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Christian Music - Reviews, News, Interviews

The Observatory

  • reviewed by Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2002 1 Sep
The Observatory
Sounds like … Jimmy Eat World, The Elms, Weezer, and Jars of Clay — melodic modern rock with garage rock and British rock influencesAt a Glance … Cadet demonstrates remarkable artistic growth on their sophomore effort, strongly asserting themselves as a band worthy of your attention.

It's incredible to hear the number of artists who have improved themselves in 2002, if not reinvented their sound. Case in point, Pacific Northwest band Cadet. The melodic pop/rock quartet released not one, but two "debuts" in the spring of 2001 – their self-titled album, as well as the modern worship disc Any Given Day: Earth to Heaven. Critics and audiences reacted favorably, if not strongly, to Cadet's sound, which could be likened to the power pop of Weezer and Teenage Fanclub. Despite the mild praise, most didn't take the band all that seriously, assuming the trio would remain insignificant and obscure. If you're one of those people, give Cadet's The Observatory a spin and you may change your mind just a few songs into it.

Lead vocalist and guitarist Ryan Smith, bassist Jason Kennedy, and drummer Chad Basom welcome new member Matt Lenhart on keyboards and guitar. Matt adds just enough substance to Cadet's sound to elevate it above amateur garage rock. What's most impressive about The Observatory, though, is the band's maturing sound, which seems to have happened more swiftly than a teenage growth spurt. The debut was fun, melodic, rocking, and a little sophomoric; The Observatory features thoughtful and melodic modern rock with a British influence. These guys have reached a level close to that of mainstream act Jimmy Eat World, a band that also has proven you can be artistic and creative with the power pop/rock sound. There are also hints of The Elms and Eleventh HourJars of Clay to the new sound; Ryan Smith even sounds a lot like Dan Haseltine. It's a good thing Cadet still retains some of their Weezer-like garage rock sound, otherwise I'd swear this was a new band!

If you're skeptical about the Jars comparison, listen to "Change My Name," which is about sacrificing pride and humbling ourselves to be called Christ's own: "When it's all lost, I find a freedom / When it's all gone, I find a life / So give me a name and I'm yours." There's also a strong Jars of Clay similarity in "Blame," at least in the beginning. The song strongly suggests Christians can be just as much at fault concerning the problems of this world, especially when some would rather tear others down instead of uplift them and demonstrate the love of Christ. "Come Alive" has a dreamy alternative-pop sound and takes the perspective of a prodigal marveling that God can still love us after all we've done to disappoint him. The band gets especially acoustic on "High Tide," which details confession and absolution, with God washing away our past. The album's hidden track offers a fun contrast to the sound with an Erasure-styled electronic pop version of the song.

The artistic growth is absolutely remarkable, lyrically and musically. In the modern-rock ballad "Today," Ryan explores daily devotion from an angle I've never considered before: "If you say each day is like a thousand years, then why do I wait to love you?" The album's title is taken from "Two Stars to the Left," which poetically observes that our vantagepoint (our "observatory") changes from that of the rest of the world when we live the Christian life. "Wishing Well" expresses the mindset of someone running out of hope, desperately looking for something to place faith in; the sound is late Beatles, like something off of "The White Album." There are only a few songs that hearken back to Cadet's old sound. "Stuck in a Song" is one of those simplistic romantic rock ballads you'd associate with the power pop genre, in which Ryan asks the girl to be upfront about her feelings for him. "Cry to You" rocks most closely to the Weezer and Jimmy Eat World sound, reminding us that when the world knocks us flat, we at least have God to cry to.

The only weak song on the album is "Call Me," a simplistic melodic rocker that's more befitting of Cadet's debut. It happens to be a song of support and accountability, battling teen depression. Some may question the behavior suggested of the second verse – "If you're lonely, we could T.P. / Just like we're thirteen / Throwing our worries over rooftops and running off" – but I think we can forgive a harmless prank if it'll truly save a life. We also can put up with the sophomoric sound of "Call Me" because of the rest of the album. There's still room for improvement (there always is), but Cadet needs to be commended for coming so far in such a short amount of time. If you think you've heard this band before, think again. Listen to Cadet's The Observatory with fresh ears and an open mind – you'll be pleasantly surprised.