Glimpses of God (Vol. 3)
- reviewed by Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
- 2003 1 Jan
We live in strange musical times. In 1984, pop icon Madonna gleefully declared that she was a "Material Girl" living in a material world. Now almost 20 years later, the Material Girl is decrying greed and pleading for family values on her
For most artists, songwriting represents a process of personal growth. Albums offer snapshots of an artist's life: emotionally, socially, and spiritually. The Glimpses of God series was created to call attention to specific examples of mainstream artists exploring subjects of faith. Some are professing Christians approaching their craft outside the gospel music community; others are non-believers searching for answers. All are artists you can pray for and albums you can use as common ground with a non-Christian friend.
Volume 3 of Glimpses presents four examples of acclaimed artists who incorporate Christian themes—intentionally or not—into their songwriting.
My Private Nation
Classic pop/rock "I need a sign to let me know you're here/'Cause my TV set just keeps it all from being clear/I want a reason for the way things have to be/I need a hand to help build up some kind of hope inside of me" — from "Calling All Angels"
For Train founder Patrick Monahan, the rock star lifestyle initially included drug and alcohol abuse. With role models such as Nirvana's Kurt Cobain and The Beatles, the aspiring artist assumed such vices were necessary to inspire creativity. After years of struggles and frustrations, Monahan eventually changed his way of thinking. He cleaned up his act and left his hometown of Erie, Pennsylvania for San Francisco, where he formed the Grammy Award-winning rock band Train, best known for their smash hit "Drops of Jupiter."
How things have changed since those wild days of youth. Compared to most pop/rock bands, Train is downright wholesome, espousing themes of commitment and family values along with the typical subjects of romance and life struggles. "I'm a 34-year-old guy," Monahan said in an interview with Cleveland.com. "I'm not an 18-year-old kid playing punk rock, drinking booze and smoking weed every night. I already did that. That's not what I want in my life. I want to be a great friend, husband and dad."
Such sentiments crop up in many of Train's songs, often autobiographical for Monahan. "I'm About to Come Alive," from
When Monahan sings "I need a sign," it's less an expression of doubt than it is a plea for reassurance-similar to Styx's 1990 inspirational hit "Show Me the Way." The line "I won't give up, if you don't give up" may simply be intended to encourage peace among the nations, but it might also be viewed as a pledge to a merciful and patient God. Regardless of the multiple takes, there's little question the song is ultimately directed to God. The video even shows the band treading a bleak wasteland with the heavens eventually opening to shower the world with light.
Another example of faith on
Train may not be the most obvious example of a "Glimpse of God," but they are one of the most well-known, thanks in great part to the success of "Calling All Angels," which at least gets people thinking about faith, hope, and love. That such a song could so easily find a home on mainstream radio is surely an indicator of society's increasing openness to those themes.
Diamonds on the Inside
Bluesy rock, soul, folk, funk, and reggae
"We long to be a picture of Jesus/In His arms so many prayers rest/I long to be a picture of Jesus/With Him we shall be forever blessed" — from "Picture of Jesus"
This highly acclaimed Californian is steadily gaining the kind of notoriety for which legends are known. Ben Harper's parents, both musicians, raised him on a variety of styles, and his grandparents run the Folk Music Center near Los Angeles. A skilled songwriter, vocalist, and guitarist, Harper's instrument of choice is the Weissenborn, a 1920s Hawaiian lap slide guitar.
Best known for his single "Steal My Kisses," Harper's highly acclaimed solo debut in 1994 combined a wide range of classic sounds-rock, blues, soul, funk, folk, and reggae. Imagine an impressive hybrid of Lenny Kravitz, Jimi Hendrix, Bob Marley, Prince, Dave Matthews, and Jack Johnson. Harper's versatility is also evident as a guest artist on
On his latest recording,
Inspired by the image of Christ on Corcovado Mountain in Rio, "Blessed to Be a Witness" expresses the Lord's sustaining power: "So much sorrow and pain/Still I will not live in vain/Like good questions never asked/Is wisdom wasted on the past/Only by the grace of God go I." The beautifully instrumented "When She Believes" acknowledges God (and Mother Mary) for blessing him with such a wonderful wife. The classic rocker "Everything" can be interpreted as a love letter to his wife or to God: "You're my first thought in the morning when I rise/You're my last thought in the evening when I rest my head at night/You mean everything to me."
Faith is a regular subject in Harper's work, but his private life is another matter. He has been known to smoke marijuana, and his music sometimes includes racy themes of "sexual healing." Perhaps he's since grown out of those tendencies, now that he's a family man. And in interviews, he regularly calls himself a "believer" to whom faith is important. Are these spiritual references in Harper's songs sincere or are they simply done for style? There are many conflicting factors at work concerning Ben Harper, so it's probably best to take
Birds of Pray
Anthemic alternative rock
"I don't need no one to tell me about heaven/I look at my daughter and I believe/I don't need no proof when it comes to God and truth/I can see the sunset and I perceive" — from "Heaven"
In a sense, Live is to mainstream music what
Together for more than 15 years, Live's quest for faith and truth is fascinating. Though lead singer and lyricist Ed Kowalczyk apparently grew up in a Christian home, he came to resent the religion in the years leading to the formation of Live. With the band's 1991 debut
Rejecting Christianity would not prove permanent, however. The band's 1994 breakthrough sophomore effort,
Sensitive listeners beware: Live uses several profanities on each of their albums. They also regularly return to a theme of sexuality—sometimes treated crudely, sometimes with reverence.
Gotta Get Thru This
Programmed Euro pop/R&B
"If only I can get thru this/God, God, gotta help me get thru this" — from "Gotta Get Thru This"
Born in New Zealand and raised in London, 22-year-old Daniel Bedingfield is quickly gaining attention as a production wunderkind. It would be tempting to write him off as the Euro pop equivalent to Justin Timberlake or Aaron Carter, though his sound more resembles pop groups such as Take That and Boyzone. The reality, however, is that he's too talented for such teen pop comparisons.
Bridging together elements of pop, rock, R&B, and dance, Bedingfield doesn't just write and sing his own material, which is already a step ahead of most teen pop artists. He also records it all in his bedroom with a computer and a microphone, playing most of the instruments himself and tweaking the mix later in a professional recording studio. It sounds terrific (testament to today's technology) and it's earned him deserved comparisons to George Michael, Stevie Wonder, Craig David, and Michael Jackson. Bedingfield even pressed and distributed the original CDs of his song "Gotta Get Thru This," a dance-pop hit in clubs on both sides of the Atlantic.
Turns out that Bedingfield's also an outspoken Christian. Depending which bio you read, his parents are either missionaries or social workers. He openly shares his faith in concerts and in some of his music. For example, "Gotta Get Thru This" is essentially a plea to cope with a first-time crush. Okay, so the only spiritual line in the song (excerpted above) is a bit of a stretch. There are still a handful of sweet, unrequited love songs showing remarkable wholesomeness and maturity concerning romance-including two with references to prayer: "If You're Not the One" ("I pray you're the one I build my home with") and "Without the Girl" ("Heaven knows everyday I pray that someday she will belong to me").
Of course, he's not the first mainstream artist to pray for perfect love. Christian listeners are bound to be more impressed with "Blown It Again," which initially seems like a song of reconciliation between friends. It is, but chances are he's referring to a more long-time and heavenly friend: "Diggin' up the heart within me/Dismay is the only feeling I see/I have to say my heart ain't what it could be … You can't live a life if you don't ask why/Such a thing as too much information/Trapped inside this condemnation/I could've told you all my fears all those years/Now I'm ashamed of my ways."
Then there's the gentle acoustic "Honest Questions," which seems inspired by Psalm 63 and/or Isaiah 35. It's stunning to hear a song this faith-based on a mainstream release: "Oh look down and see the tears I've cried, the lives I've lived, the deaths I've died/You died them too, and all for me/You say, 'I will pour my water down upon a thirsty barren land/And streams will flow from the dust of your bruised and broken soul.'"