The best artists are those that allow themselves to grow – to find new ways to express themselves without losing sight of where they’ve been. They constantly push their personal boundaries and are unafraid to mature. Over the past decade, Jason Lancaster has worked to develop a name for himself as a strong songwriter, vocalist, and exactly the sort of artist described above. Following the premature end of Go Radio, it seems perfectly natural that the next stage of his career should be on his own terms. As You Are is his first effort as a solo artist, and it finds him expanding his sonic palate without straying too far from the core of what made his previous releases so impressive. It’s not without its imperfections, but it’s a good addition to his older body of work, a mature and more varied expression of his songwriting style, and well worth at least a few spins.
Throughout As You Are, flashes of Jason’s past work shine though. “Growing Up” brings to mind the youthful exuberance of the top half of Welcome To Life, “Climb Up To My Window” and “The Cause” embrace the spirit of Do Overs And Second Chances, and “Come Back” and “Shine” both feel like a completely natural continuation of where Close The Distance left off. None of these is a complete rehash of what he’s done in the past, but the whole of the record pays respect to what has led to this point while simultaneously embracing the present. While piano began playing a more prominent role in Go Radio’s songs as the band matured, it’s a crucial element of As You Are from the very opening onward. Stylistically, most of the aggression has faded, and several portions even take notes from country traditions. It’s easy to see how songs like “Save Me” and “Just In Time” could fit comfortably on the radio amongst the better contemporary country acts. This transition might turn off those wishing for something more in the vein of A Lesson In Romantics or Lucky Street, but Jason adopts these influences effortlessly and masterfully. If you aren’t immediately and unnecessarily horrified by the idea of country influences, you should find lots to enjoy in where these sounds have evolved.
As always, there are some tremendous melodies, lines, and vocal performances. Any concern about Jason needing others to write a great song are immediately dashed within the first minute or so of “Growing Up.” If you’re at all a fan of Jason’s past work, you’re going to find at least a handful of songs to love in this collection. He’s maintained the passion in his voice and lyricism, and the varied songwriting throughout As You Are allows his talents to shine more clearly than they have on previous efforts. For all that’s to be said about the power behind Jason’s voice, the beautiful fragility of the note he hits on the word “here” in the chorus of “You ’N’ Me” provides a new perspective on what this voice is, and it shows an artist willing to push the boundaries of what he’s done before. When horns come in toward the end of “Do I,” they fit much more naturally than the ones that stuck out so proudly on Lucky Street’s “Fight, Fight (Reach For The Sky).” These arrangements have been crafted maturely and with great care, and it shows throughout the majority of the record. For all of that maturation, Jason doesn’t lose his ability to craft great, catchy songs, with cuts like “Climb Up To My Window” and “Growing Up” providing ample hooks for listeners to sink into.
One of my primary gripes with As You Are comes in the form of its bookends. I understand why “Changes” is on the record – it sets the scene for how Jason got to this point, and it provides a moderately clean break between his work in Go Radio and this solo endeavor. The only problem is that it’s too short to build to anything substantial, and its ending is far superior to its opening. If this album were staged as a musical, it’d make more sense, but it’s a little too direct to feel at home on the record. On the other end, there are a few problems. “Hey Jude” is an iconic song, and covering it is a bold statement. There was plenty of opportunity for the cover to feel forced, uninspired, or cheesy, and this version is none of those things. It stays true both to the original and to Jason’s sensibilities, which is an admirable achievement. However, closing an album with a cover is almost always a poor choice. If As You Are had ended with “Shine,” “The Cause,” or Indiegogo single “If,” the record would’ve felt more complete and cohesive. Make “Hey Jude” the Indiegogo exclusive. Put it on Punk Goes The Beatles. Even adding “(Bonus Track)” at the end of the title would suffice. Finishing on a cover – and on a fade out, to pile on – feels lazy and cheapens the experience of what is otherwise a solid album. I think it’s fair to expect a little more out of someone crafting his fourth full-length.
The other major concern is in the lyrical content. I used to think that I could listen to Jason sing the phone book, and that may still be true (waiting on that collection), but this record has alerted me to a few things that I’m less comfortable hearing. I was ready for this album to have some more straightforward worship tracks, and expected more than actually appear on As You Are. Despite my tempering prior to hearing the record and a dozen or so listens, it still feels somewhat awkward to my ears to hear a line like “Jesus save me” coming from the same voice that once sang “this is just a fix for such a simple little whore.” There will surely be plenty who appreciate a more upfront take on faith, and there is nothing wrong with staying true to who you are and expressing your beliefs artistically. There are still wonderful melodies and instrumental parts backing the lyrics. The problem is that it can be difficult to relate to the words, which, for me, is something that’s never happened with this particular songwriter in the past. It takes me out of the experience of listening to the album, and detracts from the overall experience. I’d prefer more separation between the worship songs and the non-worship songs (maybe separate releases), or even just that the religious references merely be adapted so as to be more relatable to someone who doesn’t necessarily identify as Christian. To be fair, these moments are few on As You Are; they are simply so prominent that they seem more common than they are, and they have an undeniable effect on how the album is experienced.
To be honest, I had some reservations prior to hearing As You Are. I don’t really know what I expected, but the demise of Go Radio left me with a bad taste in my mouth. Fortunately, most of this record makes me feel stupid for doubting one of my favorite musicians. The sense of melody and brilliant lyricism I’ve always admired is present throughout this entire album, and Jason’s voice is as good as it’s ever been. While it’s certainly not without its missteps, As You Are is a great first chapter of Jason’s solo career. It shows a more sophisticated take on his unique songwriting style, and it keeps one foot planted firmly in his past and another reaching toward the future. Transitions are typically accompanied by growing pains, with the next stage fixing the flaws and finding everything falling into place. It’s early to anticipate a follow-up, but if this record’s minor shortcomings are Jason Lancaster’s growing pains, the next one is truly going to be something spectacular. After all, As You Are is already plenty good as it is.