional development by mellowing the tunes out towards the end of the album. Even though each song carried a strong message, and each had many impressive musical aspects, as a whole they were rather bland compared to the album’s earlier movements. Now, do not be confused, the ending of the album was not unimpressive, or remotely bad, just anticlimactic. It’s Not Over Yet brought the life the tail end of the CD by displaying the percussion, lyrical prowess, and upbeat demeanor that can be found in For King and Country’s live show. It was the type of song that served as a prime example for the band’s sound. Finally the anthem O God Forgive Us, ended the album with the proclamation that the band itself stands behind. That none of them are perfect and still need the guidance and forgiveness of the Creator.
Sophomore slump is not the term that I would use for this album. In many ways it was quite the opposite. Compared to their debut album, Run Wild. Live Free. Love Strong. , definitely served as a milestone in musical development for the group. It was a marker in their ability as a whole to make the act of listening to their music not just a pastime, but an experience. While the emotional roller coaster that was the middle of the album may not have been very subtle, it is important to remember why. By evoking the emotions that caused the disconnect between songs to be relevant, the band pulled its listeners in and did something much better than creating a catchy song. It made them feel something, and that is no easy feat. It allowed space for the band’s live show to be even more explosive than it could have been in with the previous album. Overall For King Country’s sophomore album was a wild success.