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When’s the last time you listened to the radio, specifically Christian contemporary stations?
Turn off Spotify and turn the dial to any number of radio stations playing top-40 faith-based music and you’ll hear… general references to how bad the world has gotten, a cry for our hearts to be remade by God, and maybe a classic hymn redone with a driving bass drum.
What you typically don’t hear?
And the Son of God
You call Him Prince of Peace
You want His worshippers
To make your sales increase
And the Son of God
All clothed in all righteousness
You want His followers
But not the pacifists
You want your ledgers black
We want our children back
It shouldn’t be any surprise that Five Iron Frenzy’s latest album Until This Shakes Apart is filled with socially conscious lyrics and contemporary opinions. After all, the first song on their debut album Upbeats and Beatdowns was a harsh rebuke of the murder and plunder that marked the founding of this country — chapters of Manifest Destiny we so easily gloss over in American history classes: “I think it would be nice / If we could take these injuns and convert them all to Christ / See, they are all disgusting, and bringing me great pain / And if they don't believe me, we'll put a bullet in their brains!"
But with the exception of a few songs throughout their catalogue of the past (“A New Hope” was written shortly after the Columbine shootings) none have felt as timely as Until This Shakes Apart upon my first listen:
“In Through the Out Door” points a finger at anti-immigrant sentiment.
“Tyrannis” spotlights racism who still worship the Confederacy.
“Lonesome For Her Heroes” blasts gentrification.
“Bullfight for an Empty Ring” shouts out the free press.
“While Supplies Last” highlights the hypocrisy of praying to the Prince of Peace for more war.
But it’s in “Renegades” where I think lead singer and songwriter Reese Roper throws his most impactful punches. He invokes the memories of Columbine and Sandy Hook and points the finger of responsibility at politicians who would rather appease lobbyists and gun manufacturers than take practical steps towards stopping school shootings.
As far as the music, it’s certainly less of the power-pop present on previous albums. Sure, there are still a few upbeat punk songs to satisfy those of us who still hum “Blue Comb ‘78” in their car. But Until This Shakes Apart is very clearly a ska album, with slow-tempo, laid back upstrokes peppered throughout. The horns are somehow more prominent than in projects past. The bass lines are fun and hop along during verses, just as they always have. And the drums are busy and rich, but not distracting… booming, but not deafening. It’s a throwback to their side project Brave Saint Saturn, which was a bit slower paced but allowed socially aware (and empathetic) lyrics to drive the songs.
But don’t let any of that scare you off. I’m begging you. it’s not a departure. It’s an evolution.
Five Iron Frenzy’s songs have always been about justice. It’s just that the more they’ve seen of hypocritical Christianity, the angrier they’ve gotten… and the more specific their call on how this country begins to do things that will truly bring healing:
Walk humbly with God.