I’ve been a fan of Jimmy Needham for about a year and a half now. My favorite album of his is Speak, his first and a raw, personal effort. Each of his albums has declined slightly in quality since then, though both Not Without Love and Nightlights are good albums with some select great songs. Needham’s newest, Clear the Stage, has the biggest quality dropoff of his career. Frankly, it’s his weakest album yet, something it pains me to say.
That’s not to say there aren’t great songs here. “If I Ever Needed Grace” is a simple song in concept, but it’s personal lyrics make it one of his most affecting. And “Clear the Stage” is a rousing take on one of Needham’s favorite themes, humility in the face of fame. It’s just that there aren’t as many great songs as usual. He’s given us a lot of good songs here, but they’re mostly generic. Single “I Will Find You” is fine, but it falls flat, even with a guest spot from Lecrae. It comes off as radio-friendly pop; it blends in perfectly with other songs playing on Christian radio, and that’s not a good thing. “Stay” and “In the Middle” are good too, but where are the heartfelt lyrics? Needham’s writing used to feel urgent! Go listen to “Speak”, “Hurricane”, “Moving to Zion”. Only “Clear the Stage” and “If I Ever Needed Grace” compare here, though his other albums have multiple other songs to match the quality of those three.
This album is fine, but Jimmy Needham is a better-than-fine artist. He’s excellent. I hope his next album is more from the heart. This one felt like he didn’t have much to say.
P.S. His Kickstarter-supporter-exclusive album, The Gospel, a collection of hymns, is stellar. It was mailed out with Clear the Stage, and it sounds like the album he enjoyed making more.