Surrounded by Mediocrity?
[Originally posted on Amazon.com, December 13, 2006]
I’ve never been a big fan of Men of Standard. I had a college friend who used to salivate over them, but I was more into Commissioned and its spin-offs for phenomenal lyrics and multi-part harmony. It’s pretty clear that harmony is not MOS’s strongest attribute, but individually, their voices shine clear and strong. Surrounded is a mixed bag that works because of MOS’s smooth and powerful vocals.
Okay, first things first. “I Will” is a carbon copy of Kierra “Kiki” Sheard’s “You.” Both are written and produced by Warryn “Baby Dubb” Campbell. Listen. It’s too obvious—and Kiki’s version is better.
However, instead of giving a rundown of each song, I’ll highlight that the strongest songs on this album are “I Will,” “Power,” and “Cover Me,” with its soaring strings, “Last Time,” for its convicting message about evaluating one’s relationship with God, and “Yours” because of its searing electric guitar and Tye Tribbett’s empassioned yowling. It’s different, but it works.
The reggae-stlyed “Alright” with Heavy D was weak and repetitive. Not to mention that I would have never recognized it was Heavy D rapping if it weren’t for the tracklisting. Also, MOS didn’t need Kirk Frankin on their album. I think they are strong enough vocalists and established enough in the gospel music world to make their own mark without having to ride off his popularity and ubiquity.
Something tells me these men can really blow, but seem to hold back to fit into the contemporary gospel mold. It’s the sound that is more smoothed out and polished, if not over-produced. One reviewer on Amazon put it very aptly, that MOS’s voices are more suited to “semi-traditional” gospel in the vein of Smokie Norful or Marvin Sapp. Striking is the absence of adlibs or any indication that MOS feels free to express themselves and the presence of the Spirit. How can vocals be strong and constrained at the same time? I don’t know, but somehow MOS accomplishes this.