How Can We Be Silent
- reviewed by Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
- 2007 1 Jul
- Song for the Broken
- I Believe in Love
- Here's My Life
- Keep Quiet
- Million Voices
- Sweet Revenge
- One More Round
- Take My Chances
- The Guy Song
- I Don't Regret
Looking back to 2004, I doubt most people had very high expectations for Barlow sisters Rebecca, Alyssa, and Lauren: "Wait, the girls that inspired that Superchic[k] song 'Barlow Girls' are now a band? And they play their own instruments? Yeah right—how good can they be?" Fortunately, BarlowGirl proved to be more than just a knock-off or, heaven forbid, today's Christian equivalent to The Shaggs. Turns out they do have the musical talent and outspoken lyrics to make it as a self-sustaining band, dominating Christian radio with singles from their first two best-selling albums.
Still, plenty of Christian artists can last for two albums. It's usually the third one when they really find their voice and show whether they can enjoy a healthy career. After working with the same producer for two projects and singing about the usual teen girl issues (abstinence, self-esteem, modesty, etc.), can BarlowGirl team again with Otto Price to offer anything we haven't heard before from them or other artists? Where do they go from here?
Well, naturally, they get a little bit older and wiser. How Can We Be Silent is not an album specifically tied to girl topics; in fact, "The Guy Song" is written to challenge boys to become the men God intended them to be (though aside from the title, it can be an empowerment anthem for anyone). Most all the songs are broader in scope, making BarlowGirl more accessible regardless of age or gender. Their autobiographical acoustic ballad and radio single "Here's My Life" offers a melancholic perspective on the things we give up for ministry: "God I'm cryin' out tonight/'Cause I've given you my life/But I'm tired and I'm missing what's behind." Later, the sisters answer that sentiment with the piano and strings splendor of "I Don't Regret," confirming a life unashamedly lived for the Lord.
Musically, the trio also seems to be shying away from the pop punk normally associated with "chick rock," embracing the darker, more dramatic side reminiscent of Evanescence. That comparison could be BarlowGirl's undoing if they're not careful. I'd call "Song for the Broken" a rip-off if they weren't good at that sort of beautiful pop-metal, and it goes so well with lyrics about pride holding us back from first going to God with our problems. Even the straightforward ballad "I Believe in Love," about keeping faith despite God's silence through our suffering, appropriately recalls the softer side of Evanescence and Amy Lee's haunting vocals. As derivative as it may sound at times, I'd be lying if I said the sound didn't work for BarlowGirl.
What's particularly striking, however, is the outspoken passion with which BarlowGirl drive their message this album. As suggested by the title, the sisters challenge the idea of toning down our faith in modern culture. Rather than staying on defense, they're pushing for stronger offense—hence the boxing motif of the album cover. The theme first comes to light with the thunderous rock of "Keep Quiet," pondering why the name of Jesus is so offensive to some and why believers would be scared to tell the world about what it needs most: "If relevance becomes my goal/Tell me, will I lose you to its hold."
Personally, I take some issue with the song's assumptions. It's not always selfish pride or personal fear that keeps Christians from boldly proclaiming Jesus to non-believers. Christ is as relevant as ever, but sometimes the methodology and means that Christians resort to are what offend and divide. Yet whether or not you agree with the Barlows is beside the point here. At least the trio takes a position and attempts to offer a rationale for it, which can't be said for many Christian artists today. "Keep Quiet" and similarly themed rock anthems like "Million Voices" and "Take My Chances" work in tandem with "Song for the Broken" and "I Believe in Love," making you consider how you personally maintain and share your faith.
Which brings up the album's highlight, "One More Round," one of the more inventive and playful songs that BarlowGirl has come up with to date. It continues with the boxing metaphor as an example of persevering in faith and fighting the good fight. But with a slinky Broadway jazz sound reminiscent of the musical Chicago, it also demonstrates hope for the Barlows to continue to experiment with their stylistic range more for future albums. How Can We Be Silent is not a groundbreaking album by any means, as it often recalls the work of this band's musical peers, both Christian and mainstream. But it does show BarlowGirl finding confidence in their footing while taking some bigger steps in music and lyrics, daring to ask some tough questions and not always focusing on the sunny side of the Christian faith. Given time, they may well continue to defy expectations.