Thursday, May 2, 2013

March 2013 - Popular Music

Tori Amos - To Venus and Back (studio disc)
Tori Amos - audience bootleg, Dallas 29 September 1999 
Kate Bush - Lionheart
Marc Cohn - The Rainy Season
Counting Crows - August and Everything After
Gavin DeGraw - Chariot
Bryan Duncan - Mercy
Peter Gabriel - So
Genesis - We Can't Dance
Gotye - Making Mirrors
Incubus - Make Yourself
Jars of Clay - Redemption Songs
Jars of Clay - Good Monsters
Billy Joel - River of Dreams
Radiohead - In Rainbows
Something for Kate - Echolalia
Something for Kate - Leave Your Soul to Science
Talk Talk - The Colour of Spring

The new entry in here was Redemption Songs.  A not entirely new purchase - one of several pop albums that I bought around about the same time as the classical music avalanche I keep referring to, and put aside for later. Plus, of course, it was released in 2005 so I am performing my frequent trick of buying albums most people have stopped talking about.

There is, or perhaps was (as I'm not really up on the last several years) an interesting trend in Christian contemporary music that really blurs the boundaries between participatory, worship-style music you'd find in a church setting and performance-style music you'd expect an audience to hear in concert or buy on CD.  I say 'trend' partly because there did seem to be a distinct wave of bands releasing worship-style music, at a time a few years back when I was listening to Christian radio enough to notice. (My loss of touch with Christian radio is at least partly a function of my loss of touch with radio generally.)

Redemption Songs is definitely part of that 'trend'.  It generally consists of old words - probably old hymns although I'm not completely certain in some cases whether these were hymns or only poems - set to newer music. Or in the case of some old hymns (definitely this time), some new music has been added to the old.  The liner notes refer to the band's hope of carving out 'a new tradition of church music'.  It's a particularly Christian take on doing a musical crossover.

(There is some cheating involved in the concept here. Based on the credits, there are at least a couple of songs where the music hasn't been updated.)

It's an interesting idea. To my ears, however, most of this doesn't sound terribly 'new' at all. It sounds old. The words sound like the words of another generation, and the music does nothing to bring it forward.

The funny thing is, though, that not only do about a third of the tracks succeed in having a more modern sensibility, the successes are generally the songs that Jars of Clay themselves provided all the music for (and conversely, the Jars of Clay-composed songs are generally successful).  If the album is not an especially great listen, it isn't because the idea behind it was bad, it's because the idea wasn't pushed hard enough and worked on more.

Or maybe that's just my ears.  Maybe they wanted it to sound 'old'.  Maybe the target audience wasn't the Christian contemporary music fan base, but the more traditional American churchgoers that eye CCM as some kind of bad compromise with the devil (seriously, some of the things you can read about it on the internet are... not complimentary).  Maybe for some people this was one of the few favoured 'pop' albums that they could tolerate.

Then again, they did release one of the self-composed, modern sounding songs as the single.

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