"I’m too sacred for the sinners/And the saints wish I would leave." - Mark Heard
Tuesday, January 6, 2015
Music Review - Daniel Amos - Doppleganger Reissue
I remember it as if it were yesterday. The little experience I had with Christian music involved Russ Taff, Michael W. Smith and Whiteheart. Then came a wacky satirical band called The Swirling Eddies whose music had depth beyond typical novelty albums. I joined their fan club (got me a tube of Swirling Eddies toothpaste!) and found that they used to be a band named Daniel Amos and so ordered a cassette entitled Doppelgänger.
My first clue that I had strayed far from the path of safe, youth pastor approved Christian music was the opening track, “Hollow Man”, which found lead singer Terry Taylor singing and speaking cryptic words over a song being played backwards, the forward words sometimes mixing with the backwards words to add further discomfort to the listener. Very weird yet very intriguing… and is that a T.S. Elliot reference? The next song, “Mall All Over The World” starts with bassist Tim Chandler attacking his instrument in a frenzy of slapped, popped and punched notes. New wave stabs of keyboards joined by razor guitars soon enter as the song progresses to a disjointed rock song and the lyrics take jabs at a consumer culture, drawing an analogy between indoor malls and a warped view of heaven. The twitchy “Real Girls” laments how people have degraded to one-dimensional images while the hyped up 50s rock of “New Car!” takes a swipe at the Prosperity Gospel by setting the song in a game show. The aggressive “Youth With a Machine” is a personal favorite with a killer off-balanced yet melodic bass line that undergirds lyrics that are typical of the album, words that require intentional dissection to understand (“Wild grid of noise chants "Life is negation" / He's drowning in echo / Amid the stained glass towers / Dead the innocent? / Gone the hour? / He needs you now, now more than ever”). “The Double” is another rocker, built upon a ratty guitar riff and wide melodic leaps that musically illustrate lyrics concerning the bifurcation of physical body and spirit.
Side two seems aimed more at the church. The frenzied, ballsy “Memory Lane” is packed with zany guitar fills and convicting lyrics of “It’s another flat testimony / Inflated with emotional gas/ The truth never changes / But shouldn’t you?” “Angels Tuck You In” looks at the near worship of angels and “Little Crosses” turns its gaze at the trend of wearing crosses as jewelry but having no effect upon the wearer. “Autographs For The Sick” falls under the category of “What were they thinking?” If I had to make a list of the top ten most confusing songs I’ve ever heard, this one would certainly be on it. “I Didn’t Build It For Me” is a bouncy, energetic song that tumbles over itself in its eager glee to reveal itself, again with an amazingly fun bass line. “Here I Am” is a meta-song which concerns the disconnection that occurs in what is supposed to be a very relational faith, connecting with fans “By way of stereo / Making minimal contact” and “Attending Sunday service (it’s crowded so I watch it on the TV in the foyer)”. As with the other songs, the lyrics are thought provoking, perhaps a bit heady, but always couched in humor.
At a time when Christian music consisted of Amy Grant, Sandi Patti and The Gaithers, Doppelgänger by Daniel Amos was a subversive shot across the bow. “Dark” and “edgy” are overused terms these days but they were new back in 1982 and certainly were not ever associated with Christian music. One look at the creepy cover, though, and you knew Doppelgänger was going to be breaking a few rules. Out of print for over a decade, the band has finally reissued this landmark album and did a right good job. You get a remastered version of the album, a second CD of live tracks and remixes plus a 24-page full color booklet with period photos, extensive notes and lyrics. As with many albums, the low-fi version is available on a popular video web site. Be brave and take a listen but be prepared to part with your money after you join the fan club.