Music Review: Out of the Dark by Mandisa

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January 10, 2018
Music Review: Out of the Dark by Mandisa
Mandisa - Unfinished (Lyric Video)

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Track Listing

Voicemail (Intro)
I'm Still Here
Out of the Dark
Bleed the Same (feat. Kirk Franklin) [Intro]
Bleed the Same (feat. tobyMac & Kirk Franklin)
Comeback Kid
What You're Worth (feat. Britt Nicole)
Dear John Praise Report
Good News
Prove Me Wrong
MothDisa (Interlude)
The One He Speaks Through
My First Love (feat. Jeremy Camp)
Shame Off
Keep Getting Up
Back to Life

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After spending much of the past few years struggling with depression, Mandisa, who has proven to be one of American Idol’s most successful alums as a Top 5 Idol with the most No. 1s, is sharing about her journey with transparency and vulnerability ahead of the release of her newest album, Out Of The Dark (Capitol CMG), out May 19.

“My hope is that people will be on this journey with me,” explains Mandisa. “When I began, I was in a really dark place, but where I am today is so much better and so much lighter!”

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Out Of The Dark by Mandisa
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Personal Rating 
So the US knows Mandisa quite well after seeing her on American Idol, but in the UK she doesn't seem to have made a huge amount of impact. This album, the version that I have is the extended one, so there are an extra 3 tracks included that aren't on the standard edition. Both albums seem to have all the little filler tracks in which really give us a lot of insight into where the songs are coming from.

The first track which is the "Voicemail (Intro)" which hears increasingly urgent messages left for Mandisa when she was going through a time of depression. This is a bold choice to put these, and some of the other inserts, onto an album, but in all honesty it's not something I really want to listen to! Yes it explains the place that she has been, and she's showing vulnerability and about people who care, but what about the people who are depressed but don't have that friendship circle? This could easily backfire and leave someone thinking, 'well of course she's popular she's a star, I'm nobody and no-one cares about me'. I am sorry if that seems a little cynical but mental health is a finely balanced thing and depression can be easily triggered or deepened by someone else seeming to do well.

The first track probably sums up what needed to be said as Mandisa declares that "I'm Still Here" and she describes her low days, but also the idea that she can overcome that depression and that she has a hope returning to her. This is a musical force that drives forward with a positive message with the imagery in the bridge reflecting Psalm 40 v 2 of being lifted out of the pit. The title track "Out Of The Dark" also focuses on this similar fight, but this is much more about being rescued by someone, and from the phrases used it would seem she's talking about God, although some of the poetic license makes it sound more like an action hero when she says, "You flipped on the sunshine, kicked the door wide open". Despite this, both of these tracks are enjoyable fare, with an upbeat positive message of hope and overcoming the darkness. Then we are onto the third track with a similar feel, this time it's about the fact that it is her that is suffering now, when previously she had counselled others. The title "Unfinished" is about her celebrating that God is still working on her, despite her own failures, God has started something and He will finish it (Philippians 1v6).

2016 / 2017 saw an explosion in race related incidents in the US and the #blacklivesmatter campaign started to take off. Many Christian artists have touched on this with varying degrees of success. For Mandisa it wasn't about just the colour of the skin, it was more that all lives matter and that we need to be united in love rather than fighting, at least that's what comes through in the intro and main track called "Bleed The Same". The intro gives the background with a speech from Kirk Franklin about needing to speak out, this feeds into the track by Mandisa and TobyMac which certainly echoes some of the stand that DC Talk needed to take in their early days! Have we really come no further from that time? Perhaps as a society we haven't moved on as far as we had dared to hope and we still need this type of song.

Mandisa isn't afraid to team up with big names, as well as featuring Kirk Franklin and TobyMac, she also works with Britt Nicole on the track "What You're Worth" and there is a track with Jeremy Camp later in the album. Britt and Mandisa address the ladies in "What You're Worth" which has a bit of a Pharrell vibe, but it's about women more than just a sexual object, a 2017 update on girl-power from the 90's. There is not a lot that stands out for me in the second half of this album. If you enjoy this kind of pop music that Mandisa does so well then you're going to enjoy it. We do take an interlude to consider the moth stuck in a spider's web with Mandisa which, to me, seems another unnecessary stopping point. There is a brief highlight with the aforementioned track with Jeremy Camp which is the last track on the normal non-deluxe album. "My First Love" is a great piano-backed track taking Mandisa back to when she first became a Christian. This reminds us of the real infusion of life that came with that understanding of God, and the need for all of us to maintain our Godly relationship so that each experience is a fresh understanding and personal revival.

I know that this album isn't aimed at me, and there are those that will find it uplifting and a help. For me though it was too much of the same. The theme of coming back from depression is very strong, the mental health aspect is actually a really positive message but it can be a double edged sword when it is the focus of so many tracks. There are variations musically, but nothing that's really strong enough to write about, there are some nice changes here and there, but this album feels like it is playing safe throughout. You may have already got the impression that the interludes didn't really speak to me, and you would be right, they, in my opinion, break the flow of the album and seem a little obsolete given the songs that immediately follow them express themselves without needing the explanation. Maybe it's just my inner cynic that just feels it's a little too 'Big Brother Diary Roon' to really enjoy these moments. There are many enjoyable tracks here, but just not enough variation on the established themes.

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