After I took a stab at romancing the extraordinary, getting some word choice help from Contemporary Christian music (CCM), I stumbled upon this piece by Jordon Bloom at The American Conservative. The part that stuck out the most to me:
“Consider how differently Christian rock functions from church music in the past. Megastars today supply a corpus of interchangeable–with both secular pop and other church music–worship songs. Bach thought he was exploring the mind of God. There was once a sense of aspiration or striving, through which God was glorified; this stuff is so incredibly lazy it almost seems idolatrous. My favorite example is the promiscuous key changes that arrangers sometimes insert for a cheap thrill that, in more expressive congregations, gets people to raise their hands. I think that’s a pretty good synecdoche for the music as a whole. There’s a risk that it rests entirely on a set of musical and lyrical techniques that are nothing but levers to elicit a certain feeling or response. It’s all heart and no head.”
Touche. I will readily admit I pulled out the old Star 99.1 tunes in a post that was soaked with from-the-heart-emotionalism. But perhaps Bloom has a point about today’s Christian music. Maybe it has become “incredibly lazy” and “a cheap thrill.” Or maybe, it just sucks.
Over at Action Magazine, CCM’s suckage is duly noted:
“The contemporary song hackers are beating words like “amazing” and “worthy” to death, an insult to such religious tunesmiths as John Newton, who wrote the original and time-tested blockbuster Amazing Grace in the 19th Century.
There are religious songs today which use the word “amazing” 15 or 20 times, even more than the worldwide favorite Amazing Grace. And on one of my recent forays into an area Baptist Church, the choir repeated the word “worthy” in one song until my head threatened to split wide open.
You are worthy, You are worthy, You are worthy, You are worthy, You are worthy, and on and on and on went the refrain, leading me to wonder almost out loud:
Who are you jerks to call the creator of the entire universe “worthy?” A poor choice of words from a songwriter who shouldn’t be writing poorly-done religious songs in the first place. Even church music hacks suffer from acute cases of rectal cranial inversion when it comes to invention and creativity, and they shouldn’t be allowed to use praise for the Lord Jesus Christ as an excuse for slop music.”
“Why is it that so often Christian music is so awful? I think there are a couple of reasons. The first is that the musicians and their audience mistake a worthy message for talent. Then they get a martyr complex if they’re criticized. “You’re obviously not very spiritual if you can’t enjoy my music! The second problem is that the audience are often either totally uncritical or they haven’t the ability to criticize intelligently. Too often the audience actually like the crap that is being dished up. The third factor is that market forces are usually not in play. Market forces often have a surprisingly sharp and salutary critical effect. Market forces weed out the junk, but in the Christian market they’re doing it for love, not money, so no one is telling them to get off the stage ’cause it won’t sell.
These are all the practical problems. There is, however, a deeper problem. Christian popular music is almost always pretty bad, but the problem with most “Christian” music is that it is secular music with Christian words. In any decent art style and substance are supposed to match up. The meaning and the media are supposed to harmonize.”
Over at Tears of Time, D-Sane also notes some of the same factors of lack of meaningful criticism and secular music rebranded as CCM thanks to the addition of some “Jesus” and “salvation”:
“In the last 20-30 years, Christians have wormed their way into every genre of music, polluting them all with Christian versions of songs in the style of everything from hip hop to indie pop, and of course alternative rock. But the real reason these songs are horrible is because no one is critically examining any of them for artistic merits simply due to their subject matter. If you subbed out the occasional Jesus message in a song by Jay-z or Willie Nelson, the music would still be great. For that matter, if you subbed in Jesus into secular music, you’d have a decent song that just happens to be about Jesus. Conversely, if you subbed out Creed’s message of Jesus, you’d be left with really shitty music.
… Some one could invent Christian night club music to make it safe for the Christian teens to go out dancing while still respecting the Lord. In fact, a truly subversive musician who can’t cut it in the secular music industry could easily make millions of dollars by feigning a Christian message over top their otherwise secular music, simply because they would receive no criticism. Instant Fame: Just add Jesus.”
- First of all, the poetry is dreadful, almost incoherent.
- Second, the lyric is incredibly clumsy, almost unsingable.
- Third, the metaphors are strained and mixed to the point of utter confusion.
- Fourth, the only real “power” the song has is the continual repetition of the line, “How he loves [us]“ as the band builds intensity, à la a million other pop-rock songs.
- Fifth, it is individualistic to the point of being narcissistic, despite part of a verse that, inexplicably, is written in the plural. Whether one sings the controversial “sloppy wet kiss” line or not, this turns out to be just another song about “me and Jesus” and how he “meets me” in my experience without giving any context of the church, the Gospel, or the words of Scripture. It represents a perfect model of personal “spirituality without religion.”
Benjamin Drew Griffin, at Pop Theology, goes on a quest for CCM music that doesn’t suck, with stops at Amy Grant, Creed and dcTalk. He surmises that despite the abundance of superficiality in the genre, there are pockets of real: “… What I wish to highlight is an alternative take of what many consider Christian music. There are contemporary Christian musicians that evangelize for the fringe, wave the flag for the weird, and extol the theologically challenging. Like Christ’s table itself, the Christian music world consists of the sinners, the irksome, the angry, and, of course, the doubters—music that doesn’t simply sing love songs to our Lord Up Above but rather those that seek to be consumed by that love here below. Whether they’re alternative, mainstream, or just plain weird, everyone’s invited to the table and everyone’s welcome to bring their instruments along.” Awww, weirdos are welcome. I like that. Oh, and by the way, despite the suckage, CCM, by way of TobyMac and Lecrae, is huge. Shout to the Lord.