I was recently talking with a young person about a Christian band who has been around for a while whose early work that young person was unfamiliar with because when it came out, that young person would have been a small child. Nothing makes me feel more incredibly old than being there when the first album by a band called Skillet dropped in all our laps, so I guess I’d better talk about this album before succumbing to the Carpal Tunnel Syndrome:
Now, the year was 1996, which, if you’re following your history, is the year preceding the year 1997, which we all know was a very good year for Christian Rock. Indeed, like the year 1996, this album comes close to the excellence of 1997, but doesn’t quite make it. Still, it’s at least a highly unusual debut album!
See, people who know the “now” Skillet will see that they’re kind of a trendy group made up of mainly girls and one constant member, the lead singer John Cooper. He’s kind of a trendy, douchey looking guy with a raspy voice and a penchant for “strong Christian lyrics” and lots of glittery synthesizers.
Such was not the John Cooper of 1996, no sir. Well, now that I think about it, he was still trendy and douchey looking back then, but in those days the best way to look trendy and douchey was to have a surfer bod, tan, long hair, and say “bro” at everyone. Nowadays it’s all faux-hawks and glasses and emaciated day-glo bodies, and you wouldn’t think that these are the same people with just 15 years between them, but John Cooper has indeed embodied both styles.
So the kind of John Cooper we’re talking about when we’re talking about Skillet’s album Skillet is a dude-bro who picked up a 6-string bass (the manliest of instruments) and proceeded to bang out some rather muscle-headed Christian Hard Rock tunes with his stoner-looking bros The Guitarist and The Drummer (both of which left after soon after their second album, which I’ll get to when I get to it).
This trio cranked out an album that sounds absolutely nothing like the Skillet of today, though the embryonic sounds were there, as well as that same lead singer, just with a different douchey look.
Interestingly, the album no only doesn’t sound like Skillet, it barely sounds like anything. The album is seriously all over the place, and what I really dig about it is that it’s an album that never knows where it’s going, but seems to have a really fun time getting there.
We start with “I Can”, a quite-heavy thrashy wonderful little tune. I am fairly convinced that this will always be my favorite song on this album (sorry to spoil it for you). The lyrics seem to be a kind of 1st person telling of the story of St. Peter, what with the references to roosters crowing and such. The song has segments of thrashiness, but also has an interesting and very low-key clean electric guitar-laded bridge that I really dig, especially when the piano (John Cooper’s other instrument at the time) comes in. I’ll be real honest, this song covers a lot of ground in about 4 minutes, especially since 2 lines from the bridge are given their own full songs in the next album. Of course, not to deny the song its rocking ending, it explodes into a repeated shouting of “I CAN” and that’s just cool.
The second song kind of keeps the rocking going, but in a more bass-line-heavy way. It’s hard to describe what’s going on in this song, so since I was watching it anyway, check out the Youtube video. If you really pay attention to the lyrics, they are very confusing. I mean, I can kind of see where the verses are going, and I can kind of see where the chorus is going, but the two are heading towards different towns and one’s kind of getting there by driving around in circles. Either way, you’d better get used to these “tough Christian” lyrics, they’re gonna be all over the place, yo.
Not quite yet, because now we’re going to lapse into acoustic territory. The next song (for which there is also a video) is called “Saturn“. This video was filmed apparently when Cooper had changed his look to this strange “hunky nerd” look before he went platinum blonde and turned into a girl. Anyway, the song is rather pretty, despite the every-present vocal/guitar hook becoming repetitive and the lyrics again making no sense, but you know God taught us to forgive our Christian Rockers for sometimes taking Nyquil before writing their lyrics, and I’m going to be a good example and do just that.
It’s after these three hits that the album gets a bit annoying in places, starting with “My Beautiful Robe”. It’s a fine song as far as the regular verses go, but the four chords that make up the main riff just don’t fit together, and if they do, it’s still not a good idea. Man, but the chorus is actually pretty good too, ok this song barely passes.
Anyway I like “Promise Blender” far more, because there is something seriously weird going on with the rhythm in the verses to this song. It’s like they are going for “ska” but are hitting the first beats instead of the second ones or something. Either way, it’s suitably weird because they seem to know what they’re doing, and the chorus is set to “super chunky” as far as guitars go, and the words are just weird and cool. So there, I love this song. Oh yes! There is also a bass solo and it too makes no sense.
“Paint” is also a good song, carrying on that “super chunky” brand of synthesized distortion. Again, the lyrics are either confused or confusing, but I can forgive a song this rockin’ at least 3 times over for such an indiscretion.
“Safe With You” is a no-good kind of “With Or Without You”-inspired number. I can never seem to get around to liking this song, even though I can’t objectively find anything wrong with it. This is not an objective body of work, however, because I am not getting paid over here, so that’s my last word about “Safe With You” and its pant-ey chorus.
“You Thought” is another kind of bad idea put to music. It starts off challenging you to like its punchy beginning, but then they throw out-of-tune guitars at you and then screechy distortion, and well if you’re still listening at this point, congrats, you fell for the trap!
“Boundaries” is more like it. This song is so very “90′s Alernative Rock” ala Lenny Kravitz or something (in fact I am very certain this is the exact chord progression for “Fly Away”), but I still enjoy the song enough. It took long enough, I went for years hating this song. There’s a neat key change toward the end too, and I do tend to like that.
You might as well end the album there, because the final song, “Splinter”, acts like an unwelcomed addition to lengthen the album to its required 38 minutes. I know we can’t all be Descendents and have 22 minute albums, but is it really worth throwing this major-key mess at the end of an album that started out so promising? Huh, muscle-bound Skillet of the 90′s?
I mean, don’t hit me!
Oh well, this album aged pretty well as far as Christian Rock albums go, so I don’t mind listening to it, except for those 3 or 4 annoying tracks, but what were you expecting, an album made in 1997?