Propelled by an anthemic lead single and successful spring tour, MercyMe's seventh studio album, "The Hurt & the Healer," debuted at No. 1 on Billboard's Top Christian Albums chart and at No. 7 on the Billboard 200, with the title track also landing at No. 1 on the Christian Songs list.
Dipping into the well of personal experience has always worked for MercyMe lead vocalist/principal songwriter Bart Millard, who penned the band's signature song, "I Can Only Imagine," in response to his father's 1991 death. This time around, Millard wrote "The Hurt & the Healer" last year after his cousin, a Dallas firefighter, died in the line of duty.
"I don't even understand the point of writing a song unless it's about a life experience," Millard says. "Most of the time I'm writing songs at the last minute because there's a part of me that really hates the process-it means I have to dredge things up; I have to go to those painful moments. That's how I've always been. Some guys write every day, all year long, and have a whole catalog. But if there's 10 songs [needed] for the record, I'll write the 10 songs, and then I'm done."
That less-is-more approach has worked for MercyMe during the nearly two decades of its existence. The Texas-based band has placed 10 titles on the Top Christian Albums chart-including an acoustic set and a Christmas collection-with seven of those 10 titles going to No. 1. The group has long been a core act on Christian radio, and "The Hurt & the Healer" is MercyMe's 12th No. 1 single on the Christian AC chart.
Millard penned "The Hurt & the Healer" while on tour last fall. "God called us to write songs that help people through the healing process," he says, "so why do we not embrace that, and do it to the best of our ability?"
Despite the weighty subject matter, Millard says "The Hurt & the Healer" is the band's most rocking record. "Trying to have the fast songs be as meaningful as the slow ones has been a different approach for me," he says, "but it's been a great process."
Dan Michaels, senior VP of marketing and promotions at the Fair Trade Services label, says, "MercyMe's work ethic-touring live and engagement with their fans through social media-plays a significant role in ensuring strong sales every time. Beyond that, Christian radio's support of the first single, strategic presales at Christian retail and street-week price point [and] positioning in the general market, both physical and digital, were key drivers [in the album's No. 1 debut]."
In April, MercyMe headlined a Lifeway Christian Stores conference in Nashville, performing for nearly 200 retail managers and corporate executives. During street week, the band made in-store appearances at two Lifeway locations in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. The new album was also touted in Target's sales circular during street week, while Walmart offered a seven-song bonus disc featuring six previous No. 1 hits by the band and its cover of a worship song.
Michaels says, "As a marketing and promotions guy, I'm grateful that the band and producers [Brown Bannister and Dan Muckala] delivered what I believe are, at least, three hit singles. As a music lover, I'm quite fond of the lyrical tone overall. And it just isn't fair that Bart was gifted with one of the best voices around."