Good Monsters

I bought the new Jars of Clay CD as a Valentine's Day gift for my husband. He's been wanting some good Christian music to listen to on the way to and from work, and as the senior audiophile in this family, I'm happy to help him out.

I've been a Jars of Clay fan since 1994, when they were still opening for PFR and circulating their demo tape (yes, TAPE, you kids stop snickering!) in hopes of getting noticed. Back then, I loved their edgy sound and they way they combined catchy pop hooks with ancient-sounding chants, a driving rock beat and a message that was real, not sappy or contrived.

Then they hit it big. "Flood" was played not just on K-LOVE and Z-TV but on the big rock stations and MTV, as well. The innovative studio sound they were known for didn't translate well onstage. Concerts were lackluster. The record label took over. In the thirteen intervening years I remember exactly one song that Jars of Clay wrote, "I Need You," and that's because we sang it at the Megachurch. Don't get me wrong, it's a great tune. But there's nothing edgy, thoughtful or unique about it.

Fast forward to 2007. "Good Monsters" is the CD I would have expected from that edgy, talented young band thirteen years ago once they had some maturity under their belts. Somehow, during the mediocre middle of all this, they grew musically and spiritually, and the new CD, while dark, is dark in a real and gratifying way. It's not broody for the sake of being broody. The music is driving rock crossed with a fun 80s beat that lightens the surprisingly heavy subject matter enough to be listenable. It's the sound of mature Christians wrestling real problems, like how to reconcile the problems of starving, thirsty children, abandoned mothers, and racial hatred with a God who claims to love us all ("Oh My God," track 7). It's the sound of pampered rock stars coming to terms with their mortality and the futility of the things of this world ("Dead Man (Carry Me)," track 2). And they bring the Jars of Clay Experience full circle with "Take Me Higher," which echoes "Liquid" off their debut album:

Arms nailed down,
Are you telling me something?
Eyes turned out,
Are you looking for someone?

This is the one thing,
The one thing that I know.

Blood-stained brow,
Are you dying for nothing?
Flesh and blood,
Is it so elemental?

Take Me Higher:
It took a lot to turn away
Blood and water from one side
It took your eyes to stare me down
It took the truth to set me free, to set me free

Looking for place to hide
Waiting for the wind to rise
My soul is waiting
Looking for a place to hide
I need a little peace tonight

Anyway, Jars of Clay is back and better than ever. I'm loving the new CD and I hope those of you who, like me, fell away from the band after their debut album, will run out and buy this CD and reward them for their incredible growth.

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