Back in July, I wrote about listening to a local Christian radio station, and said:
It's unfortunate to me that this music seems to choose musical forms I've long felt were utterly soulless to express ideas about the soul's relationship to God.
I'm happy to report that in listening to them more, I did find at least one group that escapes that problem. While they still spend a lot of time in pop, Sixpence None the Richer somehow manages to get a lot more across than the inspirational lyrics over bland melodies that seem to dominate these airwaves. The song that I first noticed, "Breathe Your Name" is pretty thoroughly pop, but it's good pop, and led me to the rest of their work.
The lyrics for Breathe Your Name grabbed my attention:
So many days within this race
I need the truth
I need some grace
I need the path
To find my place
I need some truth
I need some grace
The part of you
That's part of me
Will never die
Will never leave
And it's nobody else's but mine
You are in my heart
I can feel your beat
And you move my mind
From behind the wheel
When I lose control
I can only breathe your name
I can only breathe your name
The vision of God here is a direct encounter, not a distant hope. It's deeply personal and overwhelming, filled with promise.
After I figured out who the band was, I realized that they'd also done a song I think everyone heard a few years ago, Kiss Me, which catapulted them to the complexities of pop stardom (but didn't help with their perpetual record label problems).
I quickly bought The Best of Sixpence None the Richer, and like it, though it's a strange compilation. It starts with three unreleased songs, then a song from a tribute album, and then launches into Kiss Me, Breathe Your Name, and then the beautiful Melody of You. I don't often link to National Review Online, but this review sums it up well:
Together on "Melody of You," Slocum and Nash have done nothing short of making a mockery of both modern pop music and the worship-music business - for they have managed to prove, in the course of another "song, three minutes long," that pop music can indeed talk intelligently and succinctly about important and transcendent things, and remind the entire worship-music industry that the Author of the snowflake and the butterfly likely values creative expression over vain repetition.
And while a good bit of modern "worship music" is either entirely forgettable or simply undecipherable to those outside the club, "Melody of You" is a song that can be understood by the most ardent atheist — who, though disbelieving in the God the song is obviously about, can nonetheless understand the love the writer and singer feel for Him.
ABBA's Dancing Queen? Yes, they covered that for the movie Dick, where it plays for the happy end credits. It doesn't exactly fit here, but it did give me something else on the album that I recognized. (Now I mostly skip it.)
Dancing Queen introduces a section of covers. The next one, of Crowded House's Don't Dream It's Over, fits better with their usual lyrical style, as does their cover of The La's There She Goes. Their next cover, Sam Phillips' I Need Love, is more direct than a lot of their songs, but astonishing. The covers close with Brian Wilson's I Just Wasn't Made for These Times.
The next five songs are older, a mix of straightforward melodies and harder-edged pieces from before the band broke into fame with Kiss Me. Breathe sounds more like a regular worship song but describes a deeply personal experience breathing the air of Heaven. Brighten My Heart is also a worship song, but with a very nice set of additions on the repeated verse.
The next two songs, both from This Beautiful Mess, have more oblique lyrics and a harder edge. I can't quite figure out Angeltread, but it launches into the chorus with intense power. Within a Room Somewhere is even more mysterious, but has similar power.
The last song from the older albums, Trust is almost a meditation, building on Proverbs 3:5-6 with repetition and a little more to connect it to the singer.
The final song on the album is just unusual: Kiss Me, in Japanese. A few of the lyrics stay in English, but most of them don't.
It's a strange sampler, an album which I suspect has something to appeal to most readers of this site, but I suspect that something is different for everyone. I'm enjoying the way Matt Slocum's lyrics describe connecting with God directly, and Leigh Nash's ability to take her voice from airy and intimate to a loud belt gives the songs the range they need to deal with that subject. (The band's name comes from a story in C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity.)
I'll be listening to more of their material, but figure that most of this would be eligible for my completely hypothetical Quaker radio. It's good to find music that speaks like this. I'm reasonably certain they're not Quaker, but their songs seem to me to capture much of what makes the Quaker experience compelling: periods of calm, times of deep ecstatic connection, times of scrambling for that connection.