Sharing the Suffering
Album: The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me
Is this a Christian album? It’s hard to tell. Brand New’s lead singer (Jesse Lacey)’s religious views have been the subject of much speculation by his large and largely secular fanbase. But most concur on one thing: the man is a genius.
Over three albums, Brand New have evolved from pubescent punk-rawk into the thinking grown-up’s Emo band.
And The Devil and God is not just their most accomplished work to date, it’s the best record dealing with spiritual angst, backsliding and doubt ever released.
Musically mostly down-beat and spare, with occasional savage flourishes of pain and aggression, this guitar-drum-bass-vocals album could not be called ‘Pop’ any more than it might be called ‘chirpy’. But it is brilliant.
Consider the lyrics to Millstone (the title possibly a rueful rockstar’s reference to Luke 17:2?): “I used to sleep without a single stir, ‘cause I was about my father’s work.” The lyrics of Handcuffs, a disturbingly honest confession of moral failure, tread similarly dark waters and get darker than this: “I’d arrest you if I had handcuffs, I’d arrest you if I had the time… I’d break in a town’s worth of houses and rob whole families blind, I’d do it to you like you’d do it to me if you knew you’d get away fine.”
A more obvious, but no less troubled Christian reference is found in Limousine: “Can I get myself out from underneath this guilt that will crush me? In the choir I saw our sad Messiah. He was bored and tired of my laments. Said, ‘I died for you one time, but never again.’”
On ‘Jesus Christ’, what seems like unimaginative low blasphemy quickly evolves into profound apostrophe to a Saviour who Jesse seems unable to believe still loves him.
Clear lines between songs about God, sin, relationships, self-actualisation or the state of the world are absent here. A desperate, tortured holism runs through every song, finding struggle, regret and most consistently a consciousness of personal spiritual failure in every aspect of life.
Sadly, what is lacking is hope, a sense of Grace or a belief that this failure can be turned around. It’s hard to tell if Jesse is a Christian who is refreshingly aware of his own sin (if a little too hard on himself about it) or a seeker, desperate for the touch of Christ to transform his failures into forgiveness. Either way, The Devil and God will make for compelling and disturbing listening for thinking Christians and secularists alike.
You won’t find this album in the ‘recent releases’ section (unless someone in the store misunderstands the band’s moniker), but its power is in no way diminished by the year and bit that has passed since its release.
Star rating: 9/10
Essential Download: ‘Jesus Christ’