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Christian Music - Reviews, News, Interviews

The Waiting Room

  • reviewed by Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2002 1 Oct
The Waiting Room
Sounds like … a myriad of alternative rock bands ranging from melodic power rock (Live, U2), neo-grunge (Lifehouse, Smashing Pumpkins), and artistic acoustic rock (Sixpence, R.E.M., Jars of Clay)At a Glance … Poor Old Lu makes a triumphant return to the Christian music scene and never has sounded better than on this outstanding melodic art-rock album.

Invariable Truth of Rock & Roll #32: When a band calls it quits, don't rule out the possibility they'll eventually get back together. Thank goodness that's held true for Seattle band Poor Old Lu. After debuting in 1992 with Star Studded Super Step, the band named after one of the children in C.S. Lewis' Narnia chronicles quickly amassed a loyal underground rock following. They were born out of the infamous Seattle grunge movement of the early '90s, though they were never as dark and noisy as their contemporaries were. More than a few people have likened them to a grunge-version of R.E.M. because of the occasional jangle guitar sound and lead singer Scott Hunter's clear tenor; I know some fans will beg to disagree, but I liken his vocals to a grittier, alternative version of Keith Green. Others might compare Poor Old Lu to the melodic power pop of Live and U2, the pop-grunge of Smashing Pumpkins and Lifehouse, or the artsy acoustic rock of Sixpence and Jars of Clay. However you pegged them, the band called it quits after just four albums with their 1996 release, A Picture of the Eighth Wonder, considered by many to be the band's best work. Bassist Nick Barber and guitarist/producer extraordinaire Aaron Sprinkle moved on to short-lived rock band Rose Blossom Punch, while Aaron's brother Jesse (considered one of the finest drummers of the '90s) joined The World Inside.

Thanks in part to Tooth & Nail Records, Poor Old Lu's story doesn't end with their greatest-hits album and the live recording of their "final performance" at Cornerstone. The quartet has reunited to record The Waiting Room, which is easily their finest album yet. As much as I appreciated the band's previous efforts, I had a hard time getting into their albums because they sounded a little second-rate compared to mainstream bands of the time (a problem all too common of underground Christian rock acts from the early-to-mid '90s). The Waiting Room sounds terrific, perhaps due at least in part to the fact that Aaron Sprinkle has done a lot of producing since Lu's disbandment six years ago. It's like listening to Live or Smashing Pumpkins with the dreamy art rock of Starflyer 59. Fans of the intelligent grunge pop/rock of Lifehouse may want to check out this album to glimpse a classic Seattle band at the top of their game.

The album opens with "Revolve" which has a similar rock feel to the band's previous "Receive," a melodic rock tour de force that shows off Jesse's impressive drumming in a song about casting off the false securities and materialism of this world in favor of a closer relationship with Christ. "Sunlight & Shadows" feels like a Brian Eno-produced U2 rock ballad with its similar bass line, classic keyboard effects, and Aaron's Edge-like guitar work. The song warns of the perils of living a lukewarm spiritual life, neither hot nor cold, attempting to live a life of holiness while collecting skeletons in our closet. Poor Old Lu falls into a bluesy grunge ballad style that's similar to Jars of Clay and Live in "A Month of Moments," which reminds us that we cannot justify ourselves in the eyes of God. We need Christ, who still loves us despite the way we cling to our sinful nature: "Am I full of pride or lost inside? / When I stand alone I am alone / And I have not the strength to break the shame / And why if I hate the sin and let it in / Do I see his arms are open wide."

Jars fans also will enjoy the darkly hued prayer for hope "Praying for the Perfect World," as well as "Friday to Sunday," which has a powerful rock sound similar to "Liquid" and "Crazy Times." As you might surmise from the title of "Friday to Sunday," it chronicles the times between Good Friday and Easter Sunday, praying from the perspective of the disciples in the chorus: "Give me the light to understand / The fight to comprehend the whys / Give me the might to step ahead / When I hear what you've said and hide." The glory of God's grace serves as the subject for "Today," a flowing guitar ballad similar to Live and Lifehouse: "The most amazing things seem to follow the darkest of nights / And what a sight / I am saved from the deepest of graves now." My pick for the album's highlight is the closing title track, which is a metaphor for this world and the anticipation of Christ's return as expressed in Roman 8:21-23: "The world it can't be moving / It's been two thousand years / Or have I stopped breathing? / Have I stopped believing? / Believe me, I just want to have the patience of A? saint who waits at the gate / Please don't be late." The poetry of the lyrics combined with Aaron's guitar fingering and the building art-rock sound help make this track.

Fans of Poor Old Lu's classic grunge jangle rock sound will appreciate songs such as "Now," about living in the present time granted by God, and "Crushed, which describes the moment when we kill our pride and open our hearts to Christ. Overall, this is an excellent art-rock album that's intelligently created yet still quite accessible — they're experimental without being a burden to listen to, neither too loud nor too strange sounding. If you don't consider The Waiting Room to be Poor Old Lu's best album to date, you'll likely rank it near the top of their catalog. It combines the creative songwriting of A Picture of the Eighth Wonder with the well-produced rock of Mindsize. Here's hoping we don't say goodbye to Lu again anytime soon.