Video of the Week: Flying Colors–‘The Storm’

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Christian Rock For People Who Hate Christian Rock

Take this test: watch the following video:

…and note your response. I happen to believe “I Can Only Imagine” by MercyMe, a massive Christian pop hit by the way, is one of the most polarizing songs ever in the history of polarizing songs. Some feel it is a beautiful, inspiring, thought-provoking piece of praise music, worthy even of inclusion in Christian liturgy.

I think listening to this song is what death by stoning must feel like.

Musically, it’s more mantra than melody. Lyrically, well…I have a problem with being bludgeoned by one four-word phrase twenty (count ’em yourself) times in four minutes. This song feels like an indecent assault on my musical sensibilities, and assault isn’t a very Christian thing to do.

So is there so-called “Christian Rock” out there that is of significantly higher quality than pap like this? Beats me–I don’t listen. But there’s a little chicken-and-egg caveat to that statement: I don’t know if there’s better because I don’t listen to “Christian Rock”. But I don’t listen to “Christian Rock” because what little I have heard is, musically, an insult to someone who demands a little creativity and imagination in whatever music they listen to. And I’m not willing to sacrifice that for weak songs with a Christian message. In other words: being a Christian, I’m willing to give any sacred music the same chance as any other kind of music. But–I’m sorry–it has to meet me on my terms. If it’s as good as the Shins or the Decemberists, I’m in. If it’s MercyMe, I feel like I’m looking at the stained-glass windows from the wrong side.

I’m not going to go in the direction here of saying there’s more religion in a Marvin Gaye song than any church hymn or whatever. That’s BS and we both know it; besides, the truth is I’m a churchgoer who wishes he could find more music that truly does inspire and bring me closer to my creator. But on the other hand, any extraordinarily beautiful music, or voice, or performance…and any song which shows wondrous talent or insight into the nature of life and isn’t needlessly depraved or cynical can inspire me, can bring me to see a little more of my God.

Yes, I know about Creed. They sound like the Nickelback of Christian Rock to me. Not buying it. I share the opinion of the reviewer on who commented: “Warning!! If you listen to this CD backward, you’ll hear Satanic messages. Even worse, if you play it forward, you’ll hear Creed.”

No, I don’t think there’s much good “Christian Rock” out there, or at least I haven’t heard evidence of it. But what I do occasionally discover is openly Christian artists who make rock and pop that isn’t insulting to someone of reasonably discerning musical taste (not a catchy genre name, I realize). So I’ll name some names, just in the interest of evangelization…

LeftovertureKansas. Yeah, midwest America Prog rock, “Dust in the Wind” Kansas. I realize I’m talking about oldies here, but if you only listen to “praise music” go back to Leftoverture and Point of Know Return and it’ll be new to you as you listen like the deaf man whose ears have been touched by…Kerry Livgren. Kerry actually left Kansas to make Christian rock. But he had already been doing so within the band, only in clever, covert fashion. When you’re in a platinum-selling arena rock outfit and you feel the need to write about your search for Christian truth, you have to make platinum-selling Christian rock–you just can’t call it that. Kerry Livgren was a great songwriter who happened to be a devout Christian, not a devout Christian who happened to be a songwriter. “Stealth Christian rock”, Kansas-style, sounds like this:

“The Wall”:

“Carry On Wayward Son”:

“Hold On”:

Much of Livgren’s writing with Kansas was artful and ambiguous enough to fool the part of his audience who would have preferred not to think they were listening to rock with a Christian message. “Hold On”, for example, sounds like a common power ballad, but was actually written by Livgren to his wife “as a plea for her to come to Christ”. It was also a Top 40 single. And if I may say so, one big difference between “Hold On” and “I Can Only Imagine” is a monster arena rock hook for a chorus–the kind that can make you shout along in your car, and maybe even bring you to tears.

Big Horizon

David Wilcox. This mostly-acoustic, folk singer-songwriter has a rare lyrical gift, as well as the type of guitar virtuosity that has landed him on the cover of guitarist magazines. His writing has grown more overtly Christian seemingly with each album, but without sacrificing his lyrical edge and a truly superior gift for metaphor:

“Show the Way”:

“Farthest Shore”:

“Metaphorical Reasons”:

Flying Colors (Limited Edition Digipak)

Flying Colors. This band’s brand-new debut album was reviewed on this site just a week ago (see: Recommended Albums #13). Kerry Livgren almost became a member of the band, and he’d have fit perfectly: Flying Colors makes the kind of uplifting, positive-message “stealth Christian rock” Kansas made years ago, with a pinch less of the 70’s Prog grandeur and profundity. This is Christian rock for people who hate Christian rock:

“The Storm”:

“Better Than Walking”:

“Everything Changes”:

Grave New World

Strawbs. This British Folk-Prog band whose popularity peaked in the 70’s can’t be adequately described (or lauded) in a paragraph. But Christian themes certainly permeated their music, and more uncompromisingly so than any of the aforementioned artists. Though the voice of David Cousins may be something of an acquired taste to some (and to others it will remain unacquired), his expressive and compelling songwriting is simply a treasure. Strawbs still attract enough religiously devoted admirers to tour both as an acoustic trio and as a full electric band across several continents. They’re truly one of Prog rock’s (and pseudo-Christian rock’s) best-kept secrets. The anthemic “Lay Down”, based loosely on the 23rd psalm, is the kind of song that would certainly inspire me in a liturgical setting!


“Lay Down”:

“A Glimpse of Heaven”:

Recommended Albums #13

Flying Colors (Limited Edition Digipak)

Flying Colors: Flying Colors (2012)

In 1982, four estimable musicians, each of whom had been a member of a highly regarded progressive rock band, joined forces to release a record that sounded less “progressive” and more like mainstream arena rock than any of their previous work. Though critics were underwhelmed, Asia went quadruple-platinum and was number one for over two months.

Thirty years later, five of the most revered members of progressive rock’s current scene have teamed up in releasing a CD that is similarly more accessible than any of the members’ previous bands’ prog-niche music. And while I wouldn’t predict a number one album–much less multi-platinum sales–this might just be the best new rock album I’ll hear all year.

Drummer Mike Portnoy (Dream Theater), keyboardist Neal Morse (Spock’s Beard), guitarist (and no relation to Neal) Steve Morse (Deep Purple, Kansas), bassist Dave LaRue (Dixie Dregs) and vocalist Casey McPherson (Alpha Rev) have created what sounds like a classic rock album from days past. If you’re looking for first-rate musicianship, it’s plentiful here–minus a lot of gratuitous showing-off of chops. Nor do proggish tendencies hold sway: only one song clocks in at a prog-like 12 minutes. Most of these songs are concise and radio ready. Solos are about note selection and melody rather than flash and complexity. The ace vocals of pop singer McPherson give the album the final push into mainstream rock territory. Influences are diverse enough with five songwriting contributors that nothing sounds blatantly derivative. And while it’s hardly Christian rock, you may notice some positive messages and family values subtly seeping through too.

Hopefully Flying Colors will be better received by critics than Asia were. Of course, these guys don’t carry the weight of the reputations of legendary bands such as Yes, King Crimson and Emerson, Lake & Palmer. As for fans, their response is already overwhelmingly positive, and with good reason. This is a remarkable collection of pop/rock songs by five guys who sound like they want to come out from the shadow of their legacies and step into the bright lights. Can they find a mainstream audience, chart success, maybe a hit single? As Asia sang 30 years ago, only time will tell.

Listen to: “The Storm”


Listen to: “Everything Changes”


Don’t miss: “Fool in My Heart”


Listen to: “Better Than Walking”

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