Showing posts with label christian rock. Show all posts
Showing posts with label christian rock. Show all posts

Thursday, February 23, 2017

album review: 'sing it now: songs of faith & hope' by reba mcentire

I don't even know where to start with this one.

See, when I saw this come up on Patreon, I literally went to the guy who requested it and asked politely if I could skip it or he could ask for something else, and I figured I'd have good ground: after all, it's a selection of traditional religious hymns, that's not something any critic normally covers. And there's a very good reason for that, given that the music on a record like this is normally secondary at best, with instead the main purpose being for worship. And again, that's not saying that music can't have religious themes, but when you're considering the art of it all, you're left scrabbling for something that's often not even as relevant, especially on a lyrical level. There are, of course, exceptions, but in certain brand of evangelical gospel, poetry and writing often take a back seat to conviction.

But then it was pointed out to me that there was indeed a second disc of entirely original religious songs... and I still wasn't very satisfied at all, my overall point still stood. But then I thought, 'Well, hey, this is Reba McEntire, the country artist who managed to survive the overly sanitized 80s in order to become one of the most impressive and long-running hitmakers in the 90s, there'd undoubtedly be some quality here'. And hell, I even stand behind her self-titled TV show as being a lot smarter and well-written than so many people gave it credit, and she was an expressive actress. And it wasn't like there wasn't a demand for this album: it debuted at #4 on the Billboard 200, it sold tens of thousands of copies, people clearly were interested. And hell, I still have faith, even though my view of it is a lot more complex and layered than what you typically see in evangelical parishes, so maybe this record could move me despite my extreme skepticism. So are these songs of faith and hope up to that challenge?

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

video review: 'fading west' by switchfoot

Well, glad this is out of my system. Next up should be a few country albums and then I think I'll tackle Little Mix's Salute, just to finally get it out of my system. Stay tuned!

album review: 'fading west' by switchfoot

The worst thing you could ever say to a rock band is that they're boring.

I'm serious here. Think about it from a larger historical context - there have been plenty of bad rock bands throughout the years, especially whenever certain 'movements' of rock have gotten any sort of prominence in the mainstream. But there's a place in conversation about aggressively bad rock bands, because they're at least interesting to talk about even if it is to viciously slag them over and over again. The name remains embedded in the cultural conversation, and ten years later when we're talking about bad bands, we'll remember them for being awful. As much as so many people hate Nickelback or Linkin Park (and really, there are so many worse bands than either of these two - trust somebody who knows), all the hatred they've received hasn't exactly stopped them and won't wipe from the history books when musical scholars have the misfortune to examine the first decade of the 21st century.

But calling a rock band boring is so much worse - because they might not be bad, per se, but being 'acceptable' or 'passable' often translates in a few years outside of a hardcore fanbase into 'forgettable'. And really, the more I look back on the post-grunge scene of the late-90s and 2000s, the more I see bands in this vein completely disappearing from the cultural memory within a few more years. And you want your music to last... well, I can't think of a worse fate.

And now we come to Switchfoot, one of the most strikingly anonymous rock bands to which I've ever listened - mostly because they sound very much like the watered-down versions of whatever style of music was big at the time. Of course, that didn't exactly surprise me given that they started in the Christian rock scene in the late 90s, and they haven't exactly left that genre behind (I'll come back to this). And while Switchfoot has never really had an evangelical bent, those first five or so albums felt very neutered and lacked a certain edge of them, especially in comparison with their contemporaries like The Foo Fighters and Queens of the Stone Age. They were inoffensive, lightweight rock that didn't take any chances, and considering how much they were cribbing from other bands - first the mainstream post-grunge, then a very poor man's Queens of the Stone Age and then moving towards some of the lighter adult alternative in the mid-2000s. They were never as bad as Skillet or Creed, but neither were they anything close to being worth recommending.

But around their album Oh! Gravity, someone apparently told the band that a shift to a more serious, rougher tone might work better for them. On the one hand, the guitars got harsher and more ragged and started reminding me of Foo Fighters minus the memorable riffs - but on the other hand, the tone got darker, and that made the band a whole lot less tolerable. And it was a number of factors, too: Jon Foreman isn't remotely convincing as a heavier singer, the lyrics still weren't much to write home about, and there was an awkward defensiveness (especially on Vice Verses) that really got on my nerves. Despite the fact that Switchfoot never went evangelical, their lack of real humour or wit began to make their preachier songs a lot less tolerable. So I wasn't exactly enthused when I geared myself up to listen to Fading West. I mean, after seven goddamn albums of lightweight, not-particularly memorable Christian rock, did Fading West manage to surprise me?

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

album review: 'rise' by skillet

You know, religious-themed music didn't use to suck.

I mean, look at Johnny Cash or Elvis - both men made pretty solid albums exploring religious themes and styles in a mature, usually intelligent manner. And religious themes tend to crop up all over the place when one examines more gothic acts like Depeche Mode. Hell, Nick Cave has spent most of his career delving into various facets of religion, particularly in his most well-known song 'The Mercy Seat'. But all too often, whenever religion tends to crop up in music, the quality tends to drop exponentially (see the few albums Bob Dylan released when he embraced Christianity in the early 80s). Why is that?

Well, I've got a few ideas. For starters, I think one needs to consider the direction in which these acts are discussing religion and God. To me, the best of them deal with the very human experience of trying to contextualize one's beliefs while living in a very secular world. To me, that's potent material for songs, stuff that can make one think and question their beliefs. And if anything, the best religious-themed music tends to revolve around questions of faith and belief and yearning, trying to find what is at the meat of our human experience.

But you rarely see material that has the balls to ask these questions, and that's where the majority of Christian music tends to lose me in a hurry. At the upper end of quality in this group you tend to see a great of quasi-spiritual satisfaction, worship music without the drama of actual conflict. Now I have issues with this sort of music - basically, I'm not the biggest fan of mellow music as it is, and when you add the subtext of 'I got all of this because I accepted Jesus as my saviour', it can get more than a little insufferable. But on the other hand, it's essentially harmless, and if people are using said music to find solace in religion, I don't really have a problem with it.

No, the Christian music I and most critics take issue with is the stuff with the harder evangelical bent, which combines the subtext above with 'I've accepted Jesus as my saviour... and now YOU should too or you're going to hell for all eternity'. It's confrontational, in your face with its self-righteousness and complete lack of tact, thought, or humility - and as a Catholic, this really bugs the shit out of me. To me, religion should be about acceptance and love and tolerance and compassion and giving - not exclusionary pontificating and hatred. And yeah, the hypocrisy rings high and loud when these acts preach family values or attempt to cast themselves as the underdogs against the rising 'feminists and homosexuals'... and then get caught abusing drugs or getting blown by groupies in the back of a van (hi, Scott Stapp, you worthless piece of shit!). To me, these groups represent the worst of the evangelical movement, particularly in recent years, as they attempt to use the fandom of their music to convert people to their own breed of Christianity. And it really smacks of disingenuous motives when you realize that these bands stand to profit heavily off of their audience's religious fervour.

But those are moral objections to thematic elements in their music - what about the bigger picture? Well, as much as I'd like to say that these acts only signed to Christian labels when no other label would take them (that's untrue and a little unfair), my issues with Christian rock tend to come back to lyrical subject matter. Too often, the acts refuse to actually delve into the implications and deeper meaning behind their material, instead relying on shallow platitudes, emotionally-manipulating tragedy porn, or evangelical fervour. And the really frustrating part is that too much of the material quickly begins to repeat itself, with few new ideas other than an unearned, rather intolerable defensiveness against the rational progression of music and society as a whole.

And look, I'm not saying that on a musical level these guys aren't talented. Hell, I'll give Icon For Hire, an alternative metal act that exploded in 2011 with their debut album Scripted, a lot of credit for having extremely solid guitar and vocal work (to say nothing of lyrics that were actually had the balls to ask questions of religion and go deeper, which earned them praise from Christian and non-Christian review outlets). But too often you get acts like Creed or Evanescence (okay, Evanescence technically only signed to a Christian label and never really had evangelical music, but I really hate Evanescence) that are so dour and humourless and teeth-grindingly tedious that cast a pall over the entire genre, so much so that the majority of mainstream critics won't even touch Christian-themed music anymore, or any band signed to a Christian label.

But as I'm sure you've all realized, I'm not most critics, so let's take a look at the new album from the Grammy-winning Christian Rock act that Icon For Hire opened for a few years ago, Skillet. Starting in 1996, Skillet are widely considered to be one of the better Christian rock acts, and while I've never heard a single song of theirs prior to this album, their last album went platinum in the United States and sold over a million copies. If anything, that would suggest the band does have crossover potential into the mainstream, particularly considering that last album came out in 2009 (in an era where true platinum records were becoming something of a rarity).

And I've got to be honest, I've always been a little fascinated by the Christian metal scene. Just on a conceptual level, Christian metal is a study in dissonance, a genre ostracized by the Christian rock scene for embracing a 'darker' musical aesthetic and roundly disliked by the mainstream metal scene for their evangelical subject matter. In Skillet's case, the band has a reputation for industrial metal of all things - which, I should remind you, includes acts like Nine Inch Nails and Ministry - so I was definitely intrigued when I heard about the new album. I was less intrigued when I discovered that a song on their last album featured on the soundtrack to Transformers III, but hey, if that's not proof of their crossover potential, I don't know what is.

So what do I think of their new album, Rise?