“In Africa,” explains Haseltine, reflecting on the band’s visits to the continent, “People embody their experiences, their emotions. When there’s a funeral, there’s wailing, and it isn’t a bunch of people standing around trying to be strong for everybody else. When they’re thankful or happy, they’re not taking anything away from that experience because they’re dancing or they’re singing, and there’s real joy. In America, there are structures in place that keep us from actually experiencing the fullness of those emotions in life. You find in Africa they don’t have much of a suicide rate – it’s extremely low. Compare that to the U.S., where we have these structures in place to keep us at a certain level of emotional status. And what are we doing with our emotions? We’re killing ourselves. It’s stuff like that that’s definitely informed this record.”

The album’s single most affecting song is “Oh My God.” It seems anywhere you turn, this statement is not up for debate. The epic six-minute exposition glimpses myriad emotions and scenarios for this most widely used phrase. In the first half, Haseltine’s vulnerable, near-whispered vocals ask questions and make pronouncements such as, “Why are we so afraid? We make it worse when we don’t bleed.” and “Oh my God, can I complain? You take away my firm belief and graft my soul upon your grief.” As the song builds, Haseltine’s vocals rise to a barely contained state that delivers listeners to an emotional precipice offering no plan of retreat or escape. That there is no resolve only heightens the individual’s experience to wrestle with the song’s queries and assertions. It is a remarkable composition and performance.

Explains Mason, “Matt initially conjured up this idea that everybody from saints to sinners at some point reckons with, whether as a blessing or a curse, crying out, ‘Oh My God’ – that was the initial premise of the song.”

Odmark continues, bringing some recent context to the song, “Part of our trip to Africa [this year] was spending a couple days in Rwanda. And you go to a place like Rwanda, and it’s like going to Auschwitz – a corner of the world where the worst thing that could possibly ever happen has happened, and to the tenth power. It’s the hardest … It’s what all of civilization is trying to coordinate itself to avoid or ignore, and so part of our trip led us right into the heart of that. It just becomes very apparent – if you’re going to talk about God at all in this life, then if He doesn’t have any power in that moment, then He doesn’t really have any power at all. And I think – people in Rwanda, if they were crying out to God, then they needed a God who could raise people from the dead because any other kind of God was worthless to them.”

“For me,” adds Mason, “my power in leading in weakness comes from asking difficult questions of the gospel and seeing them answered. But I diminish its power by not taking my questions there. And I think that if [the gospel] is true, then it’s got to be able to sustain the worst of our story and the most doubtful of questions and feelings. It’s got to receive that. That’s what that song is to me – ‘come bring it all – you’ll find an answer.’”

Self-discovery, the longing to be known, striving to find God in the midst of suffering, pleas for release and healing – such is the stuff of "Good Monsters." And, in the midst of all that lyrical heft, is the most musically accessible song collection Jars of Clay has produced since its platinum-selling self-titled debut. Not only is "Good Monsters" the high watermark of the band’s career to date, it is easily one of the year’s most affecting, important and, yes, enjoyable recordings.

There is a vitality and energy around Jars of Clay these days that is rare among bands that have existed for 13 years. Routines are generally settled into, ambitions are tempered by the responsibilities of life and bands are often little more than a job. Such is not the case around this quartet. Says Lowell, “It’s exciting to be 12 or 13 years in as a band and be embarking on this whole new world. It has a lot to do with who we are and how we create and how we experience God.”

All set within the backdrop of a really poppy guitar song.

© 2006 CCM Magazine.  All rights reserved.  Used with permission.   Click here to subscribe.