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The Bookhouse Recordings

  • reviewed by Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2004 1 Nov
The Bookhouse Recordings
Sounds like … the Beatle-esque pop/rock trio attempts to contemporize their sound along the Brit-pop lines of The Vines, The Elms, Keane, and ColdplayAt a glance … while it doesn't quite recapture the band's glory days, this is a step up from the disappointing Disappear album, and as always, it's a pleasure to hear these guys back together againTrack ListingPray for RainGreat LengthsIn the MiddleWonder WhyAnythingHomeThat Kind of LoveDying ManPrayer for BeslanLast Breath

Seems like the title of the 1997 hits collection The Late Great PFR is proving more and more premature with every passing year. At that time, all three band members were ready to settle down, start families, and pursue their own careers. And so they have, but PFR surprised fans by appearing with a new song on the Roaring Lambs compilation in 2000, followed by 2001's somewhat disappointing reunion album Disappear on Squint Entertainment. When Squint folded within a year of the release, PFR vanished once again, though they still played concerts together and continued to record on their own—guitarist Joel Hanson released Captured (2001) and Broken (2002), while bassist Patrick Andrew made his solo debut in 2004 with There and Then It's Gone. So it's no surprise by now that PFR hasn't officially retired, but are instead simply taking music making at their own pace, one album at a time. Reuniting for a relatively brief session at drummer Mark Nash's home recording studio in Nashville, the band self-produced The Bookhouse Recordings, which features seven remakes of their best-loved songs along with three new ones. The idea was to break some of their oldies down to their songwriting foundations, and then rebuild them with modern rock sensibilities.

There are a few things that work against an album like this. First, it's hard to improve on greatness. Not that most people expect new versions of hits and favorites to be "better," which is why some artists have done better by reworking lesser-known songs. Also, if you're going to tinker with previous material, make sure it's justified—if not an improvement, then something significantly different or creative. Songs that are remade with half an effort often show it, paling in comparison. Since it was recorded on a meager budget in just a couple short weeks, The Bookhouse Recordings is really more like an independent project. Under those circumstances, what can PFR do with their songs for fans to buy them again? How do you update or improve by making do with less?

The best example is "Last Breath," the most dramatically transformed of the bunch. Originally an intense and furious rocker from 1994's Great Lengths, it's scaled back here with an equally dark but slower, acoustic feel. While I miss the bombast of the original, this version does seem to better fit the song's mood and lyrics. Likewise, their hit "Anything" off 1996's Them was a pop-perfect slice of Beatle-esque sound. Here it's performed with the piano-based Brit-pop of Keane ("Somewhere Only We Know") and Coldplay—while the original is much better, this is a pleasant alternative. The band's namesake "Pray for Rain" originally had the same kinetic drive as The Police's "Message in a Bottle." This time, it's performed as straightforward rock with simpler riffs and a little more guitar edge—again, not necessarily an improvement, but slightly different.

The other remakes sound relatively less interesting or weaker. "That Kind of Love" is as beautiful as always, although the only noticeable change is the use of a programmed drum loop instead of the original's simple acoustic percussion. "Dying Man" also sounds a little too faithful to the original, save for a very oddly matched techno styled opening. "Great Lengths" also begins awkwardly with an intentionally horrible karaoke production that relies on an Omnichord, then jumping into a less orchestrated and harmonized arrangement that sounds more like a demo, using vintage synth to carry the familiar vocal hook. PFR had the right idea with "Wonder Why," trying to make the new version more hard-rocking, but the fuzzy distortion guitars only end up making it muddier sounding.

Each of the band members contributed a new song of their own. The best is Hanson's piano ballad "In the Middle," which evokes classic Paul McCartney while expressing God's delight in his sons and daughters: "Don't you know that you're one of the sweetest songs I've ever sung?" Andrew's "Home" is pretty, but extremely sparse—a simple acoustic track revealing where their hearts are now as thirty-something fathers and husbands. Then there's Nash's "Prayer for Beslan," a mournful plea for those affected by the Russian school tragedy in September 2004. It's probably the most emotional, dark, and different sounding song PFR has done, though here again, those qualities don't make it one of their best.

Fans will want this because they are fans. It's an absolute pleasure to hear PFR back together again for another album, and though it doesn't live up to their former glory days, it's still fairly good. The best thing about The Bookhouse Recordings is that it suggests we haven't yet seen the last of PFR—the band is simply the side project to their lives.

(The Bookhouse Recordings is currently only available through Family Christian Stores.)