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Christian Music - Reviews, News, Interviews

The Love of Life

  • reviewed by Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2003 1 Jun
The Love of Life
Sounds like … an enjoyable blend of power pop, punk, and classic'80s new wave that harkens back to Toad the Wet Sprocket, Green Day, and even The PoliceAt a Glance … though the sound doesn't vary much, the combination of smart lyrics and broadly appealing melodic rock make The Love of Life one of the better Tooth & Nail debuts in 2003

The problem with starting a band too soon, as discovered by Watashi Wa early on, is that you may potentially end too soon. Hailing from San Luis Obisbo, California (the same town as Jeff Searles of Furious Records' Everyone), the band was started in 1996 by a then 13-year-old Seth Roberts. The young vocalist/guitarist and his teenage friends made a strong impression early on, attracting the attention of Christian punk trio Noggin Toboggan (don't ask about these band names), who soon took Watashi Wa under their wing. Things almost ended prematurely, however, when key members had to move away with their families.

Emboldened by the promising start, Seth sought new band members, expanding from a trio to a quartet by settling on Roger Tompkins (bass), Lane Biermann (drums), and Mike Newsome (guitar). After favorable reviews for two albums on the now defunct Bettie Rocket label, the band has found new life on Tooth & Nail with the release of their sunny-titled The Love of Life. Produced by GGGarth Richardson (Chevelle, Rage Against the Machine), the album is a fine showcase of Watashi Wa's enjoyable blend of power pop, punk, and classic '80's new wave rock. Personally, the equally odd-named Toad the Wet Sprocket from the early '90s is the best comparison—Seth's soft vocals even sound a lot like Glen Phillips of that band. There's also hints of Green Day, Jimmy Eat World, Weezer, The Goo Goo Dolls, The Rembrandts, Switchfoot, Sanctus Real, and even The Police, to be found in Watashi Wa's melodic rock.

Besides having a sound with broad appeal, Watashi Wa excels at songs that communicate their faith in subtle and interesting ways. Unlike many of their label mates on Tooth & Nail, however, the song subjects are less obtuse and more clearly derived from a Christian worldview. Take "Clear," for example. It perfectly illustrates how one doesn't have to use the name of Jesus or tired sentiments to express faith: "Now feel the times when all we knew was pain/Where loved ones' hearts were locked by scars/And soon their name has changed/But these are times when soon you'll see what came/In all this pain there's wholeness found in One who stays the same."

Songs such as "Clear" help put an artist in perspective, allowing Christians to know where the ideas are coming from without completely turning off non-Christians. "The Air I Breathe" finds perfect contentment in a relationship with the Lord, while the poetic "Everything" sees God's creation as an invitation to come into his presence: "Have you seen a moonlit sky when it echoes off the water's end?/An evening's breeze seems endless like a memory/And every memory like a ring, a promise made into a destiny/The love of life is calling out your name." Perhaps the album's most clearly spiritually derived song is "How She Sees," which smartly indicts hypocritical and legalistic churches that fail to show love to those who take the first step in coming to know Christ: "If she could only see she's just like you and me."

Many of the other tracks could be interpreted in different ways, though they certainly relate to faith in the context of the band's beliefs. The extremely catchy power pop of "All of Me" is a song of surrender that can be used in reference to a romantic or spiritual relationship: "You'll never see me walk away/All I have is all I need/So stencil me and watch me bleed/They've stenciled out the world and then colored it in as more/So stencil me and watch me bleed." The driving "At Its Finest" describes life when we truly learn to love one another: "Others care for you/Do you care for them as well?/I have learned that depression comes when our eyes are on ourselves." The sweet love song "With Love From Me to You" is set to the sort of melodic rock that Toad the Wet Sprocket and The BoDeans were known for. "Smoke Signals" bemoans petty gossip, and "Her Dress" abstractly expresses the perils of sexual temptation.

It's easy to hear why Watashi Wa earned some positive critical reviews early on. The lyrics are intelligent and the music is extremely catchy, although I'm hesitant to call it punk aside from some similarities to Green Day. The band would benefit from some variety though—most of the songs sound similar and the style is only broken by a couple of pretty piano interludes. There's still enough here for melodic rock fans (present and from twenty years ago) to appreciate, and Watashi Wa's The Love of Life is easily one of the better Tooth & Nail releases in 2003.