Live Life Loud!
Hawk Nelson have made a pretty good career out of being nice guys with a penchant for huge hooks and fresh-faced emo pop (with an emphasis on the "pop" side of things). The soaring melodies, the slick and processed guitars, and the massive vocal harmonies that fill their albums all seem to scream pop music, the easygoing vocals and often-inspirational lyrics of singer Jason Dunn smooth away any rough edges, and the unblinking avowal of their Christian beliefs (when so many CCM bands try to hide them in order to get crossover success) gives them some integrity. The band's fourth album, Live Life Loud! shows the band adding more ballads and midtempo tunes to their repertoire, though there are still plenty of their usual uplifting rockers present. The two songs that kick this album off, the title track and the ripping "Never Enough," are examples of the band at their best, bursting with energy and joy. So are the giddily poppy "Long Ago" and the surprisingly angry "The Job" (which somehow ends up sounding like a punk-pop version of the Replacements). When they bring the energy levels way down, the guys also show themselves to be pretty good mainstream pop/rock balladeers on "Stream," respectable country crooners on the heartfelt "The Final Toast," and happily worshipful (with bagpipes) churchgoers on "Tis So Sweet." The songs stuck in the middle aren't quite as successful, and when the group aren't rocking or slowing things way down by bringing in the acoustic guitars, they end up sounding pleasantly generic instead of inspiring or exciting. A middling Hawk Nelson are still a band worth checking out, though, and the strength of the bulk of the album means that Live Life Loud! is another excellent outing from one of the better CCM-pop bands around.