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The film, ‘Reign Over Me’ (2007), written and directed by Mike Binder, is, without a doubt Adam Sandler’s best movie to date. I’ve seen most of his films, the most recent being ‘Sandy Wexler’ (2017) and ‘The Week Of…‘ (2018). By comparison the only other films that might come close are, ‘The Wedding Singer‘ (1998), his remake of ‘Mr. Deeds‘ (2002), ‘Bedtime Stories‘ (2008) and ‘Pixels‘ (2015); but even those don’t achieve what ‘Reign Over Me’ does, or go where it goes.

Sandler’s character, Charlie Fineman, is a widower who looks a lot like Bob Dylan in his early days. Fineman is a dentist by trade, and an apartment dwelling hermit, living in isolation within New York City, who suffers from post-traumatic stress and depression. Sandler’s signature, unpredictable outbursts, are reminiscent of  ‘Happy Gilmore‘ and ‘Anger Management’, though this behavioural similarity exists, it fits perfectly with the circumstances, making Sandler’s portrayal of the grief-stricken Fineman, not only believable, but in my opinion, Oscar worthy.

At the centre of the story-line line are events that took place during September 11, 2001.The film approaches this subject with sensitivity. Avoiding the politics the screenwriters look past conspiracy theories, however, what is glaringly absent is any discussion about Islamism or Islamic terrorism. In a lot of ways this is assumed.

On balance, the film does dedicate a scene to some news articles, albeit ones that are discussing America’s response. I have no real issue with this, for the following reason: The screenwriters are respecting their audience by not spelling out the obvious. I have huge respect for directors and writers who do this. Within the context of ‘Reign Over Me‘, the strategy is understandable. It keeps the focus of the audience on Charlie Fineman’s journey.

In addition to Sandler’s brilliant portrayal of a forgotten victim of September 11, both Don Cheadle (of Hotel Rwanda fame) and Liv Tyler, add their own style and bring to the film a warmth, juxtaposed with contrasts. Cheadle is Sandler’s college room-mate; also a dentist and extremely successful in his own right. Cheadle’s character (Alan Johnson) is aware of Fineman’s tragic past, but had lost contact with him over the years. Johnson has his own issues, which all start to come to bare, after randomly crossing paths with Fineman in the street. Johnson seeks to reconnect with Fineman.

Not completely aware of Fineman’s suffering, Johnson quickly recognises the pain his friend is suffering with. He begins to try to help Fineman. This creates tension between Johnson and his wife, and a series of misunderstandings with an ever suspicious Fineman.

Fineman wants no help, only later choosing to see Johnson’s long-term friend and pyschologist, Angela Oakhurst (played by Liv Tyler). Oakhurst works to bring Fineman to a place where he can address the past and his own brokenness, in his own time. Cheadle’s performance keeps the film moving along, perfectly complementing Sandler’s. Liv Tyler compliments Cheadle. The perfect casting circle is made complete when Donald Sutherland turns up in the role of Judge Rains.

The film comes to a close with Fineman’s in-laws trying to speak with him. Fineman breaks downs, becomes violent, and as a result is held in custody for psychological evaluation. As Rains becomes aware of Fineman’s emotional and psychological state, he sees straight through the opportunistic lawyer representing Fineman’s in-laws. With Solomon-esk wisdom Rains outmanoeuvres the lawyer, making it clear that what he has in Fineman is a forgotten victim of September 11, 2001, who deserves a chance to be heard, helped and respected.

Reign Over Me‘, does have some unnecessary language and some interesting sub plots. Those side plots wind up coming together in the end. Though they seem to detract from the film at first, as the story progress, the genius of their inclusion in the film  becomes clear. The sub plots are used to fortify the audiences cheering in the end, through their desire to see Fineman heal and overcome the obstacles forced upon him.

The film isn’t complete without the impressive soundtrack, of which the stand out song is Eddie Vedder’s cover of The Who’s, ‘Love, Reign O’er Me‘ and The Fray’s, ‘How to Save a Life’.  The live and studio versions included; Vedder’s performance, as far as I have heard, is his best vocal work in a song.

As far as art and theology goes, ‘Reign Over Me’ is rich in metaphor. What I see in ‘Reign Over Me‘ is God’s redemptive love – displayed in the film by Cheadle, Tyler and Sutherland’s characters. They fight for Fineman, yet still place an emphasis on him taking responsibility for his own actions. Fineman was empowered, but he still had to decide to respond to the love and help (salvation – grace) he was given.

Since the theme of God’s redemptive love is part of a lot of current discussion, the metaphors are worth noting. The freedom we find in God’s redemptive love is not a “freedom” that is said to be found in human love. For Fineman, human love was not to be trusted. Such love is at best optimism, at worst morbid existential navel gazing and/or veiled self-centred ambition. God’s love draws us out of ourselves in the form of His gracious Word spoken to humanity, which is both invitation and command (Jesus Christ and Covenant). We are drawn out of ourselves to be free for God and our neighbour. Such freedom comes with limitations.

I seem to be on a roll with recommending and reviewing art that, to me, is written, for the broken, from the broken, to the broken. ‘Reign Over Me‘, in my opinion, fits this category like no other film I’ve seen.  It hits at our grief, the lies we tell ourselves and the traps we fall into because we fall under the radar of complacent and dismissive family members, who, in overlooking the complexities of our brokenness, can seem to demand more than we are ready to give; simply because we don’t know how, or don’t yet have the strength to give it. ‘Reign Over Me‘ is an honest prayer-filled, heart-wrenching scream that meets with what Lacey Strum wrote, when summing up her reasons for screaming in songs:

‘Like ‘emotional vomit’, lyrics about ‘horrible abuse, if sung honestly, must be screamed…Screaming was my natural response to injustice… When I started writing music with screaming in it, the point was to hit someone back… After God rescued me, however, I found a purpose for my screaming: to speak truth over the lies in people’s hearts. Lies like the ones I believed about myself when I wanted to die.’ – (Lacey Sturm, 2014 The Reason, pp.77-82)

Let there be light. Inhaled grace ignites.

 


Disclaimer:

I did not receive any remuneration for this review, in any form.

No doubt you’ve seen this ”share ten albums that had a big impact on you” going around social media. I received a nomination on Facebook from an old friend. Rather than spam my social media walls, I decided to post, and share the list here. This list isn’t definitive, but if I was to give a quick answer as to what were my top ten albums, these would feature heavy in that kind of a discussion.

So, here goes:

“Ten of my all time favourite albums. What really made an impact, and is still on my rotation list, even if only now and then. Post the cover, no need to explain, and nominate a person each day to do the same.” I nominate, guitarist, and talented illustrator extraordinaire, Mr. Frank Grau.

1. Guardian – ‘Miracle Mile’, 1993

2. Guns N’ Roses – ‘Use Your Illusion I & II‘, 1991

3. Metallica – ‘Metallica (Black Album)‘, 1991

4. John Denver – ‘An Evening With John Denver (Live), 1975

5. Aerosmith – ‘Get A Grip‘, 1993

6. Led Zepplin – ‘Led Zepplin IV‘, 1971

7. DC Talk, ‘Jesus Freak‘, 1995

8. Barry McGuire, ‘Lighten’ Up‘, 1975

9. Simon & Garfunkel – ‘The Definitive Simon & Garfunkel‘, 1992

10. Third Day – ‘Conspiracy No.5‘, 1997.

*Close winners for tenth place:

* Jon Bon Jovi – ‘Blaze of Glory (Young Guns II)‘, 1990

** Top Gun  – ‘Soundtrack‘, 1985 

*** Steve Joblansky – ‘Transformers’: The Score, 2007

**** Need to Breath – ‘Hard Love‘, 2016

***** Forrest Gump – ‘Forrest Gump Soundtrack’, (especially “Forrest Gump Suite” composed and conducted by Alan Silvestri)

Special mentions:

P.O.D – ‘Satellite‘, 2001

Paul Wilbur – ‘Jerusalem Arise!‘, 1999

Chuck Berry – ‘The Blues Collection’, 1993.


Thanks for the nomination.

It was fun thinking it through.

As the great 19th Century preacher, Charles Spurgeon wrote, ‘Life is a conflict, & thou needest battle music’ [i]. In addition to this, I recently came across a fitting quote from John Calvin in his commentary on Exodus:

calvin-quote

So, with these words in mind, here’s the top November additions to my high rotation, “A-List” on Spotify.

1. ‘Song of Deliverance’, Zac Williams

Zac Williams is more country-rock than cliché CCM. That’s why ‘Song of Deliverance’ stands out. I haven’t had the chance to listen closer to Zac’s other work, but if that reflects the huge effort found here, then it’s worth a closer look. The lyrical content alone, pushes this song above and beyond any mainstream contemporary country. I’m fond of the ‘Chain Breaker’ theme, the slide guitar and the careful placement of the harmonica.

“Get behind me satan; no more fear and no more shame; My debts been paid I am no longer your slave” – Amen..

2. ‘Great Night’, Need To Breathe

As I strongly implied in October’s A-list, outside Lacey Sturm and Toby Mac, Need to Breathe take the standard for Christians in the music industry higher. I’m still listening to ‘Hard Love’ and consider tracks 2,3,7,9,10,11,12. on the album to be some of the best work I’ve heard from a band born in the wilds of the Christian Contemporary Music scene. ‘Great Night’ is a fun song. It has a great riff, has a beat that would pass off as electronic; rides a solid melody and sits on the back of guitar work (that in my biased opinion) makes listening to this like watching a fireworks spectacular. There’s not much more to it than that.

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3.’Lazarus’, Bellarive

Bellarive were a surprise find. There’s something unique in the mix and it’s the uniqueness that gives me reason to add it to the November A-List. I’ve listened to some of their other work, but consider ‘Lazarus’ to be their best. In all fairness, I haven’t had the time to give them the full attention they deserve. The list of qualities in ‘Lazarus’ hinge on its dynamics. Starting with the piano, rising with the lyrics and finishing with the full rock compliment, the song is carried to it’s quiet conclusion with precision. I’m a fan of the video work. What really wins me, though, is the depth of theology at work in the simplicity of the song. I hear myself praying the words and only wish I had room to link all of them.

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“So, take a breath and break the night
Stranger to the Light
Wind of God, dig up the graves
And breathe into the slain”

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4. ‘Lunatics & Slaves’, Sin Shake Sin

Sin Shake Sin drive thoughtfulness. The whole album exploits this artistic edge with pointed lyrics matched by a catchy melody. They aren’t from the CCM scene and I doubt that they’d share the same perspective as many who are. Sin Shake Sin is a band that I’d expect to hear playing as a musical bed for TV shows like Chuck or Suits. There’s a crisp coolness to the blunt challenge in each song that, lyrically anyway, reminds me of Guns n’ Roses. ‘Lunatics & Slaves’ showcases what this band is about and what this band is capable of.

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5. ‘Heroes’, Zayde WØlf

Surprisingly, some of the best music of recent years comes from the video game and TV/movie soundtrack scene. Assassins Creed, Halo and Skyrim stand out as quintessential examples of this. ‘Ezio’s Theme’ or ‘Past to Present‘ have engraved a standard that is tough to beat. ‘Heroes’ meets this. The song has a strong presence. Like Lazarus, the real strength of ‘Heroes’ is in its dynamics. From quiet to loud; verse to chorus each line is complimented with inspiring lyrics that follow a clear theme. In addition, the cinematic soundtrack feel that echoes a Hans Zimmer, Steve Jablonsky-esk orchestra and electronic baritone minor adds some real weight.

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Sources:

[i] Spurgeon, C.H. 1883, Flowers From a Puritan’s Garden

[ii] Calvin. J Commentary on Exodus

Note: Thoughts expressed here are my own. I did not receive payment of any kind to review or post these songs.

As the great 19th Century preacher, Charles Spurgeon wrote, ‘Life is a conflict, & thou needest battle music’ [i]. In addition to this, I recently came across a fitting quote from Ludwig Von Mises:

‘a [creative] genius is precisely a man or a woman who defies all schools and rules, who deviates from the traditional roads of routine and opens up new paths through land inaccessible before.’ [ii]

So, with these words in mind, here’s the top October additions to my high rotation, “A-List” on Spotify.

1. ‘Hard Love’, Need to Breathe

Need to Breathe hadn’t really caught me ear beyond a song or two. Hard Love did. The song, also the album’s namesake, overtakes most tunes in the CCM market at the moment. Toby Mac’s album, ‘This is Not a Test’ still holds first place and if that’s the new standard by which artists within the Christian contemporary music arena are measured, then Need To Breathe nail it.

2. ‘Rot’, Lacey Sturm

Lacey and her husband, Josh, team up on an album that makes my top five albums of 2016. Lacey has the ability to communicate God’s message of grace through an art filled with scars, mostly visible only to those who wear the same, or similar. What’s important about this is that the past doesn’t dominate. Jesus is Victor and that’s exactly what is pierced into each well-considered lyric. For those who just hear and rock to the music, the guitar work is mostly rhythmic, the bass line strong and the drums consistent. What I like about ‘Rot’ (and the album in general) is that Josh’s guitar work is on par with Lacey’s vocals. The former compliments the latter.

(Related post: Review: ‘The Reason’, Lacey Sturm)

3. ‘Die Tezte Fahrt (The Last Ride)’, Santiano

I’ve listened to some European folk bands before, but among them German band, Santiano rules all. My German is rudimentary and needs improving. What better way to do that than with one of the coolest songs of the genre. The Last Ride reminds me of Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner. It’s weighty, reflective and melodic. The violin solo, baritone harmonies and solid chorus make this song. Of special note is the chorus and it’s final two sentences:

“Die letzte Fahrt Du bleibst uns Freund und Kamerad”
(The last ride. You will stay with us friend and comrade)

4. ‘Phoenix’ – Unikron Remix, We Are Leo

We Are Leo seem to have a better run with remixes than they do with their conventional songs. Two things make this song and the band itself appealing. First, the lyrics, melody and depth of imagery. Second, is the fact that the band isn’t afraid to expand on what they’ve already created. The remix of Phoenix is reminiscent of the synth keys used by Styx and Rush. The song itself lends to the early Christian use of the Phoenix as a symbol of the resurrection and future hope that the resurrection of Jesus Christ brings.

5. ‘The River’,  Jordan Feliz

For a Gospel song, or Gospel music in general, it’s difficult to break free from the standard Christian Radio friendly status quo that streams out from CCM (Christian Contemporary Music). Worship music is blurred together in sound and repetitive lyrics are wrapped in bad theology with a beat. Jordan Feliz clears that Charybdis. Following in the footsteps of Crowder, vocally, Feliz stands out. The style could easily find an ear on mainstream secular radio as it would in a church. In that light, Feliz stands among the many who cross borders with their art. I like everything about this song.

6. ‘Karate’,  Baby Metal

Rock/metal opera is a genre that doesn’t get a lot of mainstream airplay, if any. It’s likely that you haven’t heard of Baby Metal, outside social media. That the band comes from Japan makes their art and music all the more intriguing, it also adds a great deal to their appeal. The music is outstanding, highly professional, and not overly produced. One of the stands outs are the vocals. Lyrically, the theme of ‘Karate’ is played out in the video, and has my vote. This said, as for the rest of the album, I’m still trying to figure it out.

7. ‘Higher’,  Unspoken

This isn’t in my usual taste, as far a musical style goes, but I like the rhythm. Musically, the bass is alive. The harmonies are okay, and the keys light everything else up. Lyrically it’s full of hope and points to a far greater source of hope than anything we as humans can conjure up or invent. I’m a fan of lyrics that speak of this as a lived reality.

8. ‘Bizzare’, Michael Sweet

Quite simply, the vocals, lyrics, tempo, and bass-line are spectacular. All those good things, though, pale in comparison to the precision of the lead guitar. Along side some of Oz Fox’s recent work on the newer Stryper albums, Whitesnake guitarist Joel Hoekstra, gives one of the best melodic lead parts for guitar I’ve heard in recent years. All we need now is a Slash and Sweet collaboration.


Sources:

[i] Spurgeon, C.H. 1883, Flowers From a Puritan’s Garden

[ii] Mises, L. 1945, Bureaucracy Stellar Books, 2014

Note: Thoughts expressed here are my own. I did not receive payment of any kind to review or present these songs.

New Music: I Am They

January 11, 2016 — 1 Comment

I Am TheyPutting together a compilation of songs for a homeschool field trip is always a good reason to look for new music. This also gives me time to introduce the kids to older tunes and tune into what they’ve taken an interest in.

If you’re a regular reader, you’ll know that music appreciation finds no small place in the heart of our home schooling. 

For example, during our morning’s devotional time I introduced them to the theatrics of AC/DC. There is no better song to illustrate the late-modernist attitude towards God, grace, His Word and human life, than “Aka Daka’s” simple mockery of that attitude in ‘Highway to Hell.’ The discernment sharpened on this anvil is priceless. (For the record, the song was not included in our road trip playlist. We did, however, make note of an advertisement about their Australian tour at the time.)

Which brings me to: ‘I Am They‘. I came across this band in October of last year. Since then, their song ‘From The Day‘ has been played repeatedly.

The album is also strong. It follows a consistent format that keeps to a particular sound. Their brilliant use of harmony stands them out from The Rend Collective and Mumford and Sons. Although they fall into that zone, within the hipster/folk rock category (if hipster-folk is even a genre?), I Am They are their own. If the band can resist solely residing in the safe harbour of the CCM industry and steer clear of being boxed into a “worship music only” label, I Am They will go far.


 

Official site: I Am They

OzMikeThe latter part of 2015 is shaping up  to make it a big year for new music. October 16th, saw Stryper release their new album, ‘Fallen.’

Alongside Guardian, listening to any new content of theirs is like sitting down in earnest to hear new stories from old friends.

Both bands top the list of hard-rock musicians who aren’t concerned about the potential negative impacts that sharing their Christian faith and thought, through their music, might have on their popularity. While numbers are important to the business, these guys rock for the love of it, they also just happen to infuse their art with the Christian faith and thought that empowers it.

Stryper hold a special place in my twenty-year old, CD & Vinyl music collection. In the late 1990’s, just trying to get a Stryper CD, let alone an LP, was difficult because they were rare and expensive. Due perhaps to Stryper’s decade long hiatus.

The band has it’s flaws and they know it. These only serve to show that Stryper is no studio produced C.C.M,  American evangelical “boy-band.” They are in the wilderness, doing what they can with the grace afforded to them. What every new Stryper album in the past decade has proven time and time again is that Robert, Michael, Oz, and Tim  know how to communicate their talent with humility.

The guitars and vocals are edgier, but it would be a mistake to consider this Stryper v.2.0. Dropping some of the hyper-staged theatrics from the 80’s glam-rock era, as a brand Stryper has matured, not aged.  Though, the yellow and black “spandex” is gone, the yellow and black guitars are not.  Risky move, but the decision appears to have paid off. Their fan base is still loyal and long. Showing that the band has earnt the respect that serious musicians who don’t take themselves too seriously, deserve.

In this new album, Stryper lift the bar on most of their previous albums,  ‘To Hell With The Devil’ is even outshone by the lyrical depth and harmonies of ‘Yahweh’. Highlights include ‘Big Screen Lies’, ‘Yahweh’, ‘Let There Be Light’, and the brilliant riff that coincides with Sweet’s vocals on, ‘Pride‘.

Like their success and the flawed journey through it, Stryper still stand as examples of how Christians can be ‘in the world, but not of it.’ They walk the fine line between fitting in and standing out. As Christians they remain ambassadors for contextual mission to the younger generation; a balanced movement that reaches out in a real way, with the zeal of a sinner-saved-by-grace, over-against the self-righteous and self-important fanaticism of the Pharisee.

In the end, what ‘Fallen’ does as an album is prove that Stryper can still rock.


Source:

Image: featuring guitarists and lead vocalist Oz Fox & Michael Sweet

Official: Stryper.com

Stryper, 2015 ‘Yahweh’ from the album, ‘Fallen’

P.O.D released ‘Satellite’ in September of 2001. In my opinion, the album is their most definitive work and one the band hasn’t quite yet equalled or outdone.

Much the same as D.C Talk, excluding the style and label ‘Christian Band’, P.O.D, aren’t just innovative Christian musicians, they beat out a theme song to a grass-roots, organic, Christian revolution.

Fourteen years later, with standout albums and songs in between, such as the 2006, 2012 release, ‘Testify’ and ‘Murdered Love’, and songs like, ‘Sleeping Awake’ and ‘Will You,’ Daniels, Bernardo, Curiel and Sandoval, are set to release one more.

P.O.D

With the pre-release track, ‘This Goes Out To You’ sounding so promising, it seems that P.O.D are returning to the stronger lyrical content, passionate riffs, and tight melodic flow that made ‘Satellite’ what it is.

‘The Awakening’ is set for release in August this year.