Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Redemption Songs

Kent would like to hear a bit about the new Jars of Clay album so I'll write a little. JoC came out of the box with a first album that knocked everyone's socks off. They had a unique sound, one that was not an obvious rip-off of a mainstream sound. In fact, their first album had huge mainstream success. They never again had that kind of success in the mainstream, however. Perhaps it was the position they found themselves in with respect to Christian radio. Christian radio requires a certain number of JPMs (Jesus per minute) or the stuff doesn't get played. My perspective is that this has gotten worse over the last half-decade, not better.

This emphasis on textual homogeneity has been one of the factors that I believe has fueled the current worship music boom - partly. I think there were a couple of factors at work here - maybe even the Holy Spirit although I think marketing was also a big part of it.

Two things were happening at the same time in CCM. First of all, artists (by which I really mean artists) were starting to chafe at the restrictions being placed on them by the industry. Charlie Peacock, Phil Keaggy, Wes King and others all either left or were released by their labels because of artistic issues. Some of which are that unless a song is an obvious song-about-Jesus it won't get played on CCM radio. Sometimes, it appears, Christians want to write and sing about other things too. Imagine that.

Secondly, Martin Smith and Michael W. Smith both released albums of worship music (Cutting Edge and Exodus) - music designed to be used in worship settings - which had decent pop and rock sensibilities. Remember, previous to this there was basically one type of praise and worship sound and it was, frankly, pretty bland. Out of the blue comes this new worship music which energizes people and coincidently solves the textual problem. Artists can sing worship music and feel like they're doing something authentic - after all, the text ought to be about God if it's music designed for worship. No more of this "how do I turn a song about riding my bike into a metaphor about God" stuff to worry about! Artists jumped on the bandwagon in droves because they could feel completely good about the music and, to be frank, it sold well.

In fact, it sold so well, that artists who were pretty content singing about whatever they felt like (like Jars of Clay) were badgered by their record companies to make a worship album. Jars resisted this for a while and then did it their own way - which is not to say that they took 12 of the same 30 worship songs that everyone else is doing and recorded it their way. They followed the lead of their friend and pastor Kevin Twit and did their own Indelible Grace album.

This album, Redemption Songs, is pretty good - not great in the way some of their others are but it sure has it's moments - like "Nothing But the Blood". It has some of the same strengths and weaknesses of the IG albums but has a much higher profile so maybe it will get noticed. The Passion group did some hymn settings but, I don't care much for that album at all.

The bigger question, though, is whether CCM can continue to survive if the artists can't find artistic satisfaction doing the only stuff that sells.

2 comments:

jystewart said...

Well technically Cutting Edge 1 came out several years before Jars of Clay entered a studio, but the US only woke up to it about five years later ;)

wierdo52 said...

Kent is not the only one who was eagerly awaiting your review.

I have listened to the album in the WAoffice (streamed from your computer via iTunes, of course), but I'm not convinced I like it. Sure, in comparison with most ccm worship out there (which badchristian called contemporary christian porn in a recent post) JoC's "Redemption Songs" isn't all that bad, but it doesn't fit with the current ideological directions of the band.

Most of all, though, I am ticked that they did not follow Igrace's arrangement of "I Need Thee Every Hour", choosing to stick to the ill-fitting traditional tune.

I'll give it a few more listens before I make a final judgement.