- Reviewed by Andrew Greer Copyright Christianity Today International
- 2009 7 Jul
- Opening Credits
- Black Eye
- Cobra Con
- Freddie, Please
- The Spirit vs. The Kick Drum
- What Matters More
- The State
- The Proverbial Gun
- I Love/Hate You
- Becoming a Slave
- Jena & Jimmy
- What You Give Up to Get It
- American Flag Umbrella
I have to admit I am a bit biased when it comes to Derek Webb. Listening to him rant about Christians' lackluster production of art before performing a mundane, I-IV-V chord ditty of his own a few years back, I could care less what the sensational singer has to say, much less sing about. But after receiving an e-blast about his record label snafu in the spring, and trying my darnedest to be a good, objective critic, I couldn't help but read the press releases; download the documentary-styled EPK, Paradise is a Parking Lot; peruse the digital booklet, and wade through both the "clean" version of Stockholm Syndrome, set to be released through INO this fall, and the "explicit" version, available through Webb's website now.
You may have heard the ruckus over Derek Webb's seventh and most controversial release, which boils down to a couple of lines from one song, "What Matters Most":
We can talk and debate it until were blue in the face / About the language and tradition that he's coming to save / Meanwhile we sit just like we don't give a s*** / About 50,000 people that are dying today
At least that's the easily identifiable offense.?
In the same song, Webb tackles Christians' judgment of homosexuals: You say you always treat people like you like to be / I guess you love being hated for your sexuality, and follows suit in verse 2: If I can tell what's in your heart by what comes out of your mouth / Then it sure looks to me like being straight is all it's about. Though an insightful challenge, the provocative confrontation was enough to make INO, an explicitly Christian record company, squeamish from the get-go.
But Webb has always been the in-your-face voice, right? Ever since he used "whore" as a metaphor for wayfaring Christians in "Wedding Dress" from his 2003 solo debut, the on-and-off again Caedmon's Call singer has taken flack for his outspokenness. And considering he has a significant fanbase unique from his Caedmon's compadres largely because of his litigious, and sometimes brash, opinions, another lyrical scandal is hardly a surprise. Add his famously friendly gestures of completely free music (2006's Mockingbird), and it sounds like a plush mix of personal fervor and killer marketing plans.
Unfortunately this time, Derek's inciting platform detracts from what may be his finest hour, both musically and lyrically.
Creating the record from scratch, Webb and co-producer Josh Moore (Bethany Dillon, Slim Thug) personally gestated each track, holing up in studios from Texas to Nashville to carry the record from conception to completion. The result? Webb's most progressive soundtrack thanks to gritty samples, growly distortion and dirty techno beats, finally providing his indefatigable lyricism and always sturdy vocals a worthwhile vehicle.
For instance, in "Black Eye," a cocoon of stimulating electronic sounds encapsulate a metaphorical message about physical abuse in a relationship with society's tendency to become infatuated with, and imprisoned by, its repressive state: Time looks the same at the ones who hate / And the ones that do nothing.
Or the satirical "Freddie, Please," with biting lyrics inspired by infamous gay-hater Fred Phelps (Freddie can't you see / Brother you're the one who's queer … The stone's been rolled away but your picketing my grave / For loving the things you hate / Why do you seek the living among the dead? / Freddie, please) and discharged over a 1950s, Platters-type backbeat rhythm.
Webb's past lyrics may have been just as heady, but Stockholm's hip-hop allusions and vintage R&B context—think fat bass lines and haunting organs—are most intoxicating, musically inciting Webb's lyrics to life and clarity, a much-needed improvement from his usual strains of banal acoustic folk.??
So the question remains, if one cuss word is the cause for so much confusion, is its inclusion that important? Webb claims it is. But as an artist, could Webb communicate just as creatively without cursing?
I'm still a bit circumspect about capitalizing on the controversy (six pre-order options ranging from $7.99-59.99 were available at his website), but Webb sure does know how to drum up publicity. So much so, I wonder why he doesn't save the major labels some trouble and solo alone next time. Then he can say whatever the h*** he wants.