A Long Fall Back to Earth? Like Rain Falling in a Drought. {Album Review}

Years ago, matters of faith permeated the arts. The greatest artists often professed to be Christians and that was okay with society—certainly not all artists were believers, but would the arts be what they are today without the contributions of Michelangelo, Beethoven, Mozart, John Milton, etc.?

Today’s society tends to criticize artists known for expressing any form of [Christian] faith in their medium—song or canvas. It’s almost understandable within the music realm since exclusively Christian music labels regularly release less-than-stellar quality music. In fact, I have even come to find contemporary Christian music stations almost intolerable. However, Top 40 secular music doesn’t always offer much more quality; Paper Planes? I Kissed a Girl? Soldier Boy? No thanks.

Enter Jars of Clay. This band launched to platinum-level stardom in 1995 with their self-titled album that featured an incredible track listing. Many Christians still hold that album as one of their favorite albums of all time; yet, Jars of Clay’s fame in the mainstream industry has faded through the years. Their music hasn’t gotten worse; if anything, they’ve maintained music credibility in their 15 years more than almost any other artist can claim. They’ve never been satisfied to re-release the exact same album. It’s 2009, and Jars of Clay has nothing to prove to Christian industry, but they have something to prove to themselves.

They have experimented in folk, grunge, blues, retro-pop, and straightforward rock & roll, but have always been uniquely Jars. The Long Fall Back to Earth is no mere exercise in fleecing old fans to maintain an income. With this album, Jars of Clay has released their most cohesive, dynamic album of their career—which is extraordinarily impressive given that the band has consisted of the same 4 members since their formation in college.

Don’t be mistaken. This is not a Jars of Clay greatest hits album. It doesn’t sound quite like anything Jars has ever made, and yet it encapsulates their integrity, their drive to create the best art they possibly can, Christian or not. This album has a thematic flow, lyrical honesty, and musical drive. This band has not copied anyone else—comparisons to U2 are understandable but only in the way that Bach compares to Beethoven or Salvador Dali compares to Pablo Picasso. That is to say, they might share a handful of elements with their peers, but they are very much their own artists.

High praise, yes, but this is a masterpiece. The album opens with a brooding, dense, intro leading into the chilling “Weapons” which calls the listener to stop fighting the imagined evil of the person in front of them. The theme of reconciling relationships recurs throughout. Most of the songs are poetic and genuine while still maintaining openness to interpretation—are they talking about their wife, their best friend, God, their own son? All of the above. This isn’t mere ambiguity to gain records sales, though; I think Jars would make the music they make if no one would buy it.

The Long Fall is an exercise in pop genius. It’s hard to identify specific highlights without giving a song by song review, but truly, songs like “Heaven,” with its electro-pop leanings and lyrical brilliance that recall the writings of Augustine or C.S. Lewis, the intimate wordplay of “Closer” [“I want your kite strings tangled in my trees, all wrapped up…I’ll be the comets that are falling from the sky you light up”], the pleading “Safe to Land,” give the listener something to digest for years to come. At risk of my credibility among my album reviewing counterparts , I must mention that I’ve read a few reviews that criticize the song “Boys (Lesson One).” Boys is one of the most touching, inspired father-to-son song I have ever heard. If only every boy could experience the unconditional love so present in this song.

The album is a hearty and satisfying 59 minutes. It’s very difficult for an artist to offer so much at once and maintain a consistency throughout. Perhaps “Boys” would best be placed in another spot on the album; perhaps there could be a more definitive closer. But frankly, to leave any song off the album would be a disservice. Each songs stands alone strong, but as a rope gains strength by weaving strands, so does The Long Fall.

So that’s it. Jars has not followed the standard musical career path. They began honest, yet popular. They continue honestly despite less mainstream exposure. It’s the listeners’ loss though, if they don’t give it a chance. Jars is not just the best “Christian band,” they are one of the finest music acts this generation has ever been graced with.

5/5, 10/10, A+…. I don’t care what rating system you like. It’s a must have.

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4 thoughts on “A Long Fall Back to Earth? Like Rain Falling in a Drought. {Album Review}

  1. Tess Stockslager says:

    Josh,
    This is a great review. I am ashamed to say that I did not know Jars of Clay had a new album out. I have heard some of these songs on their EP Closer, though.

    The only problem I have with this review is that you dissed “Paper Planes”! I’ll admit that it’s not the most lyrically brilliant song of all time, but you have to admit that it sounds different than other songs of its genre. Plus, it fits in at a perfect spot in Slumdog Millionaire.

    Now I have to go buy the Jars album.

    Tess

    • wordflyer says:

      Thanks Tess! Sorry about dissing paper planes. I guess I just don’t get it; I can see it working in a soundtrack, but the repetitiveness and cash registers rub my nerves the wrong way. It does have some artistic merit to it in some ways, though, I suppose.

  2. Wow, Josh tell us how you really feel about Jars of Clay! =) Very good writing. And what’s this about starting a web-zine?

    • wordflyer says:

      🙂 In fairness, I’m a pretty harsh critic more often than not–I never expected this cd to be this good.

      I’m starting webzine, hopefully this summer. It’s geared towards the arts, faith, philosophy and culture. It will be a place of expression for a variety of artisans, from essayists to poets to graphic designers, etc. I have a couple writers, besides myself, and a web-designer on board so far and am looking for more contributors.

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