The Top 100 Christian Albums of the 1990s: The Top Ten (plus 1)

So I've learned one thing about writing a blog series: plan better. For instance, don't try to write the last installment the week before Easter when you work at a church full-time. That's just a losing proposition.

Here we are. The pinnacle. The peak. The top of the mountain, the best of the best.
The Top 10 Christian Albums of the 1990s. Forget AC/pop radio, because you're not going to hear mid-30s mommy music here. Unless you were a mid-30s mommy in the '90s and actually listened to this stuff. Then it's totally yours. But these albums, to me, are the most beloved, most artistic, most groundbreaking, most creative, and most important albums from that decade, and they span from the very beginning of the 1990s to the very end.

If you hate spoilers, and you want to revisit the rest of the Top 100 before actually diving into the Top 10, you can find them here:

Honorable Mentions
11-20
21-30
31-40
41-50
51-60
61-70
71-80
81-90
91-100

Now, then . . . here we go.


10. SQUINT - Steve Taylor

1993, Warner Alliance Records
If Taylor had been as prolific an artist in the 1990s as he was a producer and filmmaker, I would have broken my "only 2 albums per artist" rule several times over. Squint was the beginning of a new tack for the "Bad Boy of Christian Music", while maintaining the standards we had come to know and love him for. And thus, a new chapter in the life of Steve Taylor, and his fans, was born.

First of all, this is truly an alternative album, with Taylor embracing the instrumentation of the day while not forsaking the textures that more traditional arrangements can bring to the table. Gone are the full-time saxophone presence and new wave poppishness, and in came the stark, darkly-tuned guitars. With a world-class rhythm section, Squint opened even more eyes to the wonders of Taylor and his satirical mind. "Bannerman" was the first song to make a splash, as it was mentioned at the press release announcing the production of the album, complete with Taylor donning a "John 3:16" t-shirt. 

No shortage of creativity is found on this release. Big, thick guitars, solid drumming, and solid foundational bass playing provide the best platform for this, Taylor's only studio solo release of the 1990s. "Curses" builds a darkness that creeps under your skin with its snaking bass line. "Jesus Is for Losers" reminds us that we're all in need of grace.

"The Finish Line" would be the perfect song to play at someone's funeral if it wasn't so loud and damn celebratory, and is, I believe, a song that should be played in every church as an example of what redemption feels like. "Easy Listening" has become a concert classic in Taylor's new clothes, Steve Taylor & The Perfect Foil. "Smug" hit all the right pop culture notes while also holding up a stark mirror to those of us who think we're better than anyone else simply because we're called by God.

Personal Favorite: "The Moshing Floor"
What could be a dated song about a dancing fad that came to light in the early '90s serves as a metaphor for what we've not only allowed into our lives, but actually had a hand in creating.

All you baby boomers feigning dismay
You hired the nannyYou faked her resume

It wasn't just the parents who were in for the wake up call, but the Church at large. To find that Jesus had become a branding term was enough to cause concern (and no, the irony of pointing this out as part of a Top 100 list of Christian songs is not lost on me at all), as if Jesus was just another commodity and not the Saviour of the world.

Malls and religions build the new forts
Jesus is a franchise in their food courts
Even without the reference to moshing, though, this song holds its own and stands tall as a perfect example of Taylor's wiry finger touching right on the button of what's right and what's wrong with our society, especially in that in the '90s, the reaction of "whatever" had become people's primary action. Apathy was king for a while, and it raged in the form of a mosh pit.


9. STICKS AND STONES - The 77's
1990, Broken Records
It took an album of demos and throwaways to give The 77's the adulation they so very much deserved. Culled from recording sessions throughout the years, these 10 songs (+4 that escaped in other forms) gave a rounded look at the glory and beauty of the Mike Roe brand of rock. "MT" was even given airplay on more than one episode of Beverly Hills, 90210 after its release. 

While the band wouldn't be the same as they had been before the time this album was put out, nobody could deny the outstanding musicianship of the four Sevens. Songs like "MT" and "Nowhere Else" begged for radio airplay. "Perfect Blues" was a simple sendup of a great blues pattern, featuring a manic piano bridge that sounded like 6 hands playing what two actually accomplished. "You Walked in the Room" mixed jangly guitars with an easy '50s-style vocal run and mix; the song sounds like it could have come from a scene in a movie that took place at the local drive-in diner. Roe's impressively precise guitar work shows up in that tune, as well as "Love Without Dreams", and the burner "God Sends Quails". The lamentingly sad "Don't, This Way" opens the tune with an extended guitar prelude that settles into lyrics that bemoan the end of a failed relationship.

Personal Favorite: "This Is the Way Love Is"
There's something about this song that just pulls at me. It's simply profound, the way Roe unpacks the way he's worked out how much the love of God really carries.

When I gave up, you held up
When I ran out, you filled me up
When I kept runnin', you kept up
When I let you down, you lifted me up

Every verse explores a new facet of the love Roe talks about. Our shortcomings can't stand up to the love that's given so freely, and nothing we can do will ever keep Him away

Well, I was bled, dried, wrapped up in my pride
This is the way it is when you're on the wrong side


8. ODD - Virus
1996, N*Soul Records
The only electronic album in the CCM world that could have held its own against the mainstream, Odd was anything but mainstream. Virus put together a double disc album with more mood, more texture, and more pure joy than most electric artists could muster throughout their entire careers. Moby could have taken a few lessons.

First, let's discuss the volume. After Analogue, Virus could have taken another shot at the hard rave tip and made another album of dance floor fodder. However, 2 discs full of electronic ecstasy proved that Virus weren't open to the same old same old. The first disc creates a magnificent tapestry of sounds no organic instrument can replicate. Exciting without being destined for the dance floor, this was moody techno for the heady crowd.

Disc Two. Holy crap. Vocalist Stephanie Doesen provided beautiful vocals that seemed to be nearly indecipherable (the band has gone on record in saying that they don't know the lyrics being sung, that Doesen was the only one that knew what was being sung and wouldn't divulge the secrets). I could fall asleep to this disc if it wasn't so stinking immensely interesting. Just as one song feels as though it's got more to unfold, it ends seemingly too soon. Remorse is short-lived, though, as another song is just around the corner. There's nothing more magnificent than listening to two musicians being masters of their craft, and Odd fills that role with quiet confidence.

Personal Favorite: "Angels"
Singular. Sultry. Calcifying. Immensely breathless. To be played in low light, preferably with someone you want to get close to.


7. MOTOR CYCLE - Daniel Amos
1993, BAI
This is the album on this list I'm the least familiar with, having gotten it the most recently of any of the other albums listed here. But it's completely undeniable that this Daniel Amos album is a massive trip . . . no pun intended.

I really don't like psychedelic rock and roll, but Daniel Amos did a marvelous job of owning this style of music in such a way as to make the most sense. After the Alarma Chronicles, after Darn Floor, Big Bite, and after Kalhoun, it's as if DA had nothing left to conquer in the rock arena. From the opener "Banquet at the World's End", Daniel Amos immediately set the tone for the album by recalling the Scriptures that tells us to go the highways and byways and compel and constrain people to come in. There's a feast to be had, and it's for everyone, but the only people who are left are those that the rest of the world tends to ignore or forget. It's a stark revelation set to a relatively bouncy tune. 

From there, things get lyrically heady. Things get musically dense. Imagery for days. I can't even really pontificate on each individual song, because the album is best when treated as a whole. The titular motorcycle will take you on this ride, but you're not going to be able to enjoy it as much if you don't climb aboard and take the journey. Influences of Brian Wilson and Bob Dylan abound in the musical arrangements and vocal harmonies, but with a sheen of '90s production to gift it a bit of heft, this album has staying power. This is an album I'll put on if I know I'm going to be in the car for an hour or more, because the journey's the thing.

Personal Favorite: "Grace is the Smell of Rain"
Moving forward with the momentum of a bike, the sound of the wind flying past your ears is reminiscent of the effortlessness with which grace enters into our lives, even when we're not ready for it.

Pride that stiffs the neck
Healed by graceless genuflect
Heaven and earth embracing
Like lovers under the mistletoe

6. CIRCLE SLIDE - The Choir
1990, Myrrh Records
There's alternative music, and then there's alternative music. The Choir is the latter.

After Robin Spurs' highly publicized joining of the band for the Wide-Eyed Wonder album, and her seemingly silent departure while recording Circle Slide, The Choir moved forward like they had to. For this, one of the finest shoegaze albums ever released in any market, they worked out the typical things that musicians have to worry about -- life at home, maintaining a relationship, the finer points of grace, and of course, one perfect circle above the stratosphere.

As an adolescent, I was longing for something different, and the review in CCM Magazine piqued my interest. So I bought it, one of the first CDs I ever purchased to play on my new CD player, and wondered what I had gotten myself into. It was different, and not like anything I'd been used to hearing before. And I LOVED it.

The title track mixed psychedlia with looped sounds and textures in the extended instrumental bridge to give this song a weight that allowed it to fly, despite it being so close to the ground. "If I Had a Yard" was a literal treatise on the songwriter's want, as they were living in a trailer park at the time. Said Hindalong in an interview, "If I had a yard, I would play in it."

"Restore My Soul" was groove-laden rock tune that became a concert favorite, and I'm sure everyone could relate to the loneliness and longing in "A Sentimental Song". It seems as though each song in this collection hints at coming home to something familiar, whether the closeness and intimacy of relationships, or the sense of belonging that can only come from a heavenly Father.

Personal Favorite: "About Love"
The first Choir song I ever heard was "About Love", as it was featured on a promo cassette, and I had a hard time understanding the lyrics (I would usually listen while mowing the lawn). But once I bought Circle Slide, I pored over each lyric to each song, and this one felt almost like a puzzle. But one I was glad to try and decipher.

Was I meant to be yours
The will of Christ above
Do you believe true love is blind
'Cause I don't know

There's something wonderful about love. No other sentiment could have encapsulated the tenor of this song quite so succinctly, and the song could have ended with that line alone. But Hindalong unpacks it with magnifying glass curiosity and explores the burden of being on the road, a subject every band seems to write about at some point, but something that's also relatable to everyone that's ever spent time away from a spouse.

Please kiss the little bird
God bless the tiny cage we share
You kill me, you thrill me
You threaten my dreams, girl

The direction The Choir took on their next album, Speckled Bird, was probably fueled by the love this song got from their fans, and the successful way they translated it in concert. Before things got more aggressive, though, this was the most satisfying song about the love we have for one another that could have possibly been had.


5. MERCURY - The Prayer Chain
1995, Rode Dog Records
The story of the recording of Mercury is a troubled one. Having blazed the trail for alternative rock to begin banging down the doors of the church with Whirlpool and Shawl, TPC set to work on their sophomore full-length album, and it came with its share of stresses, both from within the band and without.

When they arrived in Nashville to record, some stuff was stolen from their van, including many cassette tapes with the song ideas they were planning on using for the new record. So the band had to start from scratch with many of the tunes. They deliberately tried to do things that weren't going to work so as to get out of the CCM machine. They'd seen how it had been running, and they were tired of the two-faced nature of it all, so they put together a record that Reunion/Rode Dog couldn't really sell.

So they were instructed to go back into the studio and come up with something they could use. The original album featured 9 of the 10 songs that ended up on Mercury, plus a few that would be included on their final amalgamated album, Antarctica. Not every member of the band felt that they should sabotage their career, but what resulted was an album that reflected on the state of the band at a very crucial time in their lifespan.

Andrew Prickett's guitar work here is enormous. Eric Campuzano's bass lines sound like they might have saved his life, and Wayne Everett's drumming is evenly tempered between creatively oblique and solid enough for most listeners. Tim Taber's vocals soar when they need to, whisper when they have to, and give you the sense that his eyes were shut during much of the recording. Despite such expert playing and deft soundcrafting by Steve Hindalong, Gene Eugene and Chris Colbert, this is a hard album to get into. In fact, when I borrowed it from a friend in 1996, I couldn't get through the entire thing. I was expecting something a bit more aggressive; not having been familiar with Whirlpool at the time, I didn't know what direction the band was heading in, and this was a shock to my system. I couldn't deny that it was beautiful, but I didn't quite allow myself to really dive in.

I started picking it up in pieces, though, through the live tracks on Antarctica, and finally seeing TPC perform at a reunion show near the Chicago area in 1998. And suddenly, I got it. I bought Mercury as soon as I could and listened to nothing else for about a month. Then I kicked myself for not having been more patient at the age of 20. This is, by all accounts, one of the best alternative albums anywhere, by anyone, Christian or otherwise. Even though it wasn't realized the way the band thought it should have been, it is perhaps the best example of working through the complexities of life set to music.

Personal Favorite: "Sky High"
Could it be anything else? After the epic of "Never Enough", TPC felt they needed to add another big song to round out what would become Mercury. They had to produce it themselves, though, because when producer Steve Hindalong first heard the demo, he responded, "I don't get it." This amazingly sprawling number reaches for the heights that it talks about in the song, as well as in "Mercury", and opens things up wide. Andy Prickett's guitar sounds like it could fill up a stadium, and if you've ever heard the live version of this song in person, or from Antarctica or their EP Live At CBGB's, then you're fully aware of the power of the Prickett.

Taste the sweet of salt and sand
Feel the burn
I know you can
Deep, deep in my mind

The Salton Sea, referred to in the song, is a man-made lake in the Colorado Desert in Southern California. In recent years, it has been named a public health hazard, a major source of air pollution due to massive evaporation, exposing high levels of salt and decaying life to the open air. Go near it, and you can smell the decay. My personal take on the song, despite its triumphant vibe, is that any time spent doing nothing but stagnating will cause you and everything in your life to reek. An odd message in a song that sounds so uplifting, but then, what else would you expect from a band that made a song about detachment sound so beautiful?


4. THE FUNDAMENTAL ELEMENTS OF SOUTHTOWN - P.O.D.
1999, Atlantic
The album that finally opened my eyes to hardcore. I wasn't planning on ever liking P.O.D. I'd read reviews of their shows and their recordings, and it just didn't sound like something I would ever sit up and take notice of. Sure, it didn't have the douchebag factor of nu metal, but I still wasn't convinced that it could work for me.

Then I listened to a demo of Southtown at my local independent record store, and I was hooked. I had longed for a sound this sharp, this cohesive, this brutal, but still understandable that wasn't all screams. Southtown blew my ears back against the back of my head, then gently pulled them forward again so it could blow them back a second time. And there I sat, able to say nothing more than "Thank you, sir, may I have another?"

Satellite may have been their giant breakthrough, but this was the album that made people sit up and take notice, due in part to the cross section of songwriting found within. From straightforwardly formulaic tunes like "Hollywood" and "Rock the Party (Off the Hook)" to more hardcore fare like "Outkast" and "Follow Me", P.O.D. covers all the bases through a wide range of song structures. And every single one of them works. Their cover of U2's "Bullet the Blue Sky" doesn't ring as stark as the original, but their interpretation fits very securely into their niche.

Personal Favorite: "Southtown"
"Southtown" is the perfect example of why P.O.D. was so successful breaking through into the mainstream from the independent rock world. The pounding, relentless opening. The 2-note landing point in the lines of the verses that acted as the song's anchors. The unknown desperation piercing through in the lyrics.

Here in the southtown you know the kids don't play
Put it down in the streets, will I see another day
If I make it back this time, gots to hold what is mine
And thank God that I made it alive

As successfully as S.F.C. made suburban white boys feel the pain and struggle of the inner city man, P.O.D. did so with a sense of urgency and anxiety that must have been cathartic to spit about. Listening to this song makes the listener feel as though they're entering the mind of the southtown native, and in true hardcore fashion, the boys in P.O.D. hold nothing back in expressing the pain and hopelessness of living in what the song makes out to be a war zone.


3. DRY BONES DANCE - Mark Heard
1990, Fingerprint Records
I caught onto the Mark Heard train late, but I remember reading the news stories in CCM and other publications about his heart attack while performing at Cornerstone 1992. Let me repeat that: heart attack WHILE performing. Dude played out the rest of the set once he realized he'd suffered an attack, then went to the hospital after he got off stage.

The balls, yo.

This, the first mostly acoustic album of Mark's later leg of his career careens with a freewheeling style that recalls a joyous infectiousness typical of those who have something amazing to celebrate. From the opening zydeco flavor of "Rise From the Ruins", Mark's trademark tenor cuts through the fat immediately, and a variety of instruments help make the music sound full and layered without any specific instrument fighting for attention. Several songs have the same kind of bounce that the opening track does, but it does nothing to deter from the quality of the music, nor from the effortless poignancy of the lyrics. 

Each song drips with longing found throughout the verses and choruses, acknowledging the fallacies of the world we inhabit. The title cut talks about a world of no suffering or pain, even if only found in one's dreams; "Our Restless Hearts" closely examines the conflicts of two lovers, pointing out how all their excuses and reasonings have been found before, and they're none too clever. "How Many Tears" stands as an anti-war song that rings truer than most protest songs that would have come out in the 1960s. Most songs, in face, with a few exceptions, appear to focus on conflict in one form or another, but each one does so with the imagery of a painter and the delicate touch of a watchmaker.

Personal Favorite: "Mercy of the Flame"
I have had the hardest time figuring out which song from this album is my favorite, and I had narrowed it down to 3. But for the sake of continuity, I went with the one I feel has been the most definitive for me, and that's "Mercy of the Flame". Certainly not his most well-known song, "Mercy" recounts the reasons for loving the woman he does. There's a vagueness in the lyrics that don't reveal at what point or what stage of a relationship this love is being expressed, but there's absolutely no doubt that the love is real, true, and strong.

She's a fever in my bones
I'll never get well
You can laugh and you can tell I'm hopeless
I'll take that chance; don't pity me

When I hear this song, I immediately think of my wife. Without recounting the story of how we got together, let's just say the first year and a half we knew each other was pretty tumultuous, and several people were verbalizing to me their doubts that I had picked the right woman I wanted to marry. All I knew is that this woman was definitely the person that God had in mind for me to be with, and I couldn't explain it outside of a knowing in my gut and in my mind. Even during our first conversation, when we talked for about 4 hours on the phone, I knew by the end of the call that she was the one I wanted to marry. People often explain finding their spouse like that -- you can't pinpoint what that X factor is, but when you meet that person, you just know it. You know that it fits, and there's no doubt that creeps in. For me, this song was a perfect reflection of what I couldn't explain, and to this day, I remember that time in my life when I was more sure of the love I had for my wife Julie than anything else.

I know what I'm doing
I don't even feel the pain
Love ignites, and I have been so long
At the mercy of the flame


2. GIFT HORSE - Lost Dogs
1999, BEC Recordings
Even though most places show that Gift Horse was released in 2000, Tooth & Nail Records shows the album releasing on November 30, 1999. Just barely made it in, guys.

The Four Horsemen of Christian Alternative music known as the Lost Dogs (Terry Taylor, Mike Roe, Derri Daugherty, and Gene Eugene) had put out 3 fun-filled albums as a supergroup, but had never achieved so quite a focused effort as Gift Horse. The songwriting is better than on their previous efforts all the way around. This album also has a more alt-country feel to it than their previous Americana-tinged works, and it's definitely in the band's favor.

Churning from the start is the opener "Ghost Train to Nowhere" is a haunting treatise on the plight of those who have no eternal hope, and it sets the tone for the record. Gene Eugene's voice has never sounded more pure than on this record, and this opening track showcases his smooth delivery with just the right amount of emotion. Mike Roe's textural electric guitar work shines on this record like the brightest diamonds in the sky. That's just track one. "A Vegas Story" (which the band wanted to title "Free Drinks and a Dream", but wouldn't because the label felt the Christian market would shun the album) is a classic story song about a man who takes a chance rolling up in Las Vegas and loses everything, then decides he can't go home to his family as a failure, especially when the bright lights of the desert oasis holds so much promise. It's a sad cautionary tale of how empty promises can have such a strong pull. 

Each song here resonates with perfect precision and each one has a familiar ring to it -- love. Every single song on this album ties love into their themes, and from multiple angles. The tongue in cheek "If You Loved Here You'd Be Home By Now" even talks to the loved one that cheated and left the marriage. Seems the pain was so great that he erects a sign on the roof of his house in full view of the interstate on her way to work as a reminder of what she could have held onto. Fun song.

Personal Favorite: "A Blessing in Disguise"
I was never one for sappy love songs, and when 4 monsters of Christian alternative music get together, you don't exactly expect your favorite song from them to be a tender ballad, but I can't help myself. Everyone needs to be reminded how much they're valued by the people around them, even if those people are total strangers. That the hard trials of life we endure can produce something good in us that will last forever.

Still we're confused by the shadows
We're awake now, but we're half asleep
You've gotta hold fast the hope that's in you
Don't always trust your eyes
Sometimes it takes a long time to see it
As a blessing in disguise

The thing that puts this song at the top of my Lost Dogs favorite list is Gene Eugene's sweet, but short vocal. In context, I first heard this song not long after he died only a few short months after this album was released. The song isn't supposed to be sad, but the combination of the melody, the line he sings, and the fact that his death came so soon after this album just make for a sad moment to reflect in. While most people would normally shun sad or depressing songs, it takes a lot for a song to make me cry. Well, this one does it, thanks to Gene.

And after you've been broken
You may not realize
That you are grace to the broken hearted
And a blessing in disguise

Speaking of Gene . . .



1. DIG - Adam Again
1992, Alarma Records
Something happened in the 1990s where I heard about these amazing albums put out by some of the greatest artists in the Christian arena, then I didn't pick them up for years afterwards. Rich Mullins. Mark Heard. And Adam Again. I found this in a used record store and bought it, having heard zero from the album, but remembering the review I'd read in some publication, and fixating upon that image on the cover of a girl in a dress with a shovel.

Gene Eugene's vocals are an acquired taste -- only Michael W. Smith has been more consistently nasal. Still, Eugene's delivery makes you forget about the timbre of his voice, because it fits his music so well. Lyrically, this album covers a wide variety of bases that sounds like Eugene had lived more than the 30 (31?) years he had when the album was recorded. Old enough to still have some youthful cynicism, but old enough to have perspective, Dig sits right in that unknown place between adulthood and having the answers, and post-adolescence with a healthy does of uncertainty. "Hopeless, Etc." perfectly captures this dichotomy: "I am mired with the earnest and sight-inspired." As he continues to sing, each line begins with a longer note, as if to underscore either how hopeless/helpless/useless he is, but maybe if he holds onto that note a little bit longer . . .

The band's music had evolved from their first few albums, with influences ranging from rhythm and blues to jazz, and they sound comfortably entrenched within their corner of the rock arena. They weren't trying to sound alternative or modern, and yet they sound both.

It's been well documented that Eugene and vocalist Riki Michele, who were married, were going through some pretty hard martial issues around the time this album was being recorded (the issues ultimately resulted in their divorce), and that tension emerges in a few moments on the album. "Hidden, Hidden" is a perfect example of the things we don't say to each other that we really want to say, or that we really need to say, but we keep our feelings pressed down so that we can spare the other person. Dig isn't an easy album to traverse, but it's tense, it's thick, it's singular and schizophrenic at the same time. How the band was able to create this is somewhat of a mystery, but sometimes when you have to get the music out, you get it out however you can.

Personal Favorite: "River On Fire"
Equating a failing relationship to the fire on the Cuyahoga River in Ohio, which ignited several times due to all the pollution in it, "River On Fire" is perhaps the most self-aware song about a relationship about to end that's ever been recorded. It's also one of the most hauntingly, beautifully sad songs about the end ever heard. Even just a read of the lyrics without the music as the backdrop is enough to evoke the sense that more might have been done, but it's just too late.

What can you settle for?
What can you live without?
I remember the night I first darkened your door
And I swore that I loved you
My heart was pure
You could be happy, and I could be miserable
I'll grab a metaphor out of the air
Like the Cuyahoga River on fire


+1. CHAGALL GUEVARA - Chagall Guevara
1991, MCA Records
My Plus One is the record of a band made up of Christian musicians that was not a Christian band, and not marketed to the Christian industry, so it's the one that breaks my rule of using Christian artists only to compile this list. Granted, I did see the Chagall Guevara CD for sale in my Christian bookstore after it was released . . . but that doesn't matter. The story of this band doing what they did so well and yet being so unsuccessful in their sales and touring is an interesting story . . . which I won't get into here. Let's just say the short version is the album and the band lacked the mission they needed for Chagall Guevara to have any staying power in the industry.

Nonetheless, this is a PERFECT '90s album. Jangly guitars, evocative lyrics, off-center vocals, and a commitment to making the best music they could is what you'll find when you dive into this record. And you SHOULD dive into this record. From a high dive, preferably.

Steve Taylor, Lynn Nichols, Dave Perkins, Wade Jaynes, and Mike Mead make up one of the most powerful band lineups you could ever hope for, but they didn't just smoke in their live performances. They collaborated to make songs that defied expectation. Yes, there's a heavy amount of ambiguity in some of the songs (typical for a Taylor product), but for the most part, it's not aimless. Each song has its own story, its own circuit, its own little world in which it exists.

From the fun bounce of "Escher's World" to the heaviness of "Can't You Feel the Chains?", Chagall Guevara owns their perspective like the frilly shirts and stylish vests they wear on the album insert. And without expounding on every single song on the album, I will say that a careful read of the lyrics will give you an understanding of what the band was trying to do, but listening through will immerse you into their world. And the world of Chagall Guevara was undoubtedly the world of '90s alternative rock. This is, in my opinion, not only the number one Christian album of the 1990s, it is quite possibly the most definitive '90s album ever made, and the most perfect example of excellent alternative rock that you will ever find.

Personal Favorite: "Violent Blue"
Perfectly capturing the youthful cynicism and dissatisfaction with life that so many in their 20s have to slog through in order to mature, "Violent Blue" spits the perspective back in the listener's face. The angst, the longing for a different world than the one you currently inhabit, the anger, the anger, oh, the anger. The things that bubble beneath the surface lay exposed and dissected in this song; fittingly, the band's video for the song takes place as Chagall Guevara play for a large group of people gorging themselves at an ornately decorated banquet inside of a cave.

Hey, don't I know you from some other life 
You were wide-eyed and green and a little bit taller 
And you didn't look away when spoken to

The band is loud when they need to be, drawn back when they need to be, and loud again. Taylor's psuedo-rhythmic vocals hearken back to the On The Fritz days, when he was experimenting with sprechstimme, a German method of half-singing, half-speaking the lyrics. This method of delivery fits so well with this song, as if all the ill-conceived attempts before have led up to this, the pinnacle. The detachment felt by the subject of the song matches is juxtaposed by the pounding fury of the music, and is underlined by Taylor's delivery.

Hey, are you with me, or don't you recall
When the perfume of belief was all we needed?
It was all we needed to set our sights

What makes this song such a powerful stalwart is that they lyrics could be applied to any young generation, and especially today's social media generation. Whether a social justice warrior or a traditionalist who seeks to preserve rather than to change, this song could apply to just about anybody who gets caught up in their own propaganda.

And I don't believe it's the way you were raised 
Or the cards you were dealt 
Or a poor self-image 
I think you love yourself too much 
You wanna rule some sovereign state? 
You wanna smother in all that hate? 
Get away 
Lay down 
Strip it off 
And lose yourself


I hope you've enjoyed taking this journey with me. This was a sojourn, this documenting of the most important albums of my formative years, and some I became familiar with after the decade was over. I think everyone's list would have some of the same titles and still be vastly different, so I appreciate you coming along for the ride.

There Is No Box.
Zach

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