Friday, September 4, 2009

music review: stockholm syndrome

I have been a Derek Webb fan since Caedmon's Call sold copies of My Calm//Your Storm for $7 at their half-full shows (and yes, Travis, that DOES make me awesome). I like him as a musician, a vocalist, a storyteller, a preacher, and a poet. I have enjoyed watching his music change and grow with him, from angst-ridden single-guy CCM songs to goofy bluegrass to the electronic experiment of his new release, Stockholm Syndrome.

Even though I am admittedly predisposed to be a fan of whatever Webb does, it took a few listens before Stockholm Syndrome began to grow on me. The electronic-pop sound of the album is a departure from Webb's acoustic-driven norm, and the lyrics demand far more than just a casual listen. But after hitting the repeat button a few dozen times to give myself a fighting chance at understanding both the music and the words, I can say that I think this album is phenomenal.

I can understand why this album, and even Webb himself, have been criticized heavily by conservative Christian media. He is not doing what most Christian artists do, in that he is not writing songs with a clear "here is what I believe about God" message. Instead, he is simply holding up a mirror. Based on the criticisms I have read, it seems that people either miss the point because they hear it as Webb's personal testimony and judge him a heretic, or else they get the point and just don't want to hear it.

A few highlights:

*Heaven - This sweet, lilting melody will make you hum along and smile until you listen to the words. (Again, this is not to be interpreted as "Derek Webb thinks this is what heaven will be like." Use your noggins.)

*I Love/Hate You - One critic interpreted this song as being directed at Webb's wife, but I have to disagree. Based on the EP Webb and his wife made together about their relationship, this song is not about them. Rather, I find it to be a frighteningly familiar picture of what it looks like to worship anything (whether religion, philosophy, or personality) other than God. Another great track, What You Give Up To Get It, has a similar message and is lyrically engaging.

*Jena & Jimmy - An allegorical commentary on one of Webb's favorite topics - the intersection of church and politics. This is a clever song with a catchy 80's pop hook that sticks in your head for days.

And I guess I can't really review this album without mentioning the song that has gotten the most hype: a blistering assesment of the conservative Christian subculture's response to homosexuals (What Matters More, listen here). The song has a cuss word (which, as my husband loves to say, is not a cuss word to everyone - to some people it is just a fact of life) which caused Webb's label to balk at releasing the album. They reached a compromise - the label released the album without the song, while Webb released the full album himself on his website - but not before Webb used the ordeal to launch a gimmicky and somewhat annoying marketing campaign. All that to say, I think it's a good song and the cuss word does not get me worked up. The message isn't exactly ground-breaking, but it is still one that hasn't been heard or listened to enough so, as the Aussies say, good on ya Derek.

My favorite words of the album are the last ones. It is almost as if Webb is anticipating the critics who say he should be more hopeful (and there were those) by reminding us that, although the scene is bleak when we look in the mirror, we're not done.

In the end it will all be alright / That's what the wise men tell us / So if it's not alright / Then it's not the end, oh my friends / There's hope for everyone.

1 comment:

Andy said...

Looking forward to hearing it! And mostly because of what you said: "He is not doing what most Christian artists do...."