In 1990, the Mission were primed for the big BIG time, at least in the United Kingdom. Children had been a hit, they were being followed drink for drink and quote for quote in all the music papers, and their next move was being followed with (at least in some circles) bated breath. Given that the Mission had no real trouble doing what they wanted in the face of critical backlash and generally getting a hard time from writers and detractors, it was a bit of a surprise that Wayne Hussey asked his fan club members (also known as the Eskimos) to come in and listen to tapes of the new record and help the band knock out a track listing. Taking that into consideration, it's a bit of a surprise that some tracks made Carved in Sand, but that's a later topic. The leadoff single, "Butterfly on a Wheel," a somewhat schmaltzy ballad (its title a nod to a headline after the bust/release of Jagger and Richards in the late '60s), was a hit, and it looked like the album was going to be the Mission's coronation. And to a certain extent, it was. The band would headline Glastonbury and get even more press attention, and Carved in Sand would become the band's best-selling effort. But Carved in Sand is a bit of an odd creature. Where previous releases were (mostly) lyrically centered on fantasy imagery and gothy romance and sex, Carved in Sand (occasionally) takes on more topical themes. The opener, "Amelia," is a frank -- and somewhat off-putting -- song against child molestation, and that fades into the musically strong "Into the Blue," which is an environmental lament of sorts. But topical is not really Wayne Hussey's lyrical forte, so when "Butterfly" comes in at track three, it's a bit of a relief. The big barnstormer on Carved in Sand, "Deliverance," may just be one of their best songs: dynamic stadium-ready singalong stuff that is punchy, rollicking, and over the top -- just the way a big Mission song ought to be. It's the second half of the album where the questions about fans picking the track listing comes into play, however. "Grapes of Wrath," a misguided ballad about working the land, is pretty and gentle, but it may be the weakest song the Mission ever put to tape. Sure, Hussey has had more than his share of maudlin moments, but this takes the cake. Did the fans pick this track, and if so, why? The "follow-up" of sorts, Grains of Sand, which collected the moments not picked for Carved, had plenty of tracks that would have sufficed nicely in place of this poorly chosen song. Thankfully, it's over fairly quickly, and the album wraps up nicely, albeit rather soon. While Children felt long and epic, Carved in Sand feels epic, but lacks the length. Unfortunately, tracks could have been added that wouldn't have taken away the punch and power of "Deliverance," "Belief," or "Hungry as the Hunter" and would have given the album an even bigger feel. And yet, Carved in Sand still contained some of the strongest moments the Mission ever had.
AllMusic Review by Chris True