Doctor Faith is Christopher Cross’ first studio album in a dozen years, and it’s an interesting step forward for the Grammy-winning singer/songwriter.
You wouldn’t particularly think of Cross in terms of social commentary, but Doctor Faith is infused with themes of aging, looking back on one’s life and coming to grips with the changes time brings, good and bad. The lyrics convey a weary cynicism as Cross comments on the failings of his generation, while expressing both optimism and frustration for subsequent generations.
That’s especially apparent in the opening track “Hey Kid,” a modern pop song with an adept, perfectly melodic guitar solo. Cross addresses the younger generation directly as the voice of experience: “Well I hope you’ll do fine/Couldn’t do much worse than this generation of mine/We had the answers but forgot that line that says love is all.”
In contrast to much of Cross’ past work, this album emphasizes guitars over keyboards in the arrangements. “I’m Too Old for This” features a modern guitar sound and an overall less melodic approach, allowing Cross to exploit the lower timbre of his voice and employ a different style of phrasing than usual. “The willful ignorance across the nation/The screaming yahoos that rage on every station/It makes me crazy, and I’m too old for this,” Cross sings.
“When You Come Home” finds the singer/songwriter back on more familiar terrain, a gorgeous acoustic ballad with a strong melody and very strong bridge. “Dreamers” is framed by acoustic fingerpicking, while “November” is a beautiful piano ballad that is reminiscent of the best of Cross’ past work.
“Rescue” features a slow groove, airy instrumentation, and an unusual chord progression with a nod to Joni Mitchell, to whom Cross dedicated this album for a lifetime of inspiration. “Help Me Cry” is another reminder that Cross is also an excellent electric lead guitarist, while “Still I Resist” is a reflective acoustic tune.
“Poor Man’s Ecstacy” is a mid-tempo tune with an exceptional vocal performance. The overall feel is almost modern rock, with a balance of acoustic and electric guitars in the bed tracks.
Not every track is as strong. “Leave it to Me” is breezy up-tempo pop, but seems out of place in this collection of songs, and “Everything” is a fairly standard ballad. The title song “Doctor Faith” should be outstanding, as it features additional vocals by Michael McDonald, whose voice helped lift Cross to virtually overnight superstardom with “Ride Like the Wind.” But although the track has some nice ingredients, somehow it just doesn’t seem to go anywhere.
The album wraps up with “Prayin’,” a simple acoustic song that shows Cross in a reflective and thankful mood. It’s a fitting wrap-up for an album filled with many strong songs.
Doctor Faith is a near-perfect blend of the best of Cross’ past work with some interesting new ideas and influences. Most new albums by classic artists are fairly rote affairs. Kudos to Christopher Cross, at this late date in his career and after a long absence from recording, for producing an album that actually moves the ball forward artistically.