Five Stars out of Five Stars
Only A Ride
The Sympathy Vote
Standing In Line
Happy Go Lazy
A Life Preserved
In his first full-length effort since 1993’s Squint, Steve Taylor jumps back into the music business with both guns blazing. Taylor spent the good majority of the past twenty years writing and producing for other artists (Newsboys, Guardian, Sixpence None The Richer) as well as directing videos (Newsboys, Fleming & John, Rich Mullins, Guardian, Sixpence None The Richer). To top it off, he ran his own record label (Squint Entertainment) which released albums from such diverse artists as Sixpence None The Richer, Chevelle, Burlap To Cashmere, and LA Symphony. Most recently he raised funds (through Kickstarter) to bring a film adaptation of Donald Miller’s Blue Like Jazz to the big screen. The first release from this newest musical project was on the soundtrack to that film.
Let me begin by stating that I am not a fan of the term “supergroup” but I do feel as if it does apply here, even though a large majority of the CCM audience may not recognize anyone outside of drummer Peter Furler. Furler’s long-time collaboration with Taylor began back when Furler was still fronting the Newsboys. Taylor stepped in to help with 1992’s Not Ashamed and remained a part of the group’s creative process for the better part of the next decade. Furler eventually left the group to pursue a solo career and Taylor lent his hand to both of his solo albums.
The other two members of the group are multi-instrumentalist (and producer extraordinaire) John Mark Painter, who is one half of the duo Fleming & John; and guitarist Jimmy Abegg (sometimes referred to as Jimmy A), who made his name fronting the band Vector, as well as playing guitar for both Charlie Peacock and Rich Mullins.
This album is the result of another Kickstarter campaign that was launced in early 2013. The album was finished in August of 2014 and was released to Kickstarter supporters in September. It was released officially on November 18, 2014. As I alluded to earlier, this is Taylor’s first album in twenty years and it is this reviewer’s opinion that the wait was well worth it. Three videos (as of this afternoon) have been released (Only A Ride, Standing In Line, Goliath).
Opening track, Only A Ride, kicks off with an aggressive punk vibe. Taylor’s smirking vocals sound more like protege Peter Furler than I ever noticed. I’m not quite sure what the lyrics are addressing but they are typical Steve Taylor. Snarky and sarcastic, but not hateful and bitter.
Double Negative is next and it begins on a U2-ish vibe. Taylor’s vocals are a little more reserved but not weak. At times he reminds me of Stan Ridgway from Wall Of Voodoo (Mexican Radio). Once again, the lyrics are introspective and hint at thoughts of doubt and fear. However, the song doesn’t sink into despair and exudes hope, even if only assumed.
Goliath sounds like it was written to be included on the soundtrack to a Tarantino film. It carries the same early Eighties post-punk vibe of opener Only A Ride and throws horns into the mix.
Moonshot is a funky little number that hints at both Prince and Devo. I dig the falsetto vocals, especially the squeals at the 1:23 mark which totally evoke his Purpleness. The jagged guitar lines in the background are a nod to bands like Devo and Talking Heads.
Right now, Rubberneck is my second favorite track. The lyrics seem to be a little more straight forward (as much as Taylor is) and sound like they are addressing our culture’s obessession to Tweet and post every little thing that we can. Perhaps we are cheaping our own existence by such behavior.
The Sympathy Vote continues the (and I hate to use the term) New Wave vibe that the majority of the songs give off. Without the benefit of picking Taylor’s brain, I can only assume what the lyrics mean after processing them through my own experiences. Have you ever tried to play the virtual martyr on Facebook? If you haven’t, you’ve seen those who have. Each and every post is meant to defend against allegations (alleged or otherwise) made. I can relate because I think we all have tried to make our case by manipulating social media.
Standing In Line actually sounds like something Peter Furler and Steve Taylor might have put on a Newsboys album. It could been an outtake from the Take Me To Your Leader or Step Up To The Microphone sessions. If nothing else happens because of this album, I hope John Mark Painter and Jimmy Abegg get the recognition due them. It’s easy to focus on Taylor’s vocals and Furler’s drumming and overlook the swirling guitars and rubbery bass playing.
In Layers jumps back to the distorted guitars and brings to mind The Clash. It even echos some of the anger found in many of that band’s songs. Taylor wails,
Lies, we’ve all been comprised. Lies, now are you so surprised?
Given the current state of the world and/or the entertainment industry, there are lots of different ways to interpret just exactly what he’s saying. I want to reiterate that the horns are a very welcome addition to certain songs.
Happy Go Lazy feels like a demo from U2’s Achtung Baby period. It isn’t as bombastic and that is a good thing. You can definitely hear little Taylorisms that he has been throwing into the mix for his entire career. Whistles and odd little sound effects (and MORE horns) pepper this catchy little slice of guitar pop. Once again, Abegg’s guitar steals the show for it’s minimalist (but highly effective) approach. If you didn’t know who was playing you’d be asking yourself, “Who is that?”
To anyone who followed the Newsboys up until Furler’s departure, A Life Departed will sound familiar. To those who are familiar with Taylor’s solo output in the Eighties, it will sound familiar. I actually had to play this one two times in a row because I thought I remembered it from something else. Turns out I was right, this is the track that was included on the Blue Like Jazz soundtrack.
Lyrically, Comedian is exactly what I have come to expect from Taylor. It is addressed to those of us who call ourselves Christians and it doesn’t pull any punched. Taylor plays with rhymes and words to achieve that snarky (but not mean) vibe that has characterized some of his best songs. I think my favorite lyric on the whole album comes from this one.
The buzzards are attacking
Our prayer kites
We lost the air war
Now we’re losing squatter’s rights
I will close by reminding anyone who might be reading this that I am biased reviewer. In my opinion, Steve Taylor rarely takes a misstep so that should be considered when reading my thoughts on this album. As one who was totally disappointed that Chagall Guevara never released a second album, I can only hope that this isn’t a one shot deal. I look forward to The Perfect Foil sticking around for a bit.