Whiteheart Retrospective – Part 6: Emergency Broadcast

When I first had the idea to write this retrospective, this was the album that inspired me. That’s not to say it’s my favorite Whiteheart album; it probably wouldn’t be in my top 7 for the band. But I think this album says so much about who these guys were and where their hearts were. More on that later.

For now, thanks again for reading. Your response has been amazing so far. Thanks for taking this journey with me.


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Emergency Broadcast is a hard album for me to figure out. Part of that is due to where it landed in Whiteheart’s discography. It was the much anticipated follow up to their breakout album, Don’t Wait for the Movie. And it is the predecessor to their masterpiece, Freedom. Living in the shadows of those two monumental albums has always left Emergency Broadcast a little bit in the shadows.

Also, the album feels a bit rushed at times. First, it came out only one year after their previous effort. Second, the name of the album itself seems to imply that the band felt these songs and this album needed to come out as soon as possible. In some ways, that creates a musical dynamic that is more raw and more unrefined than Whiteheart typically employed. In other ways, I think a few of these songs probably would have been better served with a little more time in the development stage.

Based on interviews that I’ve read, this album feels birthed from the interactions they were having with their young fans while on tour for Don’t Wait for the Movie. They were encountering fans who were struggling with broken families, societal pressures, and overwhelmed with feelings of isolation and a church culture that was not providing them with answers that adequately addressed these issues. Work your way through this album and you see a band whose hearts were deeply burdened by what they were hearing. This crisis was something they felt compelled to address as quickly as possible. Hence the name of the album, the focus of the songs, and the slightly less polished sound.

Having said all that, the songs themselves are really good. While I can quibble here and there, there is very little about this album that I don’t enjoy. From the opening rallying cry of “Urban Renewal” to the closing ballad, “Edge of the Dream”, the band is locked in with a message that is bursting to get out.

The band’s lineup had one change for Emergency Broadcast. Bassist Tommy Sims joined them on the tour for Don’t Wait for the Movie. As good as Gary Lunn had been for the band, and he was fantastic, Tommy brought a new level to both the sound of the band as well as the general vibe. For my money, the rhythm section of Sims and McHugh is as good as it gets in CCM history. I will die on this hill.

Some highlights from the album include “No Taboo”, a song where four members of the band handle lead vocal duties. It’s a funky, rhythmic number with lots of percussion texture and a throbbing bass line. One thing I always appreciated about Whiteheart was their willingness to venture outside of their perceived boundaries. It didn’t always work, but when it did, they gave us gems like this one.

“Key to Our Survival” is a fantastic, up-tempo rocker, with keyboards for days and an explosive lead guitar. Bonus point: It succinctly summarizes the entirety of the Gospel. Other standout rockers include the appropriately named, “Speed of Sound”, the fun, guitar-heavy “Fashion Fades”, and the hard-hitting “More Sold Out”, with its crunchy, toe-tapping guitar riff and the incredible keyboard/guitar interplay near the end of the album. Whiteheart was always great at providing little wrinkles in the melody or tempo, adding a unique bridge or closer to a song, instead of just repeating the same chorus.

As far as ballads go, “Montana Sky” was another big hit for the band. Gordon Kennedy handled vocals on it, just like he did for “Fly Eagle Fly”. In some ways, I consider them twin songs, though not identical. “Somewhere in Between” is an emotional ballad dealing with the aftermath of divorce from the perspective of the child caught in the middle. It’s honest and beautiful stuff.

The closer, “Edge of the Dream” is vintage 80’s pop rock. Mark Gersmehl takes lead on it and it’s one of the strongest songs on the album. It also introduces the Kingdom now, Kingdom still to come motif that would run through so much of Whiteheart’s music. More on that at the end of this series.

The only song that doesn’t completely work for me is “Lone Ranger”. It’s not a bad song at all, and the duet with Tommy and Rick is extraordinary, it’s just that the song feels a little undercooked. A few more passes in the development stage and the song could have been incredible.

Like I said at the outset, this is a weird album for me. I like/love most of the songs on it but it doesn’t feel like the leap forward that the surrounding albums do. The talent is clearly there, it would just take a little more time and work to fully unlock it. And boy, do they ever for the next one! Come back next week as we take a look at Whiteheart’s Magnum Opus, Freedom.

Phill Lytle
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Series Navigation<< Whiteheart Retrospective – Part 5: Don’t Wait for the MovieWhiteheart Retrospective – Part 7: Freedom >>

Phill Lytle

Phill Lytle loves Jesus, his wife, his kids, his family, his friends, his church, J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, 80s rock, the Tennessee Titans, Brandon Sanderson books, Whiteheart, Band of Brothers, Thai food, the Nashville Predators, music, books, movies, TV, writing, pizza, vacation...

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