God is my Director

Youth ministry, movies, no drugs and a variable amount of Rock ‘n Roll

‘Christian’ music: I have a dream

Posted by Martin on December 1, 2006

I’m no musician. I’m a music fan, and I’ve written about the subject a little. But I can’t play more than the first few notes of Mull of Kintyre on a piano. So take this all with a pinch of salt. But if I had the chance to address the ‘Christian music’ industry, this is what I would say:

I’ve been consistently impressed, surprised and inspired by some of the albums created by British ‘pop’ musicians over the last couple of years. From Hard-Fi’s Stars of CCTV to Snow Patrol’s Eyes Open and Final Straw, bands have time and again been prepared to innovate, take musical risks, and most significantly, create albums that are more than just a selection of songs. More and more, the great bands and artists are seeing the album as a whole – as a complete piece of art, made up of contributing elements. Just as a play is made up of scenes which work together as a whole, these albums aren’t just a collection of disparate songs, but a plotted course through complimentary elements which make up an artistic experience. Perhaps the pop album started out as the thing you released when you’d written ten good songs, but we’ve moved on from there.

Well, at least in the real world we have. Take Coldplay’s X&Y, widely regarded as a masterpiece, and incidentally packed with as much spiritual content as your average Christian worship album. Here is an album which truly works as a complete piece of art. From the opening question of ‘Square One’: “You’re in control, is there anywhere you want to go?”, the band take the listener on a journey through highs and lows of enjoyment and emotion; pose some huge questions about the nature of life itself, and engage both brain and heart throughout. By the final bars of last track ‘Kingdom Come’, you are exhausted and uplifted – the way you might feel after a particularly cathartic theatre visit.

The songs themselves demonstrate similar innovation and songwriting effort – and consistently so. Many of the tracks go exactly where you don’t expect them to – such as ‘What if’, which ends up by suddenly changing course and musically referencing The Beatles’ psychedelic masterpiece ‘A Day in the Life’. There’s variation, there’s lucid writing; there’s at least five or six truly classic songs. That’s what makes it – in the real sense of the word – great.

So as a Christian, and a music fan, I look at the so-called ‘Christian music’ industry (in quotes because as Rob Bell says, “Christian makes a great noun but a lousy adjective”), and wonder why the same degree of creativity isn’t present. Why is it that I so rarely come across a contemporary Christian album which embraces the new understanding of the format? Why is it so unusual to hear a CCM or worship track which takes musical risks? Surely we represent the guy who created creativity?

That’s not to say that the Christian music scene is devoid of imagination. The recent albums from David Crowder Band (particularly the experimental B Collision), and Mat Kearney (see recent post), buck the trend, but for the most part Christian musicians seem happy to tow the line of their predecessors – being the band that tries to sound like U2, or the band that tries to sound like the band that tries to sound like U2, or… you get the picture.

So what am I saying? I’m honestly not just wanting to be critical for the sake of it. But if as Christians we truly want to be at the forefront of the Arts, we need to be able to say ‘this isn’t good enough,’ and look for answers. So here’s my challenge – before they record or write anything else, I’d like every musician in the Christian recording industry to sit down and take a long listen to some of the truly innovative albums of the last few years. Those I’ve listed above, plus Gnarls Barkley’s St Elsewhere, Arcade Fire’s Funeral, and Demon Days by Gorillaz. Whatever else they find interesting in their genre.

Then I’d like them to look long and hard at how those albums are structured, and at how the songs look to break new ground and innovate. Then, after a long period of listening and reflecting, I’d ask them to try to apply the same degree of creativity (and not just the same ideas!) to their own songwriting and musical arrangement.

And if that happened, I honestly believe we’d start seeing some ‘Christian’ albums that are up there with the stuff in the charts. I have high hopes, for instance, for Tim Hughes new worship album. Some of the songs which he’s already showcased, which will appear on the album, are certainly at the more creative end of the scale. I really hope he doesn’t settle for middle-of-the-road production values on what could be some really amazing tracks. Similarly, I believe Delirious still have it within them to write a truly innovative pop album. Perhaps then they’ll stumble into the kind of mainstream success they chased for so long in the middle stages of their career.

As I say – I’m no musician, so maybe I know nothing. My hope is that there might be a grain of wheat in all this chaff that might help someone.

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4 Responses to “‘Christian’ music: I have a dream”

  1. spannalise said

    hmmmm
    i’d never thought about it like that before. i am a musician, and a christian, i write (poorly) but i know that i usualy write with the intention that what i write comes from my heart, and actually has specific meaning. but commercialism is taking over the world these days and i often feel that albums and songs are the result of the pressure of producing to a deadline,as opposed to content based production.
    i agree that most christian music isn’t of compositional excellence, but i admit, i listen for the words and the feeling.
    but i don’t always think its a bad thing, unless its JESUS IS MY BOYFRIEND! haha
    -anna

  2. bob loblaw said

    Check out the Danielson Famile. Start with “Ships”. Just a suggestion.

  3. Gim.D said

    I’m a massive Sufjan Stevens fan – he’s highly connected with Danielson I know. But for me, that stuff is maybe just slightly TOO creative!!!

  4. David Buckna said

    Thursday, March 15, 2007
    A Neon Bible Study [21 Questions and Answers]

    By David Buckna

    http://www.assistnews.net/Stories/2007/s07030103.htm

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