Review: TobyMac – “Tonight”

Tobymac’s grown to be one of my favorite artists since his split from DC talk. Momentum was quite good, but “Welcome to Diverse City” (and the subsequent remix version) was what propelled him, in my mind, to a status of absolute greatness. I still find myself groovin’ along to the beats of Catchafire on a semi-regular basis! Following up a classic sophomore release like that would be tough for anyone, and while I wouldn’t rate it higher than Diverse City, “Portable Sounds” is a great followup. Plenty of continued style experimentation, but all still unmistakably Toby. I’ve heard him accused of being self-important before, and frankly, going off of his lyrics alone, I don’t see it. The man quite clearly loves Jesus, loves his family, loves his fans, and loves God’s people. That kind of lyrical honesty is what has always clinched Toby for me. It’s refreshing.

So, he’s put down two rather incredible studio albums in the past few years (not to mention a really good live album), but the big question is: Does “Tonight” live up to the Toby standard?

In short, yeah, I’d say it definitely does. There’s a couple of personal hiccups for me, but on the whole, this album is definitely a worthy addition to the tobyMac disography.

Not surprisingly, you’ll find a lot of things that remind you of previous tobyMac albums. You’ve got some introspective, slower, thoughtful tracks in the form of “Hold On” (a really great song about true love between a man and woman striving through life’s difficulties, a highlight for me given my current relationship) and “Get Back Up”. You’ve got the hard hitting rock-rap anthem in “ShowStopper” (admittedly upon the first few listens, this song seems way overly self-referential), and you’ve got a few really wild style experiments like “Funky Jesus Music” (which I’m sorry, but I can’t NOT dance to this. It’s way too fun) and “Hey Devil” (which is just delicious as an 80s homage work). You’ve even got a TruDog interlude from Toby’s oldest son, this time featuring Truett’s younger brother Judah and a lovely little family moment. Some say these interludes are getting tired, cheesy, and overdone. I say to those people that you are wrong. Frankly, if nothing else, it gives us a little glimpse into the McKeehan family and shows the artist is human. I hope Toby keeps doing them, because I truly enjoy the humorous interludes.

Probably the absolute two best standout tracks for me are the titular piece, “Tonight”, and “Changed Forever”. “Tonight” starts off high energy, does some great buildup, and absolutely explodes during the chorus. Plus it features John Cooper of Skillet. Okay, yeah, I admit to being something of a Skillet fanboy (which is why Awake hurt so much), but the two REALLY perform well together on this piece. And speaking of two artists who go exceptionally well together, “Changed Forever” features the lovely Nirva Ready in a groovy high-octane piece that just shows how truly good this lady’s voice is, and how amazing she is paired with Toby’s raps. A truly amazing piece of work that does not stop.

As good as the album is, it does have a couple of low spots. The first, in and of itself, is not a bad song. It’s actually really really good. I just wish someone besides Toby had done it. I’m talking about “City On Our Knees”. Taken by itself, it’s a beautiful worship song. Taken as a Toby song, it means that it gets radio play at the expense of WAY more deserving tracks on this album. It’s a perfectly good worship song, don’t get me wrong, but that’s what it is. It’s just one that happens to be sung by tobyMac, and because of that, radio stations feel they can “safely” play it, and feel justified that a piece from the new tobyMac album is on their playset. Never mind that there are far better tracks on the album that are more iconic “Toby” than this one.

This is why I stopped listening to you, 89.7 Power FM. Because you insist on being “safe”. Stop it.

Other low points include “Wonderin'”, a piano-driven duo with Matthew Thiessen of Relient K. Speaking of groups that have released absolutely terrible albums lately, Relient K has absolutely fallen way down from where they used to be. They’ve gone from a truly great pop-punk bad to a mediocre indieish group. People call it “maturing”, but frankly, there’s a huge difference between “maturing as an artist” and “forgetting entirely what made us awesome in the first place” (Looking at you and your power-ballad infatuation, SKILLET). Sadly, adding Toby flows to Thiessen’s already-boring piano is best equated to trying to shine a turd. Still stinks.
The album ends with a collaboration between Israel Houghton, the reggae-infused “Break Open The Sky”. It’s not bad at all, but as album closers go, when we’ve previously gotten collaborations with the incredible Kirk Franklin (on Portable Sound’s “Lose My Soul”), and Toby’s former bandmates (on Diverse City’s “Atmosphere” remix), it’s something of a letdown.

All in all, this is a great album, and if you’re a TobyMac fan, it’s definitely worth picking up!

  1. I’ve yet to really come across a Tobymac song, or album, I didn’t like. I haven’t heard all of this album yet, but I’ll be surprised if I find that I don’t like most/all of it.

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