Using sonics ranging from pulsating electro-rock to a Salvation Army backing band, Gabriel Wilson is the right man to bring out the best sound that Smith has enjoyed since prime Delirious? days. Two of his best ever songs are right here.
Time: 10 Tracks / 54 minutes
There are definite lyrical themes in this release – bones and breath – making it more than just a collection of standalone songs.
The ex-Delirious? singer – and, more relevantly, the ex-Army of Bones front man – majors on the Ezekiel prophesy of the Valley of Dry Bones, where God tells the prophet to speak to the bones and they come together, eventually filled with the Spirit of God.
So on the superb “Everybody is Broken,” he brings that up-to-date, announcing that “everybody is broken and everybody breaks, but the bones will live again. You put the pieces back together.” And with that, the music changes, the big chords and gospel vocals pile in and the celebration begins:
“You are raising up an army; we’re an army of bones.
With the breath of God within us we will dance together.”
That breath is the other main thread. The title track tells Smith’s own story. When he was born, he couldn’t make a sound and was put in an oxygen tent like an iron lung. Pleading for his life, his parents made a deal with God in a Hannah-and-Samuel scenario: let him make a noise and we'll dedicate him to furthering the gospel.
“All alone and nearing death... you took my breath away, so I would learn to need you,” Smith sings. Again the music changes halfway through, stepping up two gears in a block-change. In this case, Smith gets all Waterboysy with his “Fishermans’ Blues”-like “whoo-hoo”s, as he celebrates that breath coming back and being used to sing for God. The implication is that God now takes his breath away in the conventional sense, but he spells it out at the very end of the album: “I feel your breath in my lungs / I feel your joy in my bones.”
In between these two standouts sits one of the best tracks Smith has ever recorded.
Reminiscent of Delirious?’s “My Glorious” in its exultation, "Great and Glorious" is built on an addictive, pulsing electro-beat. Never mind songs about putting your hands in the air evangelical-style, this one will get them up there and waving for musical reasons. Giving it even more power are the gospel vocals that make it sound like Moby has re-mixed Delirious? It’s the sort of track that reminds you why God has given us bodies.
Rock and Roll Worship Circus /The Listening always made energetic glam-like albums with a clear, vibrant sound, and it must be thanks to their front man Gabriel Wilson’s production work that there is so much colour all over this album. Sometimes you catch twangy tones at the very end of songs, as main sounds fade away. At other times, those special sonics are very clear, such as the Floydian reverbed slide guitar in the title track.
Elsewhere, “Runaway” has a bit of 1980’s New Wave about it as it starts; “Fire’s Gonna Fall” echoes Newsboys and the later tracks generally reflect the more streetwise tracks from Delirious?’s later years until “Give Thanks for a Broken Heart” ends with a slowed down reprise of “Iron Lung” with orchestral backing from a Salvation Army band.
In the background of this recording – and well-caught in that final track – is family grief, as Smith’s mother-in-law died unexpectedly. It’s a reality that grounds the praise in this album and connects with the blend of anxiety and dedication shown in the first track.
There are some disposable songs: “Exalt” has been done a thousand times and “Rise Up” is hardly groundbreaking, as it promises hands in the air. But they are not badly done, and will appeal to those whose favourite Delirious? albums are World Service and Mission Bell, the releases that saw the band turn their eyes away from the outside word and focus on their global Christian audience.
Smith has never really got his sound together in a convincing way since leaving Delirious? His God’s Great Dance Floor material seemed a bit forced, like he was treading water; the pubs-and-clubs band Army of Bones had great musical promise (and shares a lot of players with this album) but never seemed to be a completed project.
This, on the other hand, feels not just like a finished article – and one that echoes various stages of his past – but it is also his future, bringing in both newer musical ideas and a more mature writing style (including the lines “I’ve got you here to lift me up / You’ve got me here to let you down”).
While it doesn’t have the ethical gravitas of Kingdom Of Comfort, musically Iron Lung is arguably the best-sounding thing that Smith has been involved in since Mezzamorphis. He's back.