I’m interested in songs that marry excellent music with theological or biblical lyrics. These are both badly needed in a culture where music often lacks musical creativity, and lyrics prefer general expressions of praise and worship to the exclusion of richer biblical and theological themes. Artists are faced with a challenge to keep their music accessible to audiences while at the same time making a significant musical and lyrical contribution. I want to lift out songs that do both; songs that marry excellent, passionate, and accessible music with distinctive lyrical themes that mine less explored corners of scripture or theology.
This week I’m focusing on a well-known artist in Contemporary Christian Music, Toby Mac, who released his latest full-length record This Is Not a Test earlier this year. Many artists are able to generate quality music for two or three records, but then slowly fade away creatively. Only the best can keep going as long as Toby Mac, a professional career that now stretches over 25 years including his DC Talk days. His music is still new, fresh, and relevant.
The last song on the standard record format is called Undeniable. It is not the best song musically on the record; I give that to the song Move (Keep Walking). But it is excellent, and worth singling out.
The music sets up with unison background vocals humming a haunting motif, a signature technique that runs through much of the record. A verse-chorus pattern follows, with Toby speaking/rapping the verse and singing on the chorus, “undeniable you are, (you are). Unmistakable you are, (you are). You’re the bright and morning star, but still you speak to my heart. Undeniable you are, (you are)”. The lyrics on the chorus are simple, authentic and vertical praise and worship. It declares the fundamental paradox of God’s nature – that He is both transcendent (huge) and eminent (near to us) at the same time. But the chorus is only the backdrop to the greater development throughout the song – which is what makes the song shine.
In the first verse he acknowledges occasional doubt, with faith restored when he encounters the beauty of the world around him coupled with the truth of his personal transformation. The second verse accelerates this thought with the theme of beauty in creation, “from the hills of Negril, Jamaica”, and the power of personal miracles, “to the kid the doctor said would never make it”. Each of us can identify with the tension of strong faith and occasional doubt in our lives, despite the evidence of God’s fingerprints all around us.
For the bridge the music breaks down to a hush as he begins to speak out, “from the hymns that my daddy sang, I know I was made to glorify your name. And from the prayers that my momma prayed, I know I was made to glorify your name.” He repeats this theme building a steady crescendo that carries that song to a whole new level (which is where I was hooked on my first listen). But it’s the pairing of the lyrics with the musical development that make this section (and perhaps the entire song) fantastic. Little musical touches that add layers to the music, giving the listener something new on each repetition (for instance, in the bridge listen to the introduction of a bell on every other beat 4). Here he comes back to the chorus, which is followed by another breakdown with a children’s choir – great touch. From there the song concludes repeating first two lines from the first verse.
This week my recommendation goes to Toby Mac’s Undeniable. Buy it or stream it from your favorite electronic music provider, or support your local Christian store with your cd purchase. Or catch it at the link below.