Good Monsters

On Friday evening I watched a CBC documentary about Dubai. I’ve always been fascinated by it, so when I heard there was to be a special on it I made sure I tuned in. It’s an interesting place: home to the wealthy and affluent, mainly the 25 to 40-year-old crowd. It’s got the world’s only (unofficial) 7-star hotel, which is built on a man-made island. Something like 85% of its population consists of ex-patriots from countries all over the world. Watching the documentary awakened the sociologist in me. I think I would like to study that country in depth some day.

Right now I’m listening to Good Monsters by Jars of Clay. I find it next to impossible to rank albums, but if I did this one would definitely be in my top three. It’s funny, I wouldn’t even call myself a Jars of Clay fan. All of their other music I’ve heard I haven’t liked. But there’s something about this one album. I consistently keep coming back to it – I think I’ve listened to it about five times through this week alone.

I bought the album about two years ago after hearing it in a friend’s car. Rarely does good music hit me the first time I hear it, but I knew right away I had to buy this album. Each song is a masterpiece, each has its own feel. And yet it still maintains the cohesiveness that makes a good album. It dips into several genres – pop, rock, worship, even a little country (but not modern radio country junk, I mean country the way it should be, the way it was fifty years ago).

I’ve never been one for pure worship music by itself. Virtually all of it I find repetitive, cookie-cutter and uninspired. I own two Third Day albums and one Delirious? album, and that’s it for worship. I just find that with most worship bands, their music is subpar and their lyrics are cheesy and always too upbeat, sort of out of touch with reality. I picture a gel-haired, smiling car salesman – not exactly a genuine person. I really appreciate music that struggles with things, that deals with the dark corners of life but then finds a way out.

Good Monsters is kind of like that. I have written out a couple lyrics to the songs and put them up on the walls of my room. I would credit this album, along with Switchfoot’s The Beautiful Letdown, with singlehandedly making me care about song lyrics. I used to listen to music for the music, not really caring what was sung about. I still think that music is more important than lyrics, but now I can also appreciate good lyrics. I especially like the line, “I woke from up a dream about an empty funeral / But it’s better than a party full of people I don’t really know.” The songs on Good Monsters deal with subjects like human nature and love and salvation and pain and the world around us and our need for Christ. That sounds more like reality to me.

But it’s not just the lyrics that are good. The musicianship is also excellent. I can pick out each instrument clearly, but they fit together so well as a band too. Jars of Clay consists of four guys who write the songs, then they always hire a drummer and bass player to record and tour with them. Jeremy Lutito played drums on this album and he is awesome. This week I sat down behind my drums and learned as much of the album as I could, so far I’ve six songs down, although I can’t quite get the same sound as he does out of his drums. You can tell a good drummer by his touch. Some songs he pounds so well, others, like the title track, he kind of shuffles through and gets this great sound of his kit. It’s the kind of sound you can’t fake with clever recording techniques. I read that Jars of Clay is currently recording again and that Jeremy’s back on drums for the new album, so I’m pumped about that.

Good Monsters is more than the sum of its parts. That’s the mark of good music. There are not many albums I can listen to three times through in a row and still not be tired of it. One of my favourite songs is entitled Mirrors & Smoke. It’s sung as a duet with Leigh Nash from Sixpence None the Richer. I’ve often wished Johnny Cash and June Carter were still alive just so they could cover it. Anyways, here’s the lyrics to the title track from Good Monsters.

All the good monsters open their eyes
To see the wasteland where the home fires rise
And the people shouting, “Why, why, why”

Do you know what you are?
Do you know what you are?

All the giants wake from their sleep
And roll outside of safety’s keep
And the pain makes them feel so alive

Do you know what you are?
Do you know what you are?

We are bored of all the things we know
Do you know what you are?
Do you know what you are?
Not all monsters are bad
But the ones who are good
Never do what they could, never do what they could

All the monsters rattle their chains
And dance around the open flames
They make a lot of empty noise
While all of the bright eyes turn away
As if there wasn’t anything to say
About the justice and the mystery

Do you know what you are?
Do you know what you are?

We are bored of all the things we know
And we are forms of everything we love, we love

If good won’t show its ugly face
Evil, won’t you take your place?
Nothing ever changes, nothing ever changes
By itself

We are bored of all the things we know
Do you know what you are?
‘Cause we are, we’re so in love with ourselves

We are forms of all the things we love

4 Comments

  1. Just don’t be so quick to write off worship music. Personally, I love the freedom of the musicians that they express in their songs, and the lyrics also mean alot to me. If bands looked like they sounded, then maybe Blindside and Project 86 could be described as dope-smoking, tatoo-wearing, hotel-trashing musicians; but you and I both know that’s not true.

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  2. I wasn’t talking about how the bands looked, the image of the car salesman was just an analogy. I haven’t written off all worship music, the album I just blogged about contains some worship songs, I just want worship bands to be more realistic and fair in their portrayal of the Christian life.

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  3. i absolutely love leigh nash’s voice. that’s a side note, tho.everything you wrote mirrors exactly what i have always felt about music, but i’ve never heard it put into words like that before. i feel the same frustrations with a lot of worship music. my cousin and her hubby love and listen to ONLY worship music. they believe that one should only listen to positive happy music because anything with a sad or depressing feel just makes you feel that way and happy music makes you feel happy and joyful. i totally disagree with them on that and i think it is essential that musicians look at ALL aspects of life, the dark and the light, other wise you’re ignoring the simply truth of reality. so i know EXACTLY what you mean. i own, i think, 5 christian cds. it sucks that there aren’t more that i “cannot live without” or whatever.i also think it’s interesting that you think the music is more important than the lyrics. i have always thought that but i never tell people cuz i didn’t know if that meant i was shallow. 🙂 a song usually grabs me by the music, not the lyrics. but it’s nice to know other people feel that way. 🙂

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  4. I’d have to agree with you jordan (and julia). I find it really hard to listen to worship music…even in church. So much of it seems to want to force you to feel something. The lyrics so often try to take you to a certain place instead of coming from a certain place that one has experienced. There are few christian cd’s that I will put in consistantly. I also share the same feeling that most christian music is subpar. I would sooner throw in Coldplay or Feist than wowhits2007.

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