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WRITING ON REVELATION
Writing about "Revelation", the latest album from Third Day, has proved challenging, mainly because I find it hard to write about things I am really passionate about. I love great music and, as a practising Christian, I am also strongly committed to my faith. Third Day are long-standing contributors to the Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) scene - a genre which manages to combine music and faith into a whole that is much greater than the sum of its parts.
The CCM scene has produced some great musicians and outstanding lyricists - the quality of which can easily be appreciated by a secular audience - but in my humble opinion, the work of CCM artists only truly comes alive when you add a crucial component that lifts their work beyond the ordinary.
That component is a shared faith - which some have, but others do not. That's not to say that CCM music is lost on those not "in Christ", but, as human beings, we tend to identify with our favourite music because it has a certain resonance and relevance to our lives. Think of classic love songs, break-up tracks, songs that tell stories or reflect a certain mood - they work for us because we can relate them to our own experiences. This album inspires me, moves me and ultimately reinforces my faith.
Third Day are an accomplished, Grammy award winning band with a talent for writing great music, and should not be dismissed simply because the focus of their music is faith. In fact, the faith references on Revelation are subtle and understated, such that, as a non-Christian, if you didn't know anything about them, on most songs, you probably wouldn't notice. In fact, they have probably come closest to being a Christian "crossover" band in a generation.
THE ALBUM & BAND
Their well-designed and comprehensive website (www.thirdday.com) has a full biography and discography, as well as up to date news and tour information, so I'll only touch on the basics here. The band, founded in Georgia in the early 1990's, are a four-piece, currently consisting of vocalist Mac Powell, guitarist Mark Lee, drummer David Carr and bassist Tai Anderson. They count southern rock giants Lynyrd Skynryd and Irish rockers U2 amongst their influences.
The band name is a biblical reference to the resurrection of Christ on the third day after he was crucified. The album, Revelation, is Third Day's ninth studio effort, released in July 2008 and followed up a year later with an excellent live album of the same name ("Live Revelation"). The three singles - "Call My Name", "Revelation" and "Born Again" all reached No.1 on the specialist CCM charts and, along with the unreleased "Run To You" are easily the most radio friendly of the thirteen songs on the album.
> Slow Down
The track starts with Mac Powell (slightly cheesily) telling his band mates "All right, let's rock it" before the guitar intro gets you quickly into the guts of the song. Accompanied by well paced drums and a chugging baseline, this catchy, toe-tapping number soon has you humming along to its infectious melody. The guitar solo in the middle, overlaid by Powell's grainy, earthy vocals, gives the track a renewed energy as it builds toward the end. This is a song all about searching for meaning and direction.
The lyrics give the sense of a person who has been swept up and carried along on the crest of a wave, not really in control of his own destiny and tentatively looking for guidance. The trouble is, he is conflicted - he knows only too well what he has to give up and what he has to change to get the help he wants, but is reluctant to let his old life go. Eventually he realises that he can't do it all by himself, and finally asks God for help.
"I don't want to let go of all the things that I know are keeping me away from my life. I don't want to slow down - no, I don't want to look around, but I can't seem to work it out, so help me God."
> Call My Name
Its easy to see why this song was such a hit and why it dominated the CCM charts for a number of weeks. I never get tired of this song, whose central message of faith is that all you have to do is reach out to Christ, and - no matter who you are, what you've done, or how far you have fallen - he will be there for you. The beauty of this song is that, if you change the lyric "My name" (references to God or Jesus in written language - as in "He" or the "Lord" - are usually capitalised) to the lower case "my name", this song could equally apply to a friend, or loved one. It has resonance as a secular as well as a faith song.
In my view, the reason the song works so well - musically - is a brilliant, repetitive, melodic hook, with an almost hypnotic beat behind it, giving it a real anthemic quality. It starts with the opening bars of the song and keeps you company all the way through. Powell's voice has an earnest, down to earth feel to it that is easy and comforting to listen to, lending itself very well to this "arm around the shoulder" type narrative.
"When you feel like you're alone in your sadness, and it seems like no one in this whole world cares - and you want to get away from the madness, you just call my name and I'll be there..."
> Run to You
A pacy drum-driven track, which tells of the man who confidently starts out convinced that this life is all about grabbing as much as he can of whatever he can. He tries his best to be the master of his own destiny, but realises that "what I thought was the best of me, turned to be all the worst I could find". Realising he can't do it on his own, he asks, hopefully "If I run to You, will you hold me in your arms forevermore?". From a faith perspective, this song brilliantly captures the essence of amazing, saving grace.
This is an emotionally charged song which is given extra depth and impetus by the harmonies provided by Lacey Mosley (lead singer of alternative metal band Flyleaf). Her endearing Texan twang is much in evidence and lends the vocals a vaguely country edge. That said, she's better supporting rather than leading the vocals (her voice gets a little too warbly for my tastes as she hits the high notes) but her range and vocal power remind me of Amy Lee from Evanescence.
"Nowhere to run to and no one to turn to, I'm dying out here on my own. Long before I even thought of returning, Your arms are wide open waiting for me to come home..."
The title track continues the theme of seeking and searching for truth, meaning and answers, this time from the perspective of someone broken and alone who is sick of wandering down blind alleys and roads that never lead anywhere. In a change of pace, the song is initially piano (rather than drum and guitar) led, with Powell's vocals introducing the narrative.
As the second verse starts, the song kicks on and the other instruments join to develop a richly layered track that builds pleasingly to a full blown chorus - in turns hopeful, plaintive, demanding, expressive, and confident. The song weaves a complex tapestry, with several changes of pace and emotional emphasis, rewarding repeated listens, and delivering something new each time around. By the end of the track, Powell has moved the emotional slider from hopelessness to conviction.
"Give me a revelation, show me what to do - cause I've been trying to find my way, I haven't got a clue. Tell me - should I stay here? or do I need to move? Give me revelation, I've got nothing without You."
> Born Again
Without doubt, Born Again is the most understated, but arguably the most effective song on the album. It is a proper duet between Powell and guest vocalist Lacey Mosley and probably the most overtly faith-orientated as well, artfully describing the feeling that a new Christian experiences when he or she is "born again". That said, ironically, and perhaps typically of Third Day, if you ignore the fact that this is a Christian band, this song also works extremely well as a secular song.
The song kicks off with a soft guitar and muffled drum over which the simple melody is first introduced. It remains understated throughout, threatening to get busier, feeling orchestral in parts, but never quite managing to get boisterous. Even the chorus is soothing, calming and peaceful. In many ways, its placement on the album seems deliberate - the songs preceding it are about searching - Born Again describes what its like when you find the answer. That said, it also reminds the listener that they have simply moved to the start of another journey. The old life may have passed away, but the new life, the new day, is just beginning.
"Wasn't looking for something that was more than what I had yesterday. Then you came to me and you gave to me life and a love, that I'd never known, that I'd never felt before. Feels like I'm born again..."
Revelation is an album that works on many levels and, ignoring its faith origins for a moment, it has the potential to appeal to a wide audience. The thirteen tracks on the album have been thoughtfully chosen and provide a story arc of sorts - starting with a person discovering who they are, finding out they don't have all the answers, looking for those answers, finding them and starting a new journey of hope. That said, each of the songs works very well on its own, and there is hardly a duffer amongst them.
Apart from the five I have highlighted, "Give Love", "Otherside", "This is Who I Am", and closing track " Take It All" each has its merits and are worthy of a listen. Revelation has proved to be the most enduring of the CCM CD's I have bought over the last few years and I never tire of hearing it. Currently available from Amazon as an MP3 download for £7.49 (£15.00 as a US Import), it is highly recommended to anyone with a discerning ear.
FULL TRACK LISTING
1. This Is Who I Am (2:31)
2. Slow Down (3:08)
3. Call My Name (4:02)
4. Run To You (3:23)
5. Revelation (3:33)
6. Otherside (3:11)
7. Let Me Love You (3:03)
8. I Will Always Be True (3:09)
9. Born Again (3:36)
10. Give Love (3:18)
11. Caught Up In Yourself (3:28)
12. Ready (3:17)
13. Take It All (3:26)
© Hishyeness 2010
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 This Is Who I Am
2 Slow Down
3 Call My Name
4 Run To You
6 Other Side
7 Let Me Love You
8 I Will Always Be True
9 Born Again
10 Give Love
11 Caught Up In Yourself
13 Take It All