This is what happens when one of the biggest-selling artists in Christian music reworks the genre’s first landmark album.
Dealing with whether to re-record it straight or reinvent it, the former dc Talk singer Kevin Max walks a fine line. He respectfully keeps the original spirit of Larry Norman’s Only Visiting This Planet, but updates some sounds and references (eg Janis Joplin becomes Kurt Kobain in ‘Reader’s digest’).
Newcomers may be surprised to find songs about how faith addresses the whole of life: sex, addictions, politics, war, racism, culture, hypocrisy and nationalism for starters, with dedication to Jesus being the answer to our spirits’ hunger. ‘The outlaw’ is arguably one of the very best songs written about Jesus’ life.
Those who already love Norman’s classic album should find plenty to enjoy in this re-creation, including a fuller sound to protest song ‘The great American novel’ and a glam drum chassis to an energised ‘Righteous rocker #1’ (but they will be frustrated by ‘I’ve got to learn to live without you’ lasting just 91 seconds). Max refrains from overdoing his distinctive vocal vibrato and seems completely at home in these songs.
The iconic, but theologically slim, ‘I wish we’d all been ready’ is only available on the vinyl version, but added across all formats is the worthwhile ‘God part IV’ – Max’s own continuation of the Lennon, U2, Norman song conversation.
Kevin Max wanted a new generation to hear what they were missing, as America’s Christian radio stations appear reluctant to replay Larry Norman’s classic records. He’s done a fine job. Norman would have loved it.