Sounds like … other multi-artist compilations inspired by movies, like Jesus: The Epic Mini Series, The Apostle, and The Prince of Egypt.
At a glance … unlike the film that inspired it and despite having its moments, this compilation looks grand in the storyboard yet falls short once executed.
Whenever a record label sets out to assemble a compilation based on the life of Christ, problems are bound to arise. Since the gospel affects people from varied racial and ethnic backgrounds, not everybody responds to it in similar ways—and that in turn can affect the continuity and congruency of any "various artists" project. Some are moved deeply and react emotively. Some are touched intellectually, and react accordingly. Some even respond superficially, going about their daily business as if they'd just simply heard a nice story.
That's the feel one gets with The Passion of The Christ: Songs, a multi-artist collaboration crafted in response to the Mel Gibson epic film. Featuring an eclectic array of artists, this album is the debut offering from the Lost Keyword imprint, a new outlet created by Christian-friendly Wind-Up Records to accommodate albums that do not fall under the rock umbrella. Strategically timed to hit store shelves on the day the Passion DVD drops (August 31), Songs is the third Passion-themed recording approved by Gibson—the first two were the original soundtrack and a low-profile country compilation—and not surprisingly, it's the most uneven of the three. It's unfocused because it covers all the genres left unturned by the other two albums and gathers them piecemeal with very little sense of direction.
The album opens strongly with "I See Love," a picture-perfect pop-rock anthem manned by Steven Curtis Chapman, Third Day's Mac Powell, and MercyMe's Bart Millard; the tune examines the different characters that people see in Jesus: a teacher, a healer, a dreamer, a "fool dying for his dream," according to the lyrics. "But I see Love, light of heaven breaking through." This early high is quickly dulled by the unimpressive "Relearn Love," the much-publicized solo debut of former Creed frontman Scott Stapp. The song's theme is noble—how Christ's love helps reshape our own view of love—but the melody and structure of the song are unorthodox and even awkward. Despite its lyrical brevity, P.O.D.'s "Truly Amazing" is up next, recalling the haunting balladry from their Satellite days. Things flow well until the duet between Brad Paisley and Sara Evans kicks in, a heartfelt country lullaby recounting a dialog between a questioning Mary and her loving son Jesus, but that feels misplaced in the context of the three rock-laced tracks preceding it.
Stronger than anything on their major label debut, Big Dismal's "Rainy Days" brims with melodic confidence and wisely sidesteps the marked Creed pretensions the band was previously indicted for. At this point, the pacing suffers one more time with Lauryn Hill's "The Passion," her first composition since 2002's anticlimactic Unplugged album; the cut itself is percussive and organic, but the undermixed vocals make Hill sound tired and noncommittal as she repeatedly sings, "If they only showed love like this before."
Perhaps the most explicit reaction to the movie is Kirk Franklin and Yolanda Adams' "How Many Lashes," a first-person confessional in which Franklin likens Jesus' lashings to each of his sins, while Adams' vocal ad-libs punctuate the guilt even further. The powerful impact of the song quickly fades as MxPx's rough-around-the-edges "The Empire" and Charlotte Church's saccharine "Finding My Own Way" try to find their place amidst the other stylistic choices. If not for Tonic bassist Dan Lavery, who turns in a surprisingly good classic rock performance with "To Give Love" (and sounding every bit as gritty as PFR's Joel Hanson in the process), the inconsistencies would outweigh the few inspired moments.
I guess my biggest qualm with The Passion of The Christ: Songs is how tamely it reflects the flurry of emotions that the film elicits. A number of lyrics even verge on antiseptic religious pop, like the airy "Finding My Own Way" or Big Dismal's passionless "Reason I Live," two tracks that aren't necessarily strong, faith-affirming statements. Considering that Gibson's cinematic experience requires a lot from the viewer, it's a disappointment that this collection demands so little involvement from the listener, at times sounding more like the soundtrack to one of those harmless Lifetime original movies than an aural testament to the greatest sacrifice of all.