In this post I plan to examine the Peter Furler era of the Newsboys. John James exited the band in 1997 following the Take Me To Your Leader tour. Both James and the band said this was due to his desire to be involved in church ministry. There were some rumors over the years as to his actual reason for leaving and in 2007 he confirmed some of them. HERE is an article in which James shares the truth. HERE is his testimony at the Full Gospel Businessman’s Training website. He currently travels the country speaking at youth and men’s rallies. To the Newsboys credit (or detriment depending upon your opinion) they have not spoken about James much at all over the last twenty years. That being said, let us look at the albums featuring Peter Furler as the sole frontman.
I remember picking up the Entertaining Angels EP in early 1998. It contained three different mixes of that song along with remixes of Shine and Not Ashamed. It also contained an “Untitled Studio Rough” which ended being an instrumental version of Truth Be Told (Everybody Gets A Shot). When the full album finally dropped in June of 1998 I was not disappointed. It picked up right where Take Me To Your Leader left off. Phil Joel took lead vocals on one track and split vocals with Furler on three more tunes. The songwriting featured contributions from Peter Furler, Phil Joel, Jeff Frankenstein, Jody Davis, and Steve Taylor. The guitars were less gritty and the vibe of the album was more Blur or Oasis than Nirvana. Duncan Phillips moved over to full time drummer even though he and Furler would “duel” one another live for the next decade or so. Step Up To The Microphone spawned four number one radio hits and the Newsboys kept rolling along. Furler, now completely bald, seemed to channel John James in concert and I imagine that casual fans were not even aware that a member had departed.
1999 saw the Newsboys keep the same line-up for two straight albums for the very first time in their career. Love Liberty Disco was their first album since 1991’s Boys Will Boyz to not feature any input from Steve Taylor. Some critics chalk up the album’s lacklaster reception (based upon the previous four efforts) on Taylor’s absence and the deliberate attempt to incorporate a heavy 70’s vibe into several of the songs. Furler and Joel co-wrote the bulk of the songs and once again split vocal duties. In spite of the supposed drop off, it still spawned four top ten singles (Love Liberty Disco, Beautiful Sound, I Surrender All, and Good Stuff). Beautiful Sound and Good Stuff both hit number one. I attended the tour for this album at Liberty University with my wife and my buddy Phil. The tour took place in an inflatable dome that was set up in parking lots. It was a great show and cemented the Newsboys as one of the most entertaining bands I have ever seen.
2000 saw the release of their first greatest hits album. Shine: The Hits also contained three new tracks (Joy, Praises, and Who?) There was also a re-recording of God Is Not A Secret with TobyMac rapping on it and the eight minute Mega-Mix, which was a mash-up of eight older songs. There was also a live DVD that had been recorded in Pennsylvania and originally released as One Night In Pennsylvania in 1998.
2002 brought the It Is You EP that was free when you pre-ordered the new album Thrive. The EP featured two versions of It Is You, live versions of Shine, Entertaining Angels, Breakfast, and an acoustic version of Joy. Thrive dropped in March and rode the strength of It Is You. It actually debuted at number thirty-eight on the Billboard Top 200. One notable change was the the return of Steve Taylor as both co-writer and co-producer. Thrive felt a lot like a sequel to Step Up To The Microphone and contained several moments of power-pop brilliance. A live DVD was recorded at the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame and released that June. It was later bundled with the CD when Thrive was re-released in 2005. One interesting bit of trivia is the presence of Michael Tait on backing vocals for Fad Of The Land. 2002 also the release of a Newsboys Remixed album which was incredibly uneven and in my opinion, difficult to listen to.
2003 saw the Newsboys maintain their line-up for the fourth straight album, a feat that would not be repeated until the Michael Tait era. Adoration: The Worship Album spawned three singles (He Reigns, You Are My King (Amazing Love), and In Christ Alone). The first two both went to number one. Musically, the album toned down the quirky power-pop and went for a more straight ahead worship vibe. They would keep this sound on record and live for the next several years.
Devotion was released in 2004 and continued the Newsboys’ run as a modern worship band. It was pretty much a carbon copy of the previous album but saw the departure of Jody Davis, who left to spend time with his family. The album did contain guest appearances from several notable CCM artists of the day. Bryan Olesen (Casting Pearls, VOTA) was brought in on guitar. Once again, several singles were released to radio (Presence (Heart’s Desire), Devotion, Blessed Be Your Name, and Strong Tower) with the first one going to number one. I did see them live at a summer festival but I confess that I had already started to lose interest in them at the time. Sadly, Isaiah, the best song from this album, was only available as an iTune download.
The band left their label in 2005 and marked the occasion by releasing a compilation album taking one song from Love Liberty Disco, two from Thrive, and the eight best songs from the two worship albums and putting them together. The result was He Reigns: The Worship Collection. It didn’t contain any new material or new versions of older tunes but did contribute to their album sales and gave them reason to tour.
2006 saw the Newsboys release an album on Peter Furler and Wes Campbell’s InPop label. Go attempted to recreate the quirky pop-rock of early albums. While enjoyable, the album lacked a clear focus and that was most likely due to the various co-writers including producer Tedd T, Steve Taylor, Paul Colman (who replaced Bryan Olesen). A special edition included bonus tracks I Am Free (Live), Something To Believe In, and City To City. I saw them on this tour and while they were entertaining as always, they didn’t quite have the magic of earlier shows. Sadly, this was Phil Joel’s final studio album before leaving the band to pursue a solo career.
2007 brought another remix album, Go Remixed, which contributed a track (City To City) to the soundtrack of Pixar’s Cars 2. While it was quite a bit better than the first remix album I still preferred to listen to the original versions of all these songs. Another compilation album was released in November of 2002. The Greatest Hits featured two new songs (I Fought The La… and Stay Strong) and Belly Of The Whale (their contribution to the Veggietales album Veggie Rock!). All three featured lyrical contributions from Steve Taylor.
Newsboys released their first live album in 2008. Houston We Are GO was recorded in 2007 and came with both a CD and DVD version of the show. It marked Paul Colman’s final contribution to the band. He would leave and go back to fronting his own band. I will be honest, I have only recently listened to this album. It’s not bad but part of the fun of Newsboys live is actually seeing them live.
2009 saw the release of ANOTHER compilation. The Ultimate Collection contained twenty-four tracks on two discs. There were no new tracks but it did feature a remix of Shine by legendary sound engineer Tom Lord-Alge. One month later a new studio album dropped. In The Hands Of God saw the return of Jody Davis on guitar. It also marked the first album to not have an actual bass player. Jeff Frankenstein performed the parts on synths in the studio and live. Steve Taylor was back on board as co-writer on nearly every song. The album debuted at number one on the Christian charts and hit number twenty-eight on Billboard’s Top 200 which was their highest charting position on the pop charts. Michael Tait contributed backing vocals and was announced as Peter Furler’s replacement, which took place during the tour. At the time Furler said that he wanted to come off the road and focus on his family. He assured fans that he would continue to write, produce, and record future Newsboys albums. I vividly remember the speculation and all the naysayers signalling the end of the band. That was ten years ago and I still have two more eras of the band to cover so we can safely say that the critics were wrong.
To be continued….
Grace and peace