Friday, May 18, 2007

Old Friends Vol. 1

I've been revisiting some old friends recently. This is nothing to do with me joining Facebook, although I will say it is exceedingly addictive. No, I have been revisiting old musical friends.

Now that I have a mp3 player of exceeding capaciousness, I have been copying much of my CD collection so if I suddenly have a desire to listen to a Phil & John album while out and about, I can. This has meant that I have reacquainted myself with some albums that I used to love, but have callously neglected in recent years. So over the next few weeks I will be posting about some of the albums I have rediscovered.
Delirious - Mezzamorphis

This album was released in 1999 and is an absolute gem. The undisputed creative highpoint of Delirious' output, there are elements of U2, Manic St Preachers and, in places, the mighty Radiohead to enjoy. I hadn't listened to it at all until fairly recently and I was surprised all over again at just how good it is. One of the band's trump cards is guitarist Stu Garrard, who has one of the most recognisable sounds around, possibly rivalling Starflyer 59's Jason Martin for distinctiveness.

The album was unusually well received critically for a band who were and continue to be overtly religious. See this slightly grudging 4 star review from Q magazine, who also included the standout track Metamorphis on their CD of some of the best music of 1999. Previously, due to their roots in creating (admittedly excellent) worship music, Delirious had often been overlooked in the music press and shunned by radio. With this album gaining them critical acclaim, the time was right for a sustained attempt on the charts and mainstream recognition.

However, despite two of the singles charting in the top 20 (a feat considerably harder than it is today), backing from clearly non-religious celebs (Neil Morrissey, who introduced them when they played Glastonbury that year) and appearances on the Big Breakfast and Jonathon Ross' Radio 2 show; Radio 1 still refused to playlist their songs or indeed, play them at all, apart from in the weekly Top 40 so the limited chart success was mainly down to a dedicated fan base. (A later album 'Audio Lessonover' was so called because it is an anagram of 'Radio One Loves Us' in reference to their refusal to play any of their songs)

Live @ the Royal Albert Hall

Yet within that fan base, discontent was growing in places. Many fans disliked the 'new' Delirious, feeling that they had gone too 'secular' and had sold out to the mainstream. I interviewed Delirious in the summer of 1999, and they expressed their frustration at the criticism they received from some Christians because the album didn't contain the word 'Jesus'. Despite the critcism of Mezzamorphis, it is still an album that reflects the faith of the band clearly (in fact, 'Kiss Your Feet' has since been recognised as one their most potent 'worship' songs). Controversy also followed in America with many Christian retailers withdrawing the album due to the lyric 'She's as pretty as hell' in the song 'It's OK'. Lead singer, Martin Smith responded with this press release.

It is a shame that Delirious fell in between two stools, with one side thinking they were too religious and the other often considering them insufficiently religious. This completely overshadowed what was an excellent album, regardless of the 'Christian Rock' label. If Q Magazine could overcome the religious element to see the quality, its a great pity others couldn't. This dispiriting experience no doubt contributed to Delirious' decision to return exclusively to the Christian sub-culture they started in. While still an excellent band, they have never yet scaled the heights of Mezzamorphis (although the next album 'glo' came close). Don't be put off by the 'religious' label, Mezzamorphis has more in common with U2/Radiohead than it does Cliff Richard.

Severence ****
Star Trek: Nemesis ***
Taxi Driver *****
The Station Agent *****
Downfall *****