The problem with ‘high concept’ albums is that they can often sound like the musician or marketer behind them came up with the concept while actually high. Probably on crack or crystal meth. As evidence I offer the undeniably great Tommy by The Who, which is, you’ve got to admit, crazier than Sarah Palin in a Democrat moose-sanctuary.
For those who did not read the enthusiastic review of the Fall/Winter part of Jon Foreman’s EP cycle, Mr Foreman is lead singer of multi-platinum Christian rock act Switchfoot and wrote/produced all four of the EPs himself. These are not stadium-rockers, but mostly americana-influenced, rootsy acoustic numbers, reminiscent of Dave Matthews and, on some songs here, Sufjan Stevens. Foreman is releasing a collection of the ‘best’ of these seasonal ditties, but since tastes differ, I’d advise getting all the EPs instead.
Musically, expect gentle acoustic guitar with and without slide, New Orleans brass, woodwind and light strings augmenting everything from kooky neo-folk to mariachi-soaked stylings. But really, this is all about the singing. Lyrically, Foreman is understatedly brilliant. From a philosophical reflection on revenge from the point of view of Dizmas on the cross next to Jesus to stunningly beautiful reinterpretations of Psalm 23 and the Lord’s prayer, it’s always simple, never clever-clever, honest, open stuff. Throwaway lines like ‘Don’t let the panic get you down’ on Love Isn’t Made and
‘Baptise my mind — for these seeds to give birth to life, first they must die’ (on Baptise my mind, oddly enough) return to your thoughts at unexpected times after listening, prompting thought and meditation as much as appreciation for musical craftsmanship.
Generally this is light, though never frivolous material, but the most serious track is surely the star. Instead of a Show is a tough, challenging call to reassess our worship, our priorities and attitudes, based mainly on a passage from Isaiah and containing lines like: ‘I hate all you show and pretence, the hypocrisy of your praise,’ ‘away with your noisy worship, away with your noisy hymns’ and ‘your eyes are closed when you’re praying, you sing out along with the band. You shine up your shoes for services, there’s blood on your hands.’
For such a gentle, likeable set of songs, it can’t really be considered easy listening. But, then, who ever said Christian music was supposed to be?
Essential Download: Instead of a Show