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All Star United - All Star United (1997)

Before the self-proclaimed "greatest band in the world" hit the scene in 1996, Ian Eskelin was making solo records of second-rate dance music. (Scary.) When that didn't work, he decided to get together with some of his friends and jam. As a result, All Star United was born. Since then the band has come a long, long way, but it was really their self-titled debut that launched ASU into international superstardom.

Creativity seeps through this album from beginning to end, as All Star United's "modern" style of 70's rock snags listeners with something that is fresh and innovative. Ardent guitars squeal across all of ten tracks, namely "La La Land," the disc's opener. This marshmellowy melody features a pounding keyboard accompaniment and breaks into a sardonic vocal grievance over how today's society has tried to make the Christian life glamorous by commercializing it with T-shirts, bumper stickers, and the like. This seems to be a popular complaint, as the band takes this concept and runs with it. The band's first #1 mega-hit "Smash Hit" epitomizes Christian satire: "This Jesus thing / it's a smash hit / it's packaged's gone worldwide." Although the brisk drum loop is barely audible, you can easily hear the disdain in between the megaton bass line and the surging of the electric guitar: "Now / oh wow / we've gone wrong." Later on, track #8 dynamically attempts to make a "Beautiful Thing" out of all the glitz and glitter, only to end up casting it aside for the infinitely more appealing love of God. A pipe organ and Newsboys-type "woo-hoos" and whistling adorn this bouncy tune. The commercialism concept finally is bluntly shot down in "Bright Red Carpet," perhaps ASU's most infamous rocker. All the ornate is relinquished as the group's straight-up hard rock approach condemns such vanity: "And that's alright / but if you demand spotlights / get ready to blow / cause Heaven steps on false attempts to grow."

"Torn" and "Drive" come across as two electric guitar driven anthems that read much like a conversation. In "Torn," the author is afflicted by the choice between worldly pleasures or eternal glory. "Drive" doesn't proffer a straight answer, but instead administers encouragement and the friendly offer to take a relaxing drive "until it gets us somewhere." Then, through the courtesy of Eskelin's soothing voice, we're treated to a tidbit of "Tenderness." It's done in the traditional 70's glam style that All Star United embraces, complete with keyboard, organ, synthesizers, and icing the cake with a retro guitar loop. On the quieter, worshipful side of things, "Saviour of My Universe" puts God right in His place at the forefront of the band members' lives and as the reason behind All Star United's existence. Finally, as if saying goodnight, nearly 15 seconds of a single chord entreat us to submerge in the peace of a "Lullaby," sung from the perspective of God to His children. A no-holds-barred bridge is the band's last chance to give their listeners a dosage of strung-out caffeinated rock before stowing their gear and drifting off into a dreamy slumber.

There is one mediocre song, "Angels," and a hidden track about vitamins sung by a very odd lady, but neither add anything more to the record other than a good laugh. Still, these are two minor complaints when compared to the big picture: All Star United's debut album is a blissful trip through inventive, groovy and retro rock and roll with a twist of the 90's for added flavour. Youth will appreciate it because it’s rock with a message. Adults will appreciate it because it’s nostalgia with a message. You will appreciate it because it’s just that good. Don't miss out.