Sunday, January 10, 2010

Best CD of 2009: Stockholm Syndrome

There are lots of reasons not to review a CD on this blog.  Rather than wasting time with an explanation, let me summarize the best CD of 2009:  Shocking.

This CD is full of controversy.  It's also packed with musicality and truth.  We're talking art. Beauty. So it's no surprise that my favorite CD of 2009 comes from a short bald headed man sporting a Five O' Clock on the cover of his latest.

Derek Webb says that “Christian art coming out of the church today deals in the most spiritual 2% of life and culture. And yet the Bible gives us a framework and a language to deal with all 100% of stuff that we find we come up against in life.” If you think about it, you’d realize he’s right on. On Stockholm Syndrome Webb endeavors to fill in some of the gaps – if you consider this Christian art. And I do. Just not the way we’ve ever seen it before. That’s the point.

 After a couple listens, I felt like Webb was drawing black lines with a gray crayon. His message is strong, but he uses a whole bunch of lyrical and musical techniques to deliver. It’s kind of like eating chicken noodle broth with a fork. It takes repeat after repeat to be satisfied.  But each bite is so musically tasty, you're more than happy to oblige.

Webb begins his vocals (after a short musical intro) with Black Eye.  It's an appropriate opening as there's no way to get through it unscathed.  From computer generated music, to what sounds like an electric kazoo the instrumentals keep you on your toes from start to finish (which could be said about the whole record).  Add to that the playful chorus when Webb sings of a horrifying reaction towards abuse called Stockholm Syndrome.  If you're not sure what parallel he's drawing, keep listening - this is just the beginning. 

In Freddie Please he covers his controversial lyrics in a 50’s style ballad. That’s what makes the message so poignant. “The stone’s been rolled away, but you’re picketing my grave for loving the things you hate. Then why do you seek the living among the dead?” The song is addressed to Fred Phelps, but could certainly be listened to as an open letter.

The Spirit vs. The Kick Drum pokes fun at how many of us approach the Trinity. Lyrically simple but full of truth, Webb picks the perfect swing groove to accompany a caricature of the common evangelical churchgoer. Many won’t like it. But Webb sings like he doesn’t care.

If you’re hoping Webb left his politics on Mockingbird, you’ll be disappointed. The State looks at our loyalty to America over Christ. Without a break, DW goes into The Proverbial Gun: “Now I can buy the proverbial gun and shoot the proverbial child. My uncle looks me in the eye and speaks of freedom”. If it’s an uncomfortable listen Webb has accomplished his goal.

Musically Derek Webb sounds as if he's been playing on the jungle-gym of electronic music his whole life.  There's nothing contrived or overdone about this album.  He also offers some of the most melodic moments (albeit brief) and polished vocals of his career.  Most profound is the way the musical irony lends itself so perfectly to Webb's often sharp message. 

Every song is unique, each track provocative in its own right. And as far as I’m concerned, it’s about time. If you’re looking for feel good religious or worship music you won’t find that here. Perhaps those genres have their place. But when that space becomes overcrowded and stuffy you're ready for some fresh air. That’s what Derek Webb offers – if you’re ready to leave your comfort zone. 

For a free download of Webb's What Matters More go here. Or go here to see the video.


milo said...

unlike his other cd's this one is a tougher listen for me. On mockingbird for instance, I felt like his message was always strong and clear while his music was drawing you in..and I just loved The ringing bell... I would guess on this cd that you had to look up the lyrics to understand what he was talking about. I like stockholm syndrome, but I don't understand it as well, and therefore it doesn't resonate as wel as he previous albums.

Jeremy said...

You're right, I did have to look up some of the lyrics - or at least listen a few times to catch them. Even then it was much more difficult to piece them together. For me that was the fun of it. Perhaps Webb feels like his message has been clear as a "ringing bell" in the past and wanted to make the message a bit more cryptic on Stockholm. It's good to hear another opinion from a Webb fan though!