In my last post, entitled “In Defense of Christian Contemporary Music” I gave my opinion and perspective on Christian pop, rock and worship music. I also promised to review several albums that have been formative for me.
Near the end of my last post I wrote, “(t)he artists that most speak to me are gifted vocally, musically and lyrically and they challenge me in places where I would not otherwise be challenged.” With that in mind I give you my first album review.
The group that comes to mind first when I think of being gifted vocally, musically and lyrically is Jars of Clay. Based out Nashville, Jars of Clay is a Christian rock group that began in the early 1990’s. Their self-titled debut album in 1995 won them plenty of recognition from both the Christian and secular music industries. They have released ten more studio albums since then. Though their debut album was incredible I would like to review a more recent one because I believe it is there best work since then.
The Long Fall Back to Earth came out in 2009 and I immediately fell in love with it. At the time I was separated from Janna for the summer, participating in a pastoral internship in Lethbridge, Alberta. Needless to say I had no distractions from sinking my teeth into the meat of “The Long Fall Back to Earth.”
What first impacted me about this album were the lyrics. Every song seemed to strike a chord with me. Yet it seemed like the songs were in random order, there was little flow or theme. However as I listened more I began to see this album as representative of my own faith journey. It feels like real life. It feels like it is written from the experiences of someone who has been a Follower of Christ for some time. Lead Singer Dan Haseltine says of the title, “The Long Fall Back To Earth describes that sobering moment in a relationship when you move from the euphoria of being in love to the reality of what it means to live in relationship with someone else on a day to day basis.”
The album begins with series of songs that lament our inability to live fully for God. The song “Two Hands” gives some of my favourite words.
I’ve been living out of sanity
I’ve been splitting hairs and blurring lines
I am a house that is divided
In my heart and in my mind
I use one hand to pull closer
The other to push you away
If I had two hands doing the same thing
Lifted high, lifted high
Out of this frustration comes another strong theme that runs throughout the album, a desire to grow closer to God and a desire from God for you to grow closer to Him. The song ‘Closer’ gives us the perspective of our own desire to have closer intimacy with God, while ‘There Might Be a Light’ and ‘Heart’ come from God’s perspective. From ‘Heart’,
No mountains to climb, papers to sign
Offer your heart, I've given you mine
No walls to defend, wars to align
Give me your heart, you already have mine
Offer your heart, I've given you mine
Yet mixed in with all these heavenly assurances are some songs that give very real commentary on our own world. One that sticks with me in particular is ‘Headphones’. It tells of a human race that has placed metaphorical (and in many cases I believe literal) headphones on in order to block out the rest of the world.
I don't have to hear it, if I don't want to
I can drown this out, pull the curtains down on you
It's a heavy world, it's too much for me to care
If I close my eyes, it's not there
With my headphones on, with my headphones on
I love this album because it feels so real. I feel the writers sorrow when they fail to live as full Christians. I also know what it is like to want to draw closer to God in a real and tangible way. I also know that life isn’t just about our relationship with God but also our relationship with the world and I see Jars of Clay struggling with this.
Lyrics are however not the only reasons I love this album. Musically, the ‘Long Fall back to Earth’ begins slowly with an instrumental piece but quickly ramps up into a set of songs that have a distinct 80’s synth-rock feel, yet all the while retain their pop-indie sound. How is that possible? I don’t know, I also don’t know how to describe music in general so I am going to stop. What I do know is I like it!
Finally, I have always thought lead singer Dan Haseltine has an interesting and unique voice, but it was not until this album did I realize how gifted he actually is. The high soaring song ‘Hero’ is the moment when this album jumped to the top of my favourites list. If you don’t do anything else go have a listen to ‘Hero’ by Jars of Clay.
That is all until next time. If you have never experienced Jars of Clay I would encourage you to check out “The Long Fall back to Earth” or their self-titled album. And if you are already a fan I would love to know what you like about them.