Pictures in the Sky Review

Bruce A. Brown

CCM Magazine April 1987

Most rookie artists would be proud to have a sophmore release as good as Pictures in the Sky. But most new artists in the past few years didn't have a debut as outstanding as Rich Mullins. Everything about that record, from the self-deprecating cover (which pictured the artist sporting a "Rich Mullins" T-shirt with the top of his head missing!) to the superior songwriting, set Mullins apart from the crowd. Almost everything about Mullins' follow-up, however, shows Mullins trying to fit into that mold that he so effortlessly broke out of on his first LP.

Specifically, Mullins is haunted by Elvis Costello disease, a songwriter's malady which finds a series of cleverly turned phrases not quite adding up to a whole song. Mullins seems to have been influenced a great deal by Michael W. Smith in the past year, but Pictures in the Sky displays none of Smith's keyboard prowess or arranging abilities. Possessing only an average voice, Mullins first released an album whose strength was the economy of lyric and arrangement coupled with knowledge of how far not to push his voice. The new record carries that challenge no farther vocally and displays little of Mullins' charm and wit. In fact, the lone outstanding track on the first side is "Faith Without Works" ("Screen Door"), a Bobby McFerrin/Manhattan Transfer vocal novelty that could almost be labeled a throwaway.

Mullins redeems the album on side two with three very good songs and two others that are quite strong. "Steal at Any Price" finds him looking into people's lives through Christ's eyes and experiencing their pain as Jesus would. The title track features a nice piano bridge a la Bruce Hornsby while "Could Be a Celebration" lays down a sinewy Latin groove.

The R&B workout of "It Don't Do" is a clever reminder not to put the cart before the horse, and "What Trouble Are Giants" is a hilarious paraphrase of the David and Goliath story.

It's hard to imagine that the writer of such classic songs as "Sing Your Praise to the Lord" and "Love of Another Kind" couldn't come up with stronger material for his second album. Perhaps the excellence of Mullins' first album made me expect that much better a follow-up. But, I'll be content with the half-dozen quality tracks here and hope that Rich hits his stride next time around.

Copyright 1987 by CCM Magazine

Thanks go to Eric Townsend and his webpage,
Rich Mullins: Never Picture Perfect, for sharing this article with COYN.

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