Friday, September 6, 2013

Jars of Clay – “Inland”



The nice thing about running your own blog is the ability to review whatever the flip you want to review. So allow me to claim that I might be the only reviewer you’ll find to post Jars of Clay right after a Daft Punk review. Yup, THIS IS MY BLOG AND I DO WHAT I WANT!!!

Jars of Clay are tough to tackle because I have too deep of a personal connection to them to be truly objective. More than basically any other band, they’ve been with me my whole life. Unlike other early loves that I had, I haven’t grown out of them (e.g. almost all punk pop) and I don’t look back at them almost strictly sentimentally (e.g. Michael W. Smith). In that sense Jars of Clay occupy a space next to Jimmy Eat World and Something Corporate/Jack’s Mannequin where I can barely distinguish between loving their music and loving what they’ve meant to me over the years.

Quick recap of who these guys are. Jars of Clay are a Grammy Award-winning band that are mostly regarded as a Christian band, though they’ve avoided the label over time. They started as a more acoustically-inclined coffee shop folk band, and somehow they’re close to alt/pop rock now. Once upon a time, Jars of Clay released a song called “Flood” which actually reached #37 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1995, something unprecedented in “Christian” music. Eighteen years later this still sounds weird. You know what else sounds weird? Saying that that was 18 years ago. Dang.

Oh sure, like most fans, I do regard their first album as their best and I too went through a small stage where I wished they hadn’t abandoned the coffee shop sound. Heck, “Boy on a String” is still a five-star, meaning I consider it one of the 83 best songs I own. But I’ve still journeyed through Much Afraid and all the way through to 2013’s Inland, their 8th proper full album (there have been numerous little projects mixed in). I also venture to say it’s their best work in quite a while, at least taken on the whole. The Long Fall Back to Earth has “Safe to Land”--one of their best tracks ever--and ultimately compares similarly, but hasn’t warranted much airtime over the years. It’s certainly better than the Shelter project and much better than Good Monsters. Comparing further back than that starts to become arduous and unfair, as I haven’t had 10 years to evaluate.

Now, to the album itself. Opener “After the Fight” definitely plays like a lead single, but I’m impressed by the detail. Underneath the surface is some deft guitar work and great use of piano, especially in a sequence after the first chorus. “Reckless Forgiver”, introspective lyrics and all, also features a sentimental piece of strings, harkening back to the old times in a way that makes me smile. Softer numbers like “Fall Asleep” and “Pennsylvania”, move rather than bore. When Dan Haseltine cautions “be careful what you wish for” in the nostalgic “Pennsylvania”, it overwhelms with sincerity.

My top two tracks of this album are “Skin & Bones” and “Love in the Hard Times”. “Love in the Hard Times” merges many of Jars’ best alt-country sounds and knack for melody, presenting a relationship struggle song in the vein of aforementioned “Safe to Land”. “Skin & Bones” is an ode to marriage, seeing love in the difficult things: unseen problems, “too many mouths to feed”, and the like. On a personal note, as a married man all too used to being away from my wife (thanks to the military, and not the concert circuit like the band), I was struck to the core by the line “look over my love, while she sleeps tonight”, a plea to God to watch over someone who you feel like you’ve abandoned.

There’s more here, but I’ll leave the rest unsaid, as I’ve said enough already. If you’re a Jars fan this album is worth buying. If you have never heard of them, give them a try. If you’re confused by this review because it doesn’t match all my other reviews, hey, try it anyways, and then move along I suppose. And with that, my two faves and the lead single, for your listening pleasure:

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