Monday, November 16, 2009

shimmering, vulnerable, evocative, provocative : my amazon review of The Violet Burning's "Strength"

My amazon review of The Violet Burning's "Strength":

It is absolutely unbelievable that this review of mine is apparently the first and only (so far) Amazon customer review of what is widely recognized as not only a beautiful and seminal classic, but even the first modern worship album (and a decade ahead of its time, to boot).

Since it's a 1992 album that has gone through seasons of being out of print, I can only guess this is a new listing on amazon.

Or..because I belong to it, I guess I forget  how small, select, and underground the collective circle of that "WIDELY recognized" is.

Best kept secret, indeed.

But don't take my word for it (though you are about to hear it)! Just look at some of the references to this CD in reviews of other Violet Burning CDs here on (That it is inevitably hinted at, and referenced, in many of these reviews suggests its watershed status). Read respected critics like Kim Gentes of "one of the best worship albums I had ever heard in my life...delicate, evocative and worshipful genius."

Even those of us who were Violet Burning fans from the first (raw, punk-ish) album were unprepared for the intimate and ethereal, atmosphere..created by this music. The passion of the first album remained: but is somehow dialed down sonically, even as it is amped up in sensitivity. It's all channeled through intimate confession, not through a Marshall amp attack, at least this time.

Songwriter and frontman Michael Pritzl may not have intended this as a worship album, and it can indeed be listened to without that framework and worldview, but I do need to say that no album released before or after has facilitated such renewal, worship, and tears in me than this. Scenes from its soundscape, whether through a literal playing of the disc, or whether through those deep recesses of my brain and soul where this music is forever embedded, have probably blessed my every day for almost twenty years.

That's likely because this is a passionate man pouring out his private broken/overflowing heart in a public place.

The haunting (female) background =vocals of Jamie Eichler, the gamble of a string section that more than payed, what to mention first? It's got to be "The Song of the Harlot," an evocative, provocative, holy and hushed ballad, a retelling of the woman of loose reputation who washed Jesus' feet with her hair. If you never figured the word "whore" could  be appropriately sung in a "Christian" song (a prayer even), but could be the only fitting word, you haven't heard the way the line "If I could be anyone at all, let me be the whore at Your feet" is delivered here.

The only thing offensive here is the truth that "so may times I have been the whore."

But what is a (brilliant) cover of the Beatles "Eleanor Rigby" doing, cueing itself up next on an album that is to me pure "worship"? Believe me, it belongs and segues perfectly in the context.
That "no one was saved" has never hurt more...and never made more sense more.

The sound is largely different than any other Violets album (except the later, "A Stranger in This Place," in which retooled songs from "Strength" and other CDs are included from a "vibe" perspective.) Many of their albums are guitar-driven, fueled by distortion and reminders of The Cure or My Bloody Valentine. "Strength" is quieter (a million degrees more so than its successor, the brooding, grungy self-titled album). To call "Strength" "acoustic" is not quite fair (though the almost-too-personal to listen to album closer, "Through My Tears" largely fits that description): for one, some great electric guitar solos are in the mix "No One Like You". For two, if you need points of comparison, you might think Radiohead, some Depeche Mode...and (though they weren't around yet) Delirious at their most vulnerable and inventive. However. all those points of reference are partly right and dead wrong.
The unique sound must be sampled and experienced.

Those in Christian circles will be blown away at the release date of this disc. Pritzl and team were so pioneering. One hears here hints of the best worship music releases since then (and none of the cookie-cutterness of the worst), but in 1992 the whole genre didn't even exist.

The Violet Burning singlehandedly prefigured and created it.

That alone merits the 5 stars accompanying this review.

The album comes off like reading Pritzl's journal set to the music that existed before it, and was birthed by it. One feels almost voyeuristic, catching him in a confession booth or God-encounter.

I haven't even mentioned the overall lyrical and theological theme, as the sonics are so good they can be enjoyed on their own. But that is impossible for me, as even the instruments draw me to the end of myself and limits of my humanity. Which is precisely the point.

I cannot divorce the album from its own suggested theme: In the liner notes one finds the Scriptural reference ,"the weakness of God is stronger than the strength of man."
Some of the songs, like "The Face of Beauty" celebrate the radical self-emptying of Christ, and the strength-in-weakness motif of much of the New Testament.

I feeler stronger in faith every time I even think of this album.

Thank God for Strength.

Others of my Violet Burning reviews:



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