‘God’s Great Dance Floor’ | Martin Smith [Review]
I’ve been sitting on this album for a while now, listening to it casually from time to time, knowing that its release was still some time away. Then all of a sudden it snuck up on me and I knew I should get serious about listening so that I could get serious about writing. It’s a good thing that I did because God’s timing is not ours and as I began really listening to this record I found myself in a state of mind that allowed it to strike a chord with me that it hadn’t during previous listens. Feeling a bit nostalgic, I was immediately transported back in time to Cutting Edge-era Delirious? and my own journey from there to now.
For the uninitiated, Martin Smith is the founder and lead singer of the UK worship band Delirious? whose afore-mentioned debut record Cutting Edge was released in the U.S. back in 1997. The ensuing years saw the band release an additional eight studio albums and six live albums before calling it quits in April of 2010. The band’s other members have gone on to continue making music in other bands or collaborations with one another. Smith has kept a relatively lower profile, choosing to focus on charity work and songwriting. In 2012, he appeared on the Jesus Culture album, Live from New York and released his own series of 4 EPs, God’s Great Dance Floor Movements 1-4, which serve as the source material for this record.
Not wholly unfamiliar
These songs won’t be wholly unfamiliar. Several of them appeared on the Jesus Culture album. “Fire Never Sleeps” was covered by the newly reformed Audio Adrenaline on their Kings and Queens record. “Waiting Here for You” was performed by Christy Nockels on her 2012 Into the Glorious album as well as the preferable rendition on the Passion album Here for You (2011). Perhaps most notably, the lead track on the latest Passion album “God’s Great Dance Floor” (Let the Future Begin, 2013) is heard here under the title “Back to the Start.”
Smith collaborated with a number of songwriters on these tracks. The ever-prolific Chris Tomlin co-writes on six of the songs. Tim (“Happy Day”) Hughes also weighs in with songwriting credit on two tracks.
The album opens with the acoustic guitar/synthesizer beat of the incredibly catchy chorus to “Awake My Soul.” The spoken-word-quasi-rap of the verse is a strange juxtaposition to the melodic chorus. The chorus is great enough to make me ignore that, though, and the “love is in the air” bridge really brings it home.
On “Fire Never Sleeps,” I’ve gone back and forth between Martin Smith’s version and Audio Adrenaline’s take. I think that the instrumentation/production here is a little too thin while I think that Kevin Max’ (AudioA) vocals are too “syrupy” (listen to it, you’ll hear what I mean). If I could drop Martin’s vocal onto AudioA’s band track, it would be perfect.
“Waiting Here for You” is an amazing slow-burner. Guest vocals by Sarah Bird (who I can’t find any solid information on other than a goofy YouTube clip) are incredible. The way the song builds to its driving final chorus and harmony vocals makes it the definitive recording of the song.
A better version
It’s a real shame to me that most people are probably going to be most familiar with (and perhaps most loyal) to Chris Tomlin’s take on “Back to the Start (God’s Great Dance Floor).” That loyalty may be, for many, born out of their personal experience at the latest Passion Conference. That experience could hardly be compared with Smith’s version. Tomlin’s version kicks up the pace at the 45 second mark and begins surging forward urging us all to bounce up and down. Smith’s mellow, introspective sound doesn’t open up until around 2:50 and still has another 2 emotive minutes before kicking out the dance jams. What’s the big deal? Here’s my beef: Smith’s track takes listeners on an emotional, cathartic journey of restoration. Tomlin just says “let’s have fun; now jump around.” It’s a crime against a perfect song.
To me, “Jesus of Nazareth” and “Soldiers” signify missteps in the creative process here. They seem out of place and just a little bit hokey when mixed in with such personal and challenging songs, while the remaining songs resonate with the overall message of the record.
On the whole, the concept of “Back to the Start” really is the ethos of the album. It is [BUZZ WORD ALERT] authentic and relevant to the core. It resonates with those broken places in your spirit and gently guides you back to hope. But when it gets you there, it kindly slaps you on the back and says “start smiling, God is good.”