Lights of Distant Cities

Lights of Distant Cities, Bebo Norman, BEC Recordings, 2012.

One of my favorite Christian artists, Bebo Norman, announced his upcoming retirement earlier this month. As a tribute, I have decided to review his latest album, Lights of Distant Cities. In interviews, Bebo has said that he began writing the songs on this album in the middle of what felt like an emotion-less, spiritual wasteland.

In an ironic twist, however, he shares that despair and loneliness gave way to hope and renewal during the final months of the song-writing process. This journey is reflected beautifully in the title track “Lights of Distant Cities,” where Bebo likens our earthly dwelling to a foreign land of shadows, but declares that lights from distant cities are calling us out.

The songs on Lights of Distant Cities are beautifully interwoven musically and lyrically. The thumping toms in “Lights of Distant Cities” sound like a march of the lights, breaking in closer and closer to our present existence, the bass resounds like an anthem, and the chorus, which says, “You come alive like a melody” soars with atmospheric electric riffs.

The second song on the album, “The Broken,” is probably the one with most mainstream appeal. The premise is simple but heartfelt, “God of the Universe, do you hear the cries that pour out from all the earth? Can your hands of glory reach down and heal the hurt of the broken … the poverty of the soul?” The hammered dulcimer shimmers between lines like beams of light shining through cracks in a wooden door, and its hope-filled melody is a sufficient answer to this question: the “weight of glory can still rise above” and “capture the captives on the wings of love and carry us to our home.”

Hope in a fallen world is the common thread that runs through this entire album–a message that is encapsulated by the heavily-synthesized “Outside Her Window Was the World,” which recounts the spiritual redemption of a depressed young woman who used to cut herself.

My personal favorite on this album is “Collide.” The ethereal acoustic guitar loops create a sense of swirling in space and colliding from one wall to another, musically representing the “altars [we] keep building to the sky” to no avail and our “failed attempts to fly away.” The poignant question of the bridge hangs unanswered, “How long must we hold on before grace and gravity collide?” All who have struggled between fallen depravity and sanctifying grace know this longing.

Lights of Distant Cities shows that Bebo has grown much more comfortable within the pop/rock genre that he began experimenting with in his album Big Blue Sky, but more so than any of his previous albums, Lights of Distant Cities showcases rich, atmospheric sonic layers reminiscent of U2 and Coldplay. Nevertheless, one can catch glimpses of Bebo’s folk roots in songs like “Daylight Breaking” and “Go With You.”

The signature elements of Bebo’s music, melodic pop hooks, lyrical intimacy, and passionate, vulnerable, yet warm vocals, are all here. This is a worthy capstone to Bebo’s 20-year career.

Buy Lights of Distant Cities HERE.

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