Archives for category: Music

My next random album of the week is Toxicity by System of a Down.  I ran across these guys in 2005 after I’d heard people talking about their Hypnotize and Mezmerize albums and wanted to check them out.  I was in a CD club that let me pick it up for $6 so I did.  Listening to Toxicity the first time was a definite “Holy crap!” experience.

I actually liked the album so much that I went ahead and bought several other albums by them: Steal This Album, Mesmerize and Hypnotize.  While they all sound good to me, none has had quite the hold on me that Toxicity has.  I’m not sure what they are singing about half the time (Psycho! Groupie! Cocaine! Crazy!) so I plan on spending some time with the lyrics (Pull the tapeworm out of your ass!) just to see if I can figure some of it out.

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This has been an interesting experience, going back to Russ Taff after years of it collecting dust.  I can see why I listened to this album all the time back when it came out.  It is very well done, with high production values and Taff’s voice is great as always.  The tracks that still standout are Higher, I Still Believe, Shake and Steal Away.

The last one, Steal Away, is the real standout.  It’s just a minute or so long and is basically Taff singing what sounds like an old hymn or spiritual with a guitar accompanying.  It’s very stripped-down and just gorgeous.  And that says something about the rest of the album to me – it’s just too overproduced.  It’s like the producer set out to make hits instead of music.  It’s no surprise that Taff’s follow-up album The Way Home is my favorite as it returns to a simpler, more acoustic/folk/rock style that really allows Taff’s voice to stand out.  It just seems like a more honest, more open album and Russ Taff pales in comparison.

My rating: 2/5

One thing that came back to me quickly after listening to Russ Taff is the odd lyrical game Christian artists played in the 1980’s.  They may still play it but I’ve pretty much stopped listening to “Christian” music so I’m out of the loop.  To understand the lyrical game I’m talking about you first have to understand the two competing pressures on Christian rock artists from that era.

First, a lot of conservative churches were very uncomfortable with the idea of mixing Christianity with rock music.  Rock music, after all, was the province of the devil, ranking only behind sex and drugs.  I remember as a 15 year-old in 1983 wanting to hear a song by Petra.  I called a gospel station and requested the song and was told they didn’t have that album.  “Well do you have any Christian rock then?”  And the (presumably) old man playing the vinyl gospel records said “Son.  A lot of those songs don’t even mention the name of Jesus.”  So one clear pressure was to make Christian rock “safe” by ensuring the lyrics were, in fact, Christian.

The other pressure came from within the Christian rock movement itself.  While they were happy playing to Christian teens like myself, a lot of them saw their purpose as evangelizing.  A church gym full of a couple hundred happy Christian teens was great but in a sense it amounted to “preaching to the choir.”  Most non-Christians weren’t going to listen to Christian radio and most secular stations weren’t going to play music that talked explicitly about Jesus, no matter how great the music.  What was an artist to do?

I think what a lot of Christian artists did was compromise and try to make great music and write lyrics that were somewhat ambiguous.  Christians could listen and they’d hear certain “catchphrases” that would let them know they were safely listening to Christian music.  Nonbelievers would hopefully be drawn in by the catchy tunes and would be singing along without immediately realizing that they were praising God.  Presumably, one day they would realize that when the lyric says “I love You”, the You isn’t Susie next door.  This sleeper effect would soften them up to the Gospel.  There’s even a term for this: pre-evangelism.

As a result you wind up with lyrics like this:

Somedays I get up in the morning and I wish I wasn’t there
Life seems so incredibly lonely when no one wants to care
But I found somewhere in this heart a Friend for life
To hold me close till all my fears subside

Or this:

Walk between the lines
Through this life and times
My heart is hitting hard upon the Word
Walk between the lines
Finding deeper finds
My heart is hidden deep between the lines

They aren’t bad lyrics but I’m skeptical that they had the desired effect.  Given that 99% of your audience is Christian, why not dispense with the code words and Clever Capitalization?  I really doubt that anyone ever thought: I wonder what he said just there?  I guess I’ll check out the lyrics.  Oh it was “friend” not “Fred”.  Wait, why is “friend” capitalized?  That’s weird.  Hmm…. I wonder if the friend he’s talking about could be God.  Why yes, I think it is God.  And you know, I really do need God in my life as a… as a Friend of course!  Now where was that copy of the Sinner’s Prayer?  Oh yeah, it was on that Rebecca St. James album.  Dear Jesus…

My new random album of the week (RAOW – I like the sound of that) is the self-titled album by Russ Taff.  It was released in 1987 and is a complicated album for me for a couple of reasons.russ-taff

I used to love Russ Taff.  As I mentioned before, I was a pretty severe fundamentalist and for years would only listen to Christian music.  Russ Taff was one of my favorites back in the 80’s before I broke out of that shell.  His previous album Medals (1985) was a funky, R&B influenced album and was a lot of fun.  What stood out was his voice which was both gravelly and soulful.

When he released Russ Taff in 1987 I was very excited and ended up listening to it for months.  At the time I remember thinking “This is what Christian music is capable of.”  It sounded current and energetic.  It sounded like stuff you’d hear on any radio station.  My friends and I listened to it so much that I became overexposed to it and eventually reached a point where I didn’t want to hear it again.

And so it’s been probably 15 years since I’ve really listened to Russ Taff.  I’ll be interested to see how it holds up not only after so much time, but also after so many changes in me.

After a week of listening to Madonna’s Greatest Hits Volume 2 I’m ready to be done with it.  While it’s certainly not a bad album (I actually enjoyed it more than I thought I would), it’s really not my type of music.  Some of the lyrics are just silly and it seems that for every strong song there would be one that irritated me or bored me.

The highlights were definitely Secret, Take a Bow which is just beautiful and Don’t Tell Me.  I think it’ll be awhile before I listen to this again.

My rating: 2/5

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