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Friday, December 29, 2006

I find myself exploring my music collection again, having just added two new selections--The Killers' Hot Fuss, and The All-American Rejects' Move Along. I believe it's possible that The All-American Rejects are rejected (ha ha) out of hand by purist fans of the genre--whatever it is--because the vocals and production are so clean. But it's melodically beautiful to me. And anyone who knows me knows clean production moves my spirit. [Side rant: I hate when people get pretentious about popular music. I automatically hate Radiohead since some fans seem so intent on defining themselves in opposition to others' tastes. Not fair, I know.] Fitting that I have Creed playing right now. I figured out why so many people liked/like Creed, including myself:

1. Clean production
2. beautiful guitar arrangements
3. Spiritually ambiguous lyrics that hint at a kind of inoffensive American evangelicalism.

(3) could be bad...hmmm.

And did you ever notice that, as popular mainstream music went through its singer/songwriter phase in the 70s (Carly Simon, James Taylor, Jim Croce, etc.) Christian Contemporary Music went the same way? But--and this is the relevant point--pop music shifted to so-called "arena rock" in the late 70s and early 80s (Journey, Foreigner, Def Leppard) with CCM following. And mainstream Christian music seems locked in an epic battle between those two. This decade seems tilted toward arena rock in CCM (Third Day, David Crowder, Passion Worship Band). Or maybe we air our frustrations in brooding singer/songwriter outlets ( e.g. Derek Webb) and we express our spiritual highs with operadic rock arrangements. To me, a well-played electric guitar expresses awe and power very well. It makes a lot of sense that corporate worship music would take this form. I understand many people never liked that kind of music. However, a great chunk of these people (anecdotally, at least) seem relentlessly cynical, destined to dismiss commercial music (and its more spiritual cousin) of this type as hopelessly contrived and unreal. Creed seemed to be attempting to bridge the euphoric/operadic and the brooding in the same band. It may well be true that Scott Stapp is a pretentious dolt, as some claim, but he and his pal Mark Tremonti merged these things well, in my view.
Another example is the self-titled debut of Weezer from 1995, referred to affectionately by fans as "The Blue Album." I sense no overarching philosophical contribution on that record; it's a bunch of catchy songs with beautiful guitar backing. These guys figured out that music resonates with people on a level so powerful that one could write a song about surfing--and a nonsensical one at that--and nobody will apologize for loving it. I'm pretty critical of moronic worship music. On the other hand, it has to be simple enough to strike at that non-intellectual core of ourselves. Singing doesn't arise from the intellect, in my opinion. A guitar riff is not nuclear physics.
We worship with every part of ourselves, true. But Christian corporate singing is for all of us, irrespective of intellectual acumen, in a way that nothing else can be. Perhaps that's why a lot of people are glad for doctrine-warriors who insist upon truth and depth, so that the doctrines and experience of God's people become as immediate as the affections that are moved by singing (or guitar riffs).
"Horse-hockey, JK. You just want us to like your crappy, emotional guitar rock." Guilty. But I'm trying to make a point. Maybe we're made to feel awe and strong positive emotions. To end on a humorous note, how many rock critics are closet Journey fans because they feel compelled to be cynical and skeptical? Or how many refuse because it seems inauthentic to be awed, or to say something is pretty?