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Christian Music - Reviews, News, Interviews

Glimpses of God (Vol. 2)

  • reviewed by Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2003 1 Jan
Glimpses of God (Vol. 2)
The second in a continuous series exploring the increasing tendency toward spiritual longing in today's mainstream music—including mega-sellers such as Linkin Park and Evanescence.

When we first started the Glimpses of God series in early 2003, we wondered how readers would react to a feature focusing on mainstream artists rather than Christian artists. Many of these artists don't share our beliefs concerning Jesus Christ, and some of them write lyrics that most Christians would consider inappropriate, including profanity and sexual references.

Instead, many readers responded with great enthusiasm for the series. The truth is that more people listen to mainstream music than Christian music. This series is intended to familiarize readers with mainstream artists using Christian themes-whether intentional or not-to express spiritual longing in their music. It can be used to find common ground with those you hope to point to Jesus.

I'd also recommend prayer for the artists featured in Glimpses of God. Some are in fact Christians simply trying to make good music for their audiences. We can pray that they do so effectively and share the Good News in their own way. Other artists apparently have not accepted the Christian faith, but still express a spiritual longing common to all of us. We can pray that these artists will find the peace and comfort found in Christ alone.

The examples below are included because they are solid musical efforts with some spiritual merit to them. They are indeed evidence that our culture is seeking something more to this life.

Link in Park
(Warner Brothers)
Melodic nümetal

"I want to heal/I want to feel what I thought was never real/I want to let go of the pain I've held so long/(Erase all the pain 'til it's gone)/I want to heal/I want to feel like I'm close to something real/I want to find something I've wanted all along/Somewhere I belong" — from "Somewhere I Belong"

Though the nü-metal sound is quickly becoming passé and tired with its blend of powerhouse guitars, catchy melodies, hip-hop rap, and passionate singing/screaming, Linkin Park is still packing a punch with their audience. They certainly didn't pioneer the genre, yet their debut, The Hybrid Theory, became the best-selling album of 2001. Most people expected the band's long-awaited follow-up to do well, but no one expected Meteora to sell more than 800,000 copies in its first week, topping the Billboard album sales chart en route to going platinum.

Linkin Park's popularity stems not only from their solid, hook-filled sound, but also because of their passion, optimism, and search for spiritual truths. The band has toured with P.O.D. and Project 86, prompting many to wonder if Linkin Park has some tie to Christianity. In an interview with Shoutweb, lead emcee and vocalist Mike Shinoda revealed that he "was raised in a really, really liberal Protestant church. Two of the guys are Jewish. [Sample master] Joe [Hahn] was raised in a little more conservative Christian church and [lead vocalist] Chester Bennington has his own really unique views on religion. In general, we are all over the place."

Since Mike writes most of the lyrics with Chester, it's not surprising then that spiritual themes show up. Like their debut, Meteora generally alternates between themes of severing broken relationships and searching for answers. Songs in the first category include "Don't Stay," "Faint," "From the Inside," and "Hit the Floor." "Lying From You" can be interpreted on a lot of different levels, though it's essentially a rejection of living a lie.

Then there are the songs such as "Somewhere I Belong," the album's extremely catchy first single-and in some ways a new generation's version of U2's "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For." Excerpted above, the song in one sense extols self-enlightenment. On the other hand, it's a strong declaration of confession and surrender that easily can be interpreted as a desire to purge our sinful nature: "I will never be anything 'til I break away from me." Similarly, the beautiful "Easier to Run" seems to convey a struggle with the sins of the past: "Sometimes I think of letting go and never looking back/And never moving forward so there'd never be a past." The band resolves to make a change with the generically written and uncharacteristically pop-sounding "Breaking the Habit"—"I don't know how I got this way/I'll never be alright/So I'm breaking the habit tonight."

There's even a bit of spirituality to the album's title, which refers to a Greek city famed for a cluster of monasteries sitting atop a jagged mountain peak–you may recognize it from the James Bond film For Your Eyes Only. Compared to similar sounding nu-metal acts, Linkin Park is surprisingly clean and cathartic despite the dark themes of their music. In many ways, these guys are as effective as many a rock band on the Christian label Tooth & Nail, conveying tension, hurt, angst, and confession. Linkin Park excels at presenting the questions-questions we all can use to share the Answer with our friends.

Daniel Lanois
Ethereal and eclectic folk pop

"How to navigate, how to simply be/To know when to wait, explain simplicity/In whom shall I trust/And how might I be still/Teach me to surrender/Not my will, Thy will" — from "Falling at Your Feet"

You may never have heard his name (the last name's French, pronounced "lan-WAH"), but Daniel Lanois was, according to Rolling Stone magazine, the "most important record producer to emerge in the '80s." Lanois helmed several of the most seminal pop/rock recordings in the last 20 years-such as U2's Joshua Tree and Achtung Baby, Peter Gabriel's So and Us, and Bob Dylan's Time Out of Mind.

You also may not know that Lanois has released three critically acclaimed solo albums of his own since 1989, including his new release Shine. And chances are you may not know that Daniel is, like his pal Bono of U2, a devout Christian. Raised a French Catholic, all three of his solo albums include strong examples of his beliefs. Is it a coincidence that this famed producer works almost exclusively with such spiritually minded artists?

Shine is an interesting collage of sound, drawing upon folk, pop, jazz, country, and reggae influences. All of it ties together with the ethereal sounds common to Daniel's work, though the rootsy elements seem stronger now than ever before. Imagine Christian band Lost Dogs or the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack crossed with Peter Gabriel, or Blind Boys of Alabama, and you're on the right track. Half the cuts on Shine are instrumental, carried by Daniel's newfound love for pedal steel guitar. The other half features his vocals, which resemble Eric Clapton at his most tender (i.e. "Tears in Heaven" or "Wonderful Tonight").

The album's first single, "Falling at Your Feet," a duet with Bono, was originally included on the Million Dollar Hotel soundtrack. Their voices blend together almost seamlessly in what seems to be a song of praise, acknowledging that all creation will one day bow to the sovereignty of the Lord. "I Love You," featuring harmonies by Emmylou Harris, begins with an illustration condemning those consumed with greed instead of love: "A man carried metal, carried gold/More than he could handle, more than he could hold/It weighed him down to a sand shallow grave/Where his bones were beaten by a heat wave."

"As Tears Roll By" resembles the work of classic Christian artists such as Gene Eugene or Mike Roe, expressing the heart of one struggling with his sinful nature in a fallen world filled with temptation. That spiritual lamentation continues into "Fire," pleading for divine intervention. The encouraging and comforting ethereal country of the title track finds Daniel singing about the unfailing presence of a friend, perhaps God: "In the end the thing that keeps them walking is your shine/Your shine when they wear no coat, your shine when the feeling's low/Your shine when it's too late to turn around."

Shine doesn't explore matters of faith as clearly as Daniel's previous solo offerings, but it still should resonate with many Christian listeners. Considering the profound influence this man has had on popular music, we should be thankful he's using his talents to glorify the Lord–both on his own albums and in the artistic endeavors of other spiritually minded songwriters.

Modern/alternative rock

"In your house I long to be/Room by room patiently/I'll wait for you there like a stone/I'll wait for you there alone" — from "Like a Stone"

Audioslave is like a "mash-up" done the old-fashioned way, combining the vocals of one band with the instrumentation of another. In this case, it's not a matter of digital editing but combining the remnants of two popular bands from the '90s. Screaming rap-rock band Rage Against the Machine replaced lead vocalist Zack de la Rocha with Chris Cornell of Soundgarden, one of the great rock metal bands from Seattle during the early '90s grunge movement. The combination works better than anyone expected. Who knew that Rage could tone down enough to play more of a classic hard-rock sound, reminiscent of Led Zeppelin and Queen? How can a band go wrong with one of the best lead vocalists in rock, ranking with the likes of Robert Plant, Freddie Mercury, Sammy Hagar and Gary Cherone?

It's one of the best rock albums of the last year, but I'm just as impressed that the Rage members turned over all lyrical control to Cornell. Rage Against the Machine has a reputation for bad language and controversial worldwide political causes; you can view them for yourself at Cornell, on the other hand, has been known to explore spirituality and Christianity in his lyrics as far back as his days with Soundgarden. His words on Audioslave don't disappoint, except for the strong rocker "Set it Off," which drops the f-bomb twice.

The album's single "Like a Stone" has enough content to warrant its own essay. The chorus (excerpted above) is a strong plea for salvation and to be in God's presence. No doubt many will be hung up on the lyric, "On my deathbed I will pray to the gods and the angels/Like a pagan to anyone who will take me to heaven." In the song's context, however, it seems more like a desperate plea than an actual strategy or worldview, akin to the rich man asking Jesus, "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" Chris also qualifies it with the contrite third verse, "And on I read until the day was gone/And I sat in regret of all the things I've done/For all that I've blessed and all that I've wronged."

It's not the only faith-inspired track on the album. The prayerful "Show Me How to Live" is fairly self-explanatory: "Nail in my hand from my creator/You gave me life, now show me how to live." One of the album's softer tracks, "I Am the Highway," could be interpreted as what God is and isn't-present in everything and bigger than we imagine: "I am not your rolling wheels/I am the highway/I am not your carpet ride/I am the sky/I am not your blowing wind/I am the lightning/I am not your autumn moon/I am the night."

"Exploder" illustrates how spiritual freedom helps us reconcile the hurts of a sinful world, and "Hypnotize" reminds us to show love and compassion to our fellow man. The most stunning example of faith comes in "Light My Way," which at times rivals most other prayerful anthems you hear in Christian music: "In my hour of need, on a sea of gray/On my knees I pray to you/Help me find the dawn of the dying day/Won't you light my way." Some even wonder about the album's cover, incorporating the band's logo of a fire blaze. Maybe it's just my Christian worldview, but it strongly reminds me of an extremely huge representation of Moses and the burning bush.

Cornell is typically reluctant to discuss the inspiration behind his lyrics, though based on the recurring themes found on his albums, it's pretty safe to say he's got some kind experience with Christianity. Guitarist Tom Morello refers to the songs as "haunted, existential poetry." They are indeed vague at times, yet also poetic and inspiring, pointing to a sovereign Creator.

Beautiful and haunting gothic rock

"Wake me up inside/Call my name and save me from the dark/Bid by blood to run before I come undone/Save me from the nothing I've become" — from "Bring Me to Life"

Things sometimes have a way of changing quickly. Christian media, radio, and retail went into Gospel Music Week 2003 this past April praising Evanescence as the latest example of a "roaring lamb" in the mainstream music industry. Days later, most of the same people were disappointed with the Arkansas duo due some quotes from them in an Entertainment Weekly interview, causing many to pull their product from store shelves and their hit single "Bring Me to Life" from their radio playlists. Even we at ended up removing our positive review of Evanescence's national debut, Fallen. Our praise of their artistry remains, but not without some reservations.

Evanescence is one of the latest artist signings and success stories on Wind-Up Records, home to the similarly controversial Creed. At the core of the band is multi-instrumentalist/songwriter Ben Moody and lead vocalist Amy Lee. The two met as teens, gradually developing a band and a following in the underground Christian music scene. For more on their early history and their prior spiritual leanings, I highly recommend this interview with the now defunct Stranger Things magazine.

More than a few have described Evanescence as P.O.D. and Nine Inch Nails if they were fronted by Sarah McLachlan or Enya. As crazy as that sounds, it's a pretty apt description of the band's unique and effective blend of punchy hard rock, angst-driven electronica, and haunting ethereal pop. Thanks in part to high-profile soundtrack placement in the film Daredevil, "Bring Me to Life" became a smash hit single, propelling Fallen into the top ten of industry album sales.

Then after two months, the bombshell hit. In an April 15, 2003 interview with Entertainment Weekly, Evanescence emphatically declared they aren't a Christian band. According to Amy Lee, "There are people hell-bent on the idea that we're a Christian band in disguise, and that we have some secret message … We have no spiritual affiliation with this music. It's simply about life experience." Unfortunately, Ben and Amy used profanity to communicate their request to be removed from Christian bookstores and radio stations. The industry quickly complied.

Evanescence attributes their outspoken spirituality in earlier songs and interviews to "youthful indiscretions," though they seem to be handling their newfound success with even more immaturity. After all, it was Wind-Up's decision (with the band's permission) to shop their music to Christian audiences via radio and retail, not the other way around. Of course, most record labels keep tabs on what is said by their artist in an interview, so it's not as if they didn't have a chance to halt or question Evanescence's comments. Perhaps strangest of all is Moody's assertion that there is nothing Christian or faith-based about Evanescence's music: "I'm not ashamed of my spiritual beliefs, but I in no way incorporate them into this band."

That last quote, combined with the band's outspoken past, suggests that Moody still has some sort of relationship with Christ. But it seems to contradict the numerous songs on Fallen that are clearly derived from a spiritual worldview. "Bring Me to Life," as excerpted above, reads as a solid plea for spiritual revival. On the Psalm-like "Tourniquet," Amy sings, "My God, my tourniquet/Return to me salvation … Am I too lost to be saved?" She later adds, "My wounds cry for the grave/My soul cries for deliverance," which could perhaps be interpreted as the contrast between death under the law and life under redemption as outlined in the book of Romans. Ben and Amy seem to communicate a life slowly conforming to the image of Christ in "Taking Over Me": "I believe in you/I'll give up everything just to find you/I look in the mirror and see your face if I look deep enough/So many things inside that are just like you are taking over."

Not that all of Evanescence's songs are spiritually themed, or even neutral towards Christianity for that matter. With all that the band has said in recent interviews, one wonders if "Everybody's Fool" is an indictment of the church and the Christian faith: "Perfect by nature, icons of self-indulgence/Just what we all need/More lies about a world that never was and never will be … You're not real and you can't save me." In a May 20, 2003 interview with USA Today, Amy issued a flimsy apology and explanation for their comments in Entertainment Weekly: "We certainly don't want to alienate anybody. If anybody picks up our CD and listens to it and likes it, we love them … So I just hope this whole thing hasn't made anyone think that we're against any particular group or anything. That's the whole point–that it's for everyone. We don't want to put it in a box."

Bands such as Lifehouse and P.O.D. have successfully broadened their audiences into the mainstream without alienating their Christian fan base. Evanescence's mistake was to cut their ties with the Christian community too suddenly and severely. Yet despite the mixed messages, there's enough on Fallen for Christians to savor and appreciate, whether such lyrics are intentional on Ben Moody's part or not. However, because of recent interviews, unsuspecting Christians easily offended by profanity should perhaps steer clear of Evanescence's concerts since there's no telling what they will or won't say. We can only hope that this talented duo will eventually figure out what they're trying to convey thematically, and we can only pray that such a message will once again involve the Gospel.

Do you have a current "Glimpse of God," an example of perceived spirituality in popular music? Drop us an e-mail with your suggestion, and we'll consider it for future editions.Click here to view Glimpses of God (Vol. 1), featuring 2003 Grammy-Award winners Coldplay and Bruce Springsteen