Toby Mac has remained, above most CCM, as one of my very favourites. His album, Welcome to Diverse City, was (and still is) one of my all-time favourite records; so was its follow up, Portable Sounds. These records brought something fresh, something that was really never seen in the realm of CCM before. Welcome…. brought a hip/hop style that was both accessible and creative. Portable Sounds gave us a pop/rock record that reached above and beyond most artists of the same genre (and who could forget the beast of a song that was “Ignition?”). His fourth, Tonight, was also really solid, however, it lacked that something that made the previous two so memorable. And then Eye On It came to the foreground, and while it too was solid, it stood in my eyes as his weakest to date. Now Toby has released his sixth full-length record, This is not a Test, and I’m more than happy to announce that it’s my biggest surprise this year.
The album beckons most to Portable Sounds and Welcome…. without it ever feeling redone or unoriginal. The horns that sound off in the opening track, “Like a Match,” instantly reminded me of “One World,” from Portable Sounds, and track two, “Backseat Driver,” featuring Hollyn and Toby’s son, Tru, brought me right back to the time of “Hey Now,” and “Diverse City.” It’s such an enjoyable song, with the catchiest hook you’re most likely to find this year.
This Is Not a Test also features a good deal of collaborations from Hollyn, NF, and fan favourite, DC Talk. The guest spots fit effortlessly into their songs, and never does it feel like Toby becomes the guest vocalist. NF’s spot on the subtly intense “Til the Day I Die,” is a major album highlight, and the DC Talk track, “Love Feels Like,” is a nostalgic classic in the making.
One of the major disappointments on Eye On It, for me, was its ballads. Compared to Toby’s earlier knockouts like “Made to Love,” and “City On Our Knees,” its ballads just didn’t carry the same quality. However, this is completely remedied here with some of Toby’s best ballads to date. “Lights Shine Bright,” also featuring Hollyn, is a chilled, finger clicking groove which a press conference interlude at the end, something that hasn’t been done since “Break Open the Sky,” from Tonight. “Love Broke Thru,” is a celebratory anthem about the night Toby found Christ, and “Undeniable,” is a rap/worship song to close out the record in epic fashion. In fact, this could arguably be the best closer since “Lose My Soul.” My favourite overall would have to be the Gospel flavoured march, “Move (Keep Walking), it’s also the best track lyrically on the record.
The deluxe edition tracks are also highlights. “Lift You Up,” featuring Ryan Stevenson, and “Fall,” are just as strong as the standard’s tracks. And for those who love the remixes, we’re still greeted with two well-done reimaginings of “Beyond Me,” and “Like a Match.”
Overall, I was surprised at how good this really is. A part of me feared Toby was falling into stale CCM niche everyone seems to be running to, but this is far from the case with This Is Not a Test. Each song is creative and enjoyable, and even when songs nod to his CCM leanings (“Beyond Me,” and “Undeniable”), they are still a deep cut above the rest. If you’re a fan, this is a must-have, and if you’re new, a great place to start. This comes highly recommend as one of the best CCM albums of this year, and maybe Toby’s best since Diverse City.
4/5 Standard Edition
3.5/5 Deluxe Edition