I See Things Upside Down
- reviewed by Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
- 2004 1 Nov
- I Want a Broken Heart
- Better Than Wine
- The Strong, the Tempted, & the Weak
- I Repent
- We Come to You
- T-Shirts (What We Should Be Known For)
- Ballad in Plain Red
- Nothing Is Ever Enough
- Lover Part 2
- What Is Not Love
I miss the days when faith wasn't spoon-fed in a three-minute pop song—when music actually
In early 2003, after co-fronting Caedmon's Call for nearly ten years, the singer/songwriter left to release
The album's theme and title culminates with the closing track "What Is Not Love," which insightfully touches on the paradoxes of the faith—much like seeing things upside down: "What looks like failure is success/And what looks like poverty riches/When what is true looks more like a knife/It looks like you're killing me, but you're saving my life." Likewise, the opener "I Want a Broken Heart" metaphorically reminds us that we too often try to cover our sinfulness and pretend we don't need God's mercy: "I've traded naked and unashamed for a better place to hide/For a righteous mask, a suit of fig leaves and lies." As expressed in "Medication," a safe and pain-free life is no substitute for true freedom found in Jesus Christ.
Songs like these force us to examine our actions and rationales as Christians. As noted in the satirical "Ballad in Plain Red," we often blur the line between what works and what's right, consequently "turning shepherds into sheep and leaders into celebrities." I wish Christian radio would pick up "T-Shirts," because all believers could use a cold dose of truth when it comes to how we misrepresent ourselves to others: "They'll know us by reasons we divide, and how we can't seem to unify/Because we've gotta sing songs a certain style/Or we'll walk right down that aisle/And just leave 'em all behind." The straightforward-yet-insightful "I Repent" gives a brilliant dissection of spiritual legalism at odds with God's gift of grace, which is thoughtfully expressed in an adaptation of the 19th century hymn "The Strong, the Tempted, & the Weak."
With so many great songs to Webb's credit, it's no surprise that these are so strongly and powerfully written. But he stretches himself further by recording an album that doesn't rely on the usual acoustic pop sound of Caedmon's Call and his solo debut. More floating and experimental sounding than before, this is stylistically closer to the music of Wilco, Over the Rhine, and The Normals—which is especially ironic considering The Normals' Andrew Osenga has since replaced Webb in Caedmon's Call.
This extraordinary album was self-produced by Webb with consistent input from a terrific five-man studio band—check out Paul Moak's multi-instrumentation, Cason Cooley's dreamlike keyboard effects, and Will Sayles' breakout drumming. Much of the album was also recorded at Webb's home, allowing him the convenience to wait for the right mood and conditions to lay down his vocal tracks. There's an impressive variety in his singing to capture the mood of the songs just right—sometimes bright and upbeat, sometimes tired and gritty.
With all of this in mind, different doesn't always endear, and Webb is first to admit that not everyone will embrace this album's sound and message—allow me to be the second. Webb undermines himself the most by allowing the simple and beautiful worship of "We Come to You" to needlessly run for more than eight minutes. Though all the songs are still rooted in Webb's melodic folk/pop sensibilities, the overall atmosphere is somewhat darker and moodier. Unlike the more pop-friendly songs that Caedmon's Call has become known for in recent years, this is not a hook-laden recording that will find its way on to Christian radio. Think of it as the musical equivalent to an art film—brainy, visionary, and virtually everything a blockbuster is not.