Warning: the moment you start to listen to the infectious new MercyMe album, you’re going to do a double take. The funk, dance pop, ‘80s flavors, power ballads and arena anthems will have you convinced you accidentally switched back to Top 40 radio, but Lifer (FairTrade Services, March 31, 2017—buy) is a loaded pop music set, anchored in current flavors that actually connect to the band’s childhood listening habits.
More than its pop palette, Lifer is a continuation of a journey of freedom for MercyMe, one that began with 2014’s Welcome To The New (buy). According to front man Bart Millard, MercyMe learned to “stop caring in a good way.” Ever since, they’ve been committed to one thing: making music on their own terms. Fortunately the end result sounds as good, and hip, as ever before.
CCM: Lifer feels more Top 40 to us than anything you guys have previously recorded. Does this mean that’s what you were listening to as you recorded it? Does this involve more confidence to explore?
Bart Millard: I love pop music and I always have. Some people think writing pop music is like shooting fish in a barrel, but I think it’s the hardest music to write. It stands for popular music. You’re trying to make music that appeals to the masses, so it’s hard to do sometimes. I’m amazed at what sticks and what doesn’t.
This album definitely feels current, but I think it’s because everything that’s current actually hearkens back to everything I loved about music growing up. All of the guys in the band are into different kinds of music, but Barry [Graul], our bass player, is the king of funk. So we started doing the song “Lifer” and it has this Maroon 5 or Bruno Mars vibe, and a lot of that stuff takes me back to the funk/disco stuff my older brother was playing for me. I fell in love with that stuff when they came out with it, because it reminded me of something else.
I don’t know if it’s a confidence level or whether we just stopped caring in a good way of what people thought we should do or say or sing. Because on every album we’ve done, there’d be a funk-type of song that always gets thrown out there by one of us, and then we’ll get talked off the ledge—or we talk ourselves off the ledge—saying, “C’mon man, that’s not what they expect from the guys who wrote ‘I Can Only Imagine.’ We need another power ballad.” So it’s always been there, but I think because it’s become very popular in pop music, there’s a sense of a green light. It’s like, “You know what? We can do this. Why can’t we?” As long as we try to do it well and it’s convincing, then let’s do it. Who cares?
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