== Overview ==
Formed by a group of friends at Warner Pacific college in the US in 2001, Kutless comprise Jon Micah Sumrall (vocals), James Mead (guitar), Jeffrey "Gilberto" Gilbert (drums), Dave "Lucky" Luetkenhoelter (bass guitar) and Nick DePartee (guitar). Drawing inspiration from mainstream acts such as Linkin Park, Incubus, Nickelback and Staind, Kutless are one of the most successful christian rock acts around today proving that not all "church" music is sung by choirs! Although not particularly well known in the UK, you may have encountered their track "The Feeling" (from their latest album "To Know That You're Alive") whilst playing Rock Band 2 on the PS3, XboX and Wii. This review will cover the last album released by Kutless, called "Hearts of the Innocent".
== Tracklisting ==
~~~ Hearts of the Innocent ~~~
The eponymous title track starts with a heavy thrumming riff before being joined by the drummer which is then replaced by a more mellow sound as Jon Micah's vocals begin the first verse. A quick lament (two verses and a chorus with short musical interlude) on how the youth of today are taught to fail by the uncaring attitudes and behaviour of adults, Jon Micah's strained screaming chorus belies just how much he believes in the subject. This is a pounding introduction to the album and one of my favourites even better when performed live.
"And how it breaks me to see how we're living"
And punishing the ones that need us to care
To see them hurting
Feels like knuckles to the back of my head"
~~~ 2. Shut Me Out ~~~
Another overtly rock track, with a distinctive riff leading into a crunching thrum underlying a relatively softly sung verse which builds up towards the chorus which contains the same toe-tapping riff. Another short track, "Shut Me Out" talks of a man's determination to speak out his religious faith regardless of the complaints or insults he suffers at the hands of those who do not share his views. Jon Micah again blends well-sung verses with a punchy heart-felt hard-edged chorus to create another great track.
"I know my life and inside how I've changed
A testimony to the truth I speak"
~~~ 3. Beyond the Surface ~~~
The high tempo of the previous two tracks continues with classic rock-fuelled guitars driving this tune along with pace aplenty. The lyrics decry the modern fascination with appearance and celebrity and the damage such a fascination with skin-deep issues can cause us. Being only two verses and a chorus, this track hurtles towards its conclusion and yet despite being short it remains fully satisfying.
"Stop comparing who you are to who you want to be
Let's step out beyond the surface"
~~~ 4. Smile ~~~
After the high energy introduction, "Smile" is a relatively relaxed ballad which changes the pace of the album completely. Inspired by Kutless' constant and hectic touring schedule, "Smile" details the chance meeting of two strangers on a plane who instantly recognise that they share a common faith based on the smile of the title. Jon Micah again demonstrates that for all the rockstar yelling required of a rock n roll frontman, he can do soft and tuneful just as well. The guitar work is gentler than elsewhere on the album and works excellently with the vocals to produce a very well rounded tune, enhancing as opposed to emphasising. Longer than the previous three tracks, "Smile" features a bridge in addition to two verses and a chorus.
"I see what a smile can say about me
I know that words are not always what speak"
~~~ 5. Promise of a Lifetime ~~~
Another rock ballad which unusually begins with a restrained piano accompanying Jon Micah singing a "lullaby of pain". The quiet theme continues as restrained guitars join vocals and piano for the chorus before being replaced by a short strings section before the second verse. Despite being quieter than Kutless' usual rock output, I really like this tune as it discusses faith under pressure.
"I have fallen to my knees
As I sing a lullaby of pain
I'm feeling broken in my melody
As I sing to help the tears go away"
~~~ 6. Winds of Change ~~~
Starting deceptively with a very simple guitar and tambourine before being joined by Jon Micah in quiet mode, the tune meanders towards the chorus at which point the vocals revert to the strained effect of the first three tracks accompanied by a more distorted and heavy guitar. The song continues fluctuating between quiet and crisp verses and a more crunching, rocky chorus which works quite well. The lyrics are a plea from God for the listener to surrender themselves to Him so that they may be set free and overcome the snares and tribulations of life. Good but not great.
"Can you feel the pains in life?
Wrapped around you like they're chains
Restricting all your dreams"
~~~ 7. Somewhere in the Sky ~~~
Seemingly a return to the crashing rock earlier on, this tune starts with a thrumming guitar-heavy intro before mellowing for the first chorus and then blowing up again into another crescendo. Similar in tone to "Winds of Change" (quiet chorus, loud chorus), this track could almost be seen as a response to it; Jon Micah sings and screams about the way in which faith has freed him, allowing him to fly on the wind of change. My kids love this track because it includes some "screamo" (apparently that is best described screaming vocals to us over the age of 15!).
"Spread the word that a smile's not beyond us
This is a call to act and seize your day"
~~~ 8. Mistakes ~~~
A quiet piano and twanging guitar introduce this tune before being replaced by Jon Micah singing along with acoustic guitar and a violin providing a flourish at the end of each stanza. The chorus then brings all of these instruments back together in a pleasant but non-rock way! A heartfelt tune, "Mistakes" counsels us to learn from the mistakes of others and the hurt they have caused themselves by looking for meaning in all the wrong places. A great tune with some great lyrics, but this not a classic Kutless track.
"See these deep and painful scars
Cutting to the bone
Do you want to look like me
With a broken empty life?"
~~~ 9. Push Me Away ~~
The violin is gone, replaced by tingling guitar and restrained drum melding into a distorted dual-guitar effort accompanying the vocals in another slow number. And then come the chorus, CRUNCH the heavy distorted guitars are back to emphasise the harder-edged vocals before fading back into the upbeat twang of the chorus again. The seemingly contrasting musical styles actually work really well to emphasise a conversation between friends, the verses provide encouragement and offer help to a friend in need whilst the chorus confronts the same friend with their need to act and adjust their attitude as well. Cleverly done.
"Don't push me away
Condemn your pride
When tears start to fall then with you I will cry"
~~~ 10. Changing World ~~~
Really chilled, "Changing World" starts with twanging guitar on reverb and Jon Micah singing slowly about how he felt like he was master of his own destiny until God changed his plans. The chorus features violins and a heavy piano to accompany the more energetic vocals and somehow it all seems to just work. Although not the heavy rock I usually associate with Kutless, I really like this tune.
"The very fears which were gripping my mind
Are now the hands shaping and sculpting my dreams"
~~~ 11. Million Dollar Man ~~~
A warning about greed and lusting after material possessions, the million dollar man of the title has traded his family, his morals and his soul for wealth, cars and rings. The crunching guitars are back in a fairly slow-tempo tune turning what could have been a moral-laden ballad into a proper rock track complete with "screamo". Again this is a good track, but not a great one.
"He's a million dollar man
He's got everything he wanted
But now what he wants is what he had
But he threw it all away"
~~~ 12. Legacy ~~~
To finish the album, Kutless return to "proper" rock with a driving guitar score opening into the first verse before relenting slightly and then resurging into the chorus. Jon Micah urges the listener to change their life, letting the past go so that a legacy can be built of future accomplishments. A good end to the album as a brief lull in the bridge is shattered by a rock crescendo before moving back into a reprise of the chorus.
"Never try to blame the past for everything you say
You have the power you need to change your legacy"
== Conclusion ==
Kutless are one of my favourite groups and I have recently had the pleasure of attending their first ever gig at Alton Towers in May prompting me to review what I think is their finest album to date and as such have no hesitation recommending it to those who like rock but have never heard of Kutless. I have listened to "Hearts of the Innocent" many times since it was first released and it is easily one of my favourite rock albums as it survives repeat listening and features tunes which you can sing (or scream!) along with. This album is good verging on great, hence a B+
== Links ==
Kutless official website: www.kutless.com
Kutless Fan Forum: www.kutlessrocks.com
© ben-lloyd 2009. This review appears on other websites under the same username.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Hearts of the Innocent
2 Shut Me Out
3 Beyond the Surface
5 Promise of a Lifetime
6 Winds of Change
7 Somewhere in the Sky
9 Push Me Away
10 Changing World
11 Million Dollar Man