Album Review: Living Eyes

Living Eyes, by the Bee Gees

Perhaps the most obscure album of the peak-era Bee Gees, this album was released in 1981, after disco was clearly in terminal decline, and a lot of people were just not interested in listening to a new Bee Gees album. That has never particularly deterred me as a listener, though, so does this mysterious and obscure album provide the same sort of enjoyable experience as the other half-dozen late era Bee Gees albums and other compilations that we have examined in our tour of the discography of the Brothers Gibb so far? Let us examine this forgotten album and see what it sounds like more than forty years later.

Living Eyes begins with the title track, which is a beautiful song with ominous instrumentals and gorgeous harmonies about feeling as if time and love have passed one by. “He’s A Liar” follows with another ominous song about people who traffic in deception in their efforts of seduction with some combative vocals and great music. “Paradise,” perhaps the most popular song on this album these days, is a downtempo and somewhat gloomy song about the false promises people make to lovers. “Don’t Fall In Love With Me” is a downbeat and melancholy song about the despondency of the narrator, and a gorgeous song for all that. “Soldiers” is a song that discusses fighting on against despair without hope, with a gorgeous falsetto lead vocal. “I Still Love You” sounds like an outtake from Spirits Having Flown, with a gorgeous lead from Robin, with its desire to restart a relationship that has been broken or troubled. “Wildflower” is a gentle acoustic rock song that seeks to find comfort in creation and the chance of a budding relationship. “Nothing Could Be Good” is a smooth rock song that seeks to overcome the sadness of being with someone that one loves. “Cryin’ Every Day” is a melancholy and brooding song about sadness over difficulties in love and life but filled with beautiful music and harmonies, as per usual. “Be Who You Are” is filled with lush and beautiful strings and a message of honesty and transparency.

What were the Bee Gees thinking and feeling when they made this album? This is not an album that revels in disco cliches that were becoming out of date by the early 1980’s. As is generally the case with Bee Gees albums, there is a lot of attention being made to the sounds of the time, including soft rock and more ominous and dark instrumentals of the kind that were popular in contemporary acts like Golden Earring. This is by no means a happy album–most of the songs in this album reveal deep unhappiness with relationships as well as with the mood of the times, and the growing resentment of disco and the hostility towards them as standard bearers of that age of music likely contributed to their darkening mood. This is a beautiful album, though, if your taste in music tends towards the melancholy, and if you are fond of their later period of songs (I am), you will find much to appreciate here as well.

Posted in History, Music History, Musings | Leave a comment

Authority And Consent In Sovereignty

Previously, we looked at some scriptures that dealt with the subject of sovereignty in the Bible and where it springs from. Many more could be chosen, and others will be discussed in later parts of this larger discussion, but perhaps the most succinct of such examples can be found here in Deuteronomy 30:11-20, which says: ““For this commandment which I command you today is not too mysterious for you, nor is it far off.  It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will ascend into heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’  Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’  But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may do it. “See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil, in that I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in His ways, and to keep His commandments, His statutes, and His judgments, that you may live and multiply; and the Lord your God will bless you in the land which you go to possess.  But if your heart turns away so that you do not hear, and are drawn away, and worship other gods and serve them,  I announce to you today that you shall surely perish; you shall not prolong your days in the land which you cross over the Jordan to go in and possess.  I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live;  that you may love the Lord your God, that you may obey His voice, and that you may cling to Him, for He is your life and the length of your days; and that you may dwell in the land which the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give them.””

We see from this passage, and from the body of verses that we examined previously, that biblical sovereignty has multiple facets to it that require us to examine and ponder. We will examine each of these in more detail, but it is worthwhile to introduce three elements to start out with. First, sovereignty springs from God Himself. We have seen previously that all authorities are either allowed or determined by God Himself and all are (whether they realize it or not) servants of God and accountable to Him. There is therefore a top-down aspect of government where people are subject to authority in various spheres of their lives, or may be authorities in various spheres of life, but are ultimately accountable to God and never autonomous from Him. Second, the standard by which authorities are to govern and that people are to obey is itself plain and easy enough to understand, and that standard is the commandments, statues, and judgments of God. This standard is not mysterious or exotic, but is plainly described and defined over the course of scripture. Third, this sovereignty depended on popular consent. God does not rule a tyrant, but rather gives those whom He calls an opportunity to consent to His authority and to subject themselves to Him under clearly defined terms, standards that apply to God and are an expression of His eternal character and are also subject to those human leaders in institutions under God’s authority. No one is above the law, but all act according to it in the divine economy.

What we see from all this is that God is ultimately the source of all authority. He ordains and allows various institutions like civil government, the authority of the priesthood or temple or church, family, or various private institutions, which are all regulated under a unified code of law that consists of various categories. There are commandments that express very broad principles, statutes that fill these principles in with various more narrowly defined areas within these larger principles, and then judgments that consist of how these commandments and statutes are applied by authorities that are themselves subject to these laws and are accountable to God and who draw their legitimacy from God’s word. What we tend to see, therefore, is that there are multiple levels of accountability and legitimacy here when it comes to matters of sovereignty. God is the source of all authority, but in practice much of that authority is to be found in subsidiary authorities that serve God in church, state, family, and so on. These authorities are both subject directly to God, frequently in tension with each other about the proper boundaries of their purview, and given jurisdiction over the people under them. That said, those who are under jurisdiction are made aware by the Bible of the proper boundaries of authority and are given the remit of reminding authorities that cross the line that they do so against the very body of divine law that gives their offices the honor and respect that those authorities most crave and desire, even if at some risk to their own lives and freedom.

A great many of our problems concerning sovereignty would be greatly lessened if we understood and applied God’s view of authority as a total package. A great deal of the evil that we have to deal with when it comes authority comes from it being adopted in a piecemeal and incomplete fashion rather than as a whole system. People like the idea that they must consent to God’s authority but do not always like having to respect the judgments of those authorities they are in the jurisdiction of, even if they may like holding those leaders accountable for their violations of the law while also seeking to use it as justification not to follow it themselves. Similarly, authorities like the idea that their authority is viewed as legitimate by God and that others are commanded to honor and obey them but do not always like being held accountable to the limitations of their authority that are contained in the law by those they are in authority over, nor do they always appreciate being put in a position of permanent subordination to divine authority and control. But when we view God’s view of sovereignty as a whole, we recognize that it offers what is best for everyone involved when it comes to achieving God’s plans and developing godly character for everyone involved. All are accountable to the same body of law, and thus all develop the character that comes from obedience. Similarly, all are subject ultimately to God, so all are able to avoid the destructive cultivation of tyranny and rebellion that account for the violence we find within families, churches, societies, and other institutions where conflict in the contemporary era is rife. This is avoided in God’s view of sovereignty because everyone has to answer to someone for their deeds and thus everyone’s behavior is circumscribed accordingly within proper limits. It is only as we live within the boundaries of God’s ways–regardless of what title or position we have–that we develop the godly character that allows our nature to be transformed into His own as we live obedient to the law through love for God and others.

Posted in Bible, Biblical History, Christianity, History | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

On The Source Of Sovereignty

We live in a world where questions of authority are immensely challenging because their implications are so serious. Yesterday at services there were two split sermons that were both dealing with questions of authority, and they addressed subjects that I personally struggle with and also seek to better understand, and so this is an introduction to a larger subject. What I wish to do here is first point out some scriptures and then comment on what it indicates as to the biblical view of sovereignty for both political and religious authority. After that, I will further comment on matters of sovereignty in future posts about more specific areas of interest.

In lieu of my usual format of typing out passages from the Bible and commenting on them one by one, what I want to do today is to post a series of passages that deal with questions of sovereignty and see if there are patterns that the reader can determine easily. This is by no means an exhaustive survey, but it is certainly a representative one:

Romans 13:1-7: Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God.  Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves.  For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same.  For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil.  Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience’ sake.  For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God’s ministers attending continually to this very thing.  Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor.

Exodus 19:1-9:

In the third month after the children of Israel had gone out of the land of Egypt, on the same day, they came to the Wilderness of Sinai.  For they had departed from Rephidim, had come to the Wilderness of Sinai, and camped in the wilderness. So Israel camped there before the mountain. And Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel: You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Myself.  Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine.  And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words which you shall speak to the children of Israel.” So Moses came and called for the elders of the people, and laid before them all these words which the Lord commanded him.  Then all the people answered together and said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do.” So Moses brought back the words of the people to the Lord.  And the Lord said to Moses, “Behold, I come to you in the thick cloud, that the people may hear when I speak with you, and believe you forever.” So Moses told the words of the people to the Lord.”

Isaiah 9:6-7:

For unto us a Child is born,
Unto us a Son is given;
And the government will be upon His shoulder.
And His name will be called
Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of His government and peace
There will be no end,
Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom,
To order it and establish it with judgment and justice
From that time forward, even forever.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.

Matthew 18:15-20:

Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother.  But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’  And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector. “Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. “Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.”

Deuteronomy 17:2-20:

“If there is found among you, within any of your gates which the Lord your God gives you, a man or a woman who has been wicked in the sight of the Lord your God, in transgressing His covenant, who has gone and served other gods and worshiped them, either the sun or moon or any of the host of heaven, which I have not commanded, and it is told you, and you hear of it, then you shall inquire diligently. And if it is indeed true and certain that such an abomination has been committed in Israel, then you shall bring out to your gates that man or woman who has committed that wicked thing, and shall stone to death that man or woman with stones.  Whoever is deserving of death shall be put to death on the testimony of two or three witnesses; he shall not be put to death on the testimony of one witness.  The hands of the witnesses shall be the first against him to put him to death, and afterward the hands of all the people. So you shall put away the evil from among you. “If a matter arises which is too hard for you to judge, between degrees of guilt for bloodshed, between one judgment or another, or between one punishment or another, matters of controversy within your gates, then you shall arise and go up to the place which the Lord your God chooses.  And you shall come to the priests, the Levites, and to the judge there in those days, and inquire of them; they shall pronounce upon you the sentence of judgment.  You shall do according to the sentence which they pronounce upon you in that place which the Lord chooses. And you shall be careful to do according to all that they order you.  According to the sentence of the law in which they instruct you, according to the judgment which they tell you, you shall do; you shall not turn aside to the right hand or to the left from the sentence which they pronounce upon you.  Now the man who acts presumptuously and will not heed the priest who stands to minister there before the Lord your God, or the judge, that man shall die. So you shall put away the evil from Israel.  And all the people shall hear and fear, and no longer act presumptuously. “When you come to the land which the Lord your God is giving you, and possess it and dwell in it, and say, ‘I will set a king over me like all the nations that are around me,’ you shall surely set a king over you whom the Lord your God chooses; one from among your brethren you shall set as king over you; you may not set a foreigner over you, who is not your brother.  But he shall not multiply horses for himself, nor cause the people to return to Egypt to multiply horses, for the Lord has said to you, ‘You shall not return that way again.’  Neither shall he multiply wives for himself, lest his heart turn away; nor shall he greatly multiply silver and gold for himself. “Also it shall be, when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, that he shall write for himself a copy of this law in a book, from the one before the priests, the Levites.  And it shall be with him, and he shall read it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the Lord his God and be careful to observe all the words of this law and these statutes, that his heart may not be lifted above his brethren, that he may not turn aside from the commandment to the right hand or to the left, and that he may prolong his days in his kingdom, he and his children in the midst of Israel.

What sort of view of sovereignty do you get from these passages? Let us explore.

Posted in Bible, Biblical History, Christianity, History, Musings | Tagged , | 5 Comments

You Speak My Language

From time to time I find myself interacting with people whose knowledge of English is shaky and who speak other languages far better. For example, over the past few days I have been dealing with a German person with broken English and a fondness for humor as well as a difficult time in understanding the mechanics of what I was showing him. I was pondering what sort of ways would be possible to explain things when dealing with people whose grasp of our common language is a bit shaky. Where people are conscientious it is easier to deal with people and to communicate with them, but I have found often in my life that things are difficult to communicate and that one has to adopt a variety of strategies to get one’s point across to others.

I remember when I was a teacher in a small school in Thailand, and one of the classes I taught was public speaking. The students in this class were very nervous about public speaking and they were especially nervous about impromptu speaking, which is admittedly something I greatly enjoy doing. One of the ways that I taught them how to do it was to model it myself, repeatedly, demonstrating that one could make do with the knowledge that one had in one’s head and that someone giving you a speech of that kind would want to make it a subject that one could talk about in a sensible fashion. Once they were aware that they had enough knowledge in their heads to talk about something (in English no less) in a sensible fashion and knew that they would be asked about a subject they had an interest and knowledge in, they were able to engage in the task.

When we tend to think about communications barriers between ourselves and other, our thought is generally that more communication and more accurate understanding is itself a good thing. The thought is that if other people understood what we were getting at or we understood what others were getting at, then life’s difficulties would be greatly resolved. This view appears to me to be particularly naive. There are indeed a great many cases where better understanding of where different parties were at would lead to greater understanding and agreement. But there are also cases where the understanding of what other want leads to fear and loathing and even more intense disagreement. We simply do not always want the same thing. And knowing that we do not want the same thing can lead to problems becoming hardened because more communication simply reveals that two parties are simply in conflict with each other.

This sort of conflict is not hard to recognize. If there are two people, where one party wants increased intimacy and the other wants less, increased knowledge of each other’s positions will not make their interactions any happier, as communication from both will be focused on areas likely to make the other more unhappy. If two parties both seek political power to make themselves feel safer at the expense of the other, increased openness and communication about their goals is likely to sharpen the conflict by showing what is at stake in any even election. If two parties both want the same land and to remove the presence of the other people from that disputed land, increased communication about their goals and wants and perspectives is likely to be met with increased hostility from the other side. Frequently in life, we want something that other people do not want. If there are occasions where we would be in harmony with others based on a more complete understanding, there are also many situations where it is only a lack of understanding between people that allows them to be at peace, because if they really understood what the other was about, it would be impossible to view them with anything other than undisguised and immense hostility.

And once this hostility exists, it is difficult for it to be overcome. Once we see people as enemies, everything that they do becomes viewed in an unfriendly light. Simple questions and comments that indicate that they notice us become imbued with the thought that someone is trying to stalk us, even where they might rather avoid us altogether. Our desire to make friends might be seen by others as spreading hostility against the person we are at enmity with. Any increased opportunities we have to serve or participate in a given group are viewed as being opportunities to target someone with whom we are at odds. In such an atmosphere, communication that is meant to calm irritations may simply be viewed as tactical and not representing any sort of genuine respect or concern for an estranged party. Offers made will be viewed as Greek gifts. Promises made will be viewed as lies. Efforts at communication are viewed as hostile and aggressive acts. Silence is taken as evidence of sullen plotting. Nothing makes anything better until that hostility can be dealt with and overcome, and that is by no means an easy process.

Posted in Musings | Tagged | 4 Comments

Album Review: 30

30, by Adele

Adele has, since her youth, recorded a series of albums that is based on the year that the albums are recorded and released, and it is interesting to see the progress (or lack thereof), in the mentality and emotional maturity of an artist over time if they continue to mine the same territory over and over again. Some artists find a lane and manage to stay in it, which can be frustrating if they do not grow and develop while their audience does. It is hard to tell if Adele will fall into this trap–so far at least she has managed to have four immensely popular albums that mine the territory of romantic melodrama, and if this reviewer is at least a little impatient at her lack of growth and commitment, she seems not to be hurting in terms of popularity at the moment as her lack of progress in love and relationships is all too relatable even to those who wish it were not so. How does this album fare when viewed as a whole?

The album begins with “Strangers By Nature,” a jazzy ballad, that seems to set the tone of the album as dealing with alienation and regret, which is a great start. “Easy On Me,” the album’s smash first single, follows, and seems to seek to avoid responsibility for what is going on with the artist and someone else. “My Little Love” is six and a half minutes long and is a sort of love letter to her son, interspersed with recordings of the two talking with dramatic music. “Cry Your Heart Out” has some odd vocal effects and a jazzy riff that start the song and the rest of the song shows Adele indulging in her more lachrymose tendencies. “Oh My God,” the second single from the album, shows Adele frustrated with the struggles of her personal life and relationships. “Can I Get It?” has a stomping beat that reflects the pounding heart of Adele seeking love. “I Drink Wine” reflects Adele’s commitment to problem drinking and is another song more than six minutes long that sounds like something suited to Adult R&B and ends with a more spoken word from the artist. “All Night Parking Interlude (with Erroll Garner)” is a jazzy interlude that shows Adele’s interest in her relationship. “Woman Like Me” is five minutes long and shows Adele’s schizoid approach to a relationship, wanting to be with someone but feeling they are driving her away at the same time. “Hold On” is another six minute long song that reflects Adele’s inability to learn from the mistakes of her relationships to rise above the cycle of chaos. “To Be Loved” is more than six and a half minutes long and it is another austere piano ballad expressing Adele’s longing to be loved. The album then closes with another song that is more than six and a half minutes long in “Love Is A Game,” which at least has some classy strings to go along with Adele upbraiding herself for her problems with love and relationships.

In many ways this album is a punishing test of endurance, which seems to be a pattern of some recent releases at least. This album is generally good, if you have a fondness for glacially paced and austere ballads about relationship melodrama. If not, this is not going to be a fun listen. There are only a few upbeat songs that break the agonizing pace of this album where twelve songs–one of them a two-minute interlude–take up almost a full hour of music, mostly without exciting production to liven up the mood. It is perhaps unsurprising that the two most upbeat songs on the album have been released as singles and the other more upbeat songs are likely to be the other singles if the era goes on for the rest of 2022. As pleasant as Adele is to listen to, there are some elements of this album that are somewhat frustrating–such as her decision to include conversations between her and her son on a song that tries to absolve her of blame for her terrible decisions in raising him as a single mother of limited insights into love and relationships. One would think that someone who sings as much about love as Adele does, she would know a little bit more about it. How many more albums of Adele spinning her wheels and not growing at all are we going to be asked to sit through?

Posted in History, Music History | Tagged , | Leave a comment

On The Illusion Of Safety

We live in a dangerous world where risk is an omnipresent factor, and while there are certainly things that we can do to minimize or exacerbate risks, there is nothing that we can do to eliminate the risk that bad things will happen to us. Those people who promise us what we want to hear, that they can eliminate such risks from our lives, only make it more certain that we will experience misery because of their misgovernment if we listen to their siren song and give them the power that they seek. Such power cannot help but be abused because no one can give us the safety that we want in a world such as ours is, and those who are good enough not to want it are also honest enough to let us know that what we want is an illusion.

People tenaciously hold on to the illusion of safety. It is immensely stressful and unpleasant to recognize the lack of safety that we truly have in this world. When people act in ways that others see as threatening to their safety, the results are deeply unpleasant even if the idea that people will be safe if everyone does x is illusory and illogical. It can seem a bit harsh to such people to suggest that we live in a world where we accept risks all the time and cannot help but do so if we are to live. Every time we do anything, there is a risk that something will go wrong. That risk increases if other people actively wish our harm, if we or others around us are impaired in some fashion, or if we are in a hurry or behaving foolishly and recklessly, but even if we and others are doing everything we know how to do correctly, there is still risk that something somewhere will go wrong.

There is an aspect of the harm that we face from the world outside of ourselves that is not always recognized. Those things that are most dangerous to us are precisely those things that are the most broken. When we look at bacteria, for example, that cause the death of many millions of people, what we find is that the bacteria that are harmful are themselves less functional and are harmful in precisely the ways that they are broken. And those bacteria that we consider to be super-virulent are precisely those bacteria that are even more broken than normal and thus able to survive the harm that we wish to do them. To the extent that it would be possible to fix these broken bacteria, it is possible that they would not end up doing harm to us at all, and we might then be able to fix the ways that we have been broken in order to try to protect ourselves from such threats in ways that cause risk of diseases to us. The implications of this sort of thing are, of course, highly startling and contrary to the spirit of our times.

Let us note too that we are assuming in dealing with these risks that no one is doing anything themselves to make life more dangerous for others. We are assuming that people are honest and forthcoming about what they are trying to accomplish and about what the risk factors are in their behavior and candid about admitting when risks are greater than they initially believed when looking at things in the long term. We are assuming that others are acting with the best interests of themselves and others in mind, and are not deliberately telling falsehoods in order to gain power and authority. Even in a world where we act according to the best available information and the best options we are aware of, bad things happen. We do not live in a world where even this best case scenario can often be found, and as a result, safety is even more elusive than it would be if all was as well as it could be if we could trust ourselves and others. All too often, this trust is simply unwise and only puts us in more danger than we are already in.

Posted in Musings | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Album Review: Be My Baby: The Very Best Of The Ronettes

Be My Baby: The Very Best Of The Ronettes, by The Ronettes

As is something that may be a tradition here, given my somewhat morbid tastes, the report of the death of the titular Ron of the Ronettes has led me to listen to their best-of collection and see how it works. As far as it tracklist is concerned, there is at least one obvious defect of this collection and that is that it neglects one of their biggest hits, albeit not a representative one, in Sleigh Ride. While the Ronettes are pretty notable pop figures of the first part of the 1960’s, with at least a couple of hits that have been remembered that found their way to this collection, admittedly most of their body of work is pretty obscure to me. So how does this collection serve as an introduction to their body of work?

This particular collection is eighteen songs long (again, the omission of Sleigh Ride is puzzling in light of the fact that there was still plenty of room for it after eighteen other mostly much ore obscure songs). Of those songs I only knew of two of them ahead of time: the titular song “Be My Baby” and one other, “Baby, I Love You,” which had been covered in a version I had as a b-side from a mid-90’s single from Natalie Merchant. Besides those two songs, these songs are pleasant enough to listen to, with gorgeous harmonies and a generally wholesome and innocent look at love. A startling number of these songs are about the problems of being too young for marriage but longing for it anyway, with the assumption that one should not be in love before one can marry [1]. Indeed, the predominant theme of this collection of songs is longing for love and romance and marriage, with the assumption that all of these will be found in the first person one is drawn to and that one will enjoy all these things while one is young and that they will last for a lifetime. Is this how people lived for thousands of years, only for us to screw up and mock such expectations so thoroughly in a couple of generations?

The selection of these songs makes more sense when one knows the tangled label history of the Ronettes. In 1961, the Ronettes recorded eleven songs with Colpix Records. None of them are included here. No songs are included from their Christmas album released by Phil Spector, nor their novelty singles recorded as The Crystals, nor any material from the collection Everything You Wanted To Know About The Ronettes…But Were Afraid To Ask, which was released after this album was and included previously unknown songs recorded by the Ronettes at an unknown date before they broke up in 1965. Besides those omissions, this is an admirably complete record of songs, with all eight of the songs that hit the Hot 100 between 1963 and 1966 as well as a great many of the songs that were not released on their only studio album with Philles Records that were released later as part of the collections Phil Spector Wall Of Sound Rare Masters Vol. 1 and 2. Given the tangled musical history of this group, this is a pretty complete collection of their best work, all things considered.

The larger question, though, is whether this particular collection is for you. As someone with a high appreciation of the biblical standard of morality that these songs model as well as someone with a high degree of interest in music history, this is a beautiful collection of generally innocent songs. Not everyone will appreciate this collection, especially because there are not any songs about personal empowerment or the enjoyment of sexuality. Not everyone in the contemporary era can relate to just how these albums reflect on what is considered at present to be a rather juvenile and immature view of love. If you are able to look to a bygone age with some appreciation of rather different standards and ways than we now experience, this album is a time capsule of considerable value and interest.

[1] Admittedly, this is an assumption shared by the Song of Solomon.

Posted in History, Music History | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Anyone Of Us

One of the things I tend to find most fascinating in looking at and thinking about myself and other people are the failure we have to properly see ourselves as others see us. One of the consistent sources of double standards and a failure we have to live up to the expectations and requirements we put on others and that others, rather sensibly, then apply to us, is the fact that we simply do not see what we do to others in the same light that we see what others do to us. We simply see what we do through a filter of self-justification that we simply do not give to others, and it is really difficult to try to understand how others see us from their perspective when how we see ourselves, and what we know (or think) about ourselves is so hard not to see in making that kind of determination.

There is a whole family of songs that can be judged as being related to each other, songs where people are trying to justify themselves and gain reconciliation by pointing to the fact that “anyone of us” could do what such and such a person did that caused pain to others. This sort of appeal is not particularly pleasing, even if it is often quite true. Often the framing of the songs–think of something like The Human League’s “Human” here–tries to make both parties morally equivalent and thus better able to forgive each other because both of them need to be forgiven themselves. Sometimes, when the person writing and performing the songs lacks self-knowledge, there is the tendency for people to condemn in others that which they openly admit to doing either there or elsewhere, a true failure of empathy.

Yet even when we acknowledge that anyone of us could do the things that we did that others hate, that is not a real solution. After all, when other people do things to us that we hate, our natural response (if we are the sort of self-assertive people that contemporary culture cultivates) is to lash out at them as being some sort of wicked monsters for doing to us what we routinely do to others without reflection or repentance. If we are therefore possessed of self-knowledge, we may recognize that other people may respond to us the same way that we respond to others without thinking or reflecting on the fact that they routinely do what you had done to them but are not upset about what they have done but only about the way it feels when someone else does it to them. To point this out to someone who lacks self-awareness or a tendency to reflection is likely not to end well.

How do we cultivate a happy medium where the self-assertiveness to respond back to bullies and tyrants exists but where we openly acknowledge the fact that we are in fact people who are far from perfect and who therefore treat others with the same mercy that we wish for ourselves? It takes a delicate act of distinguishing to determine the difference between someone who is conscientious but flawed–as we would hopefully be ourselves–and someone who is abusive and unreflective. When we are told to forgive our brother seventy times seven, this is in the context of forgiving a brother who has committed themselves to following God’s ways and growing in grace and knowledge and sanctification and righteousness and all that. A person who is in the process of becoming reformed and reshaped in the image and likeness of God the Father and Jesus Christ is going to fail often in that process. Yet they are failing in the course of making that progress towards the kingdom, and hopefully that can be seen even if the results are not always perfect. We must be able to distinguish between someone who is working with all their limited strength and with God’s help to supply what we lack and those who merely go through the motions of seeking reconciliation without bearing the fruits of repentance and redemption. This is by no means an easy task.

Posted in Bible, Christianity, Musings | 4 Comments

Album Review: The Singles (Savage Garden)

The Singles, by Savage Garden

There is frequently something interesting about best of compilations, as they serve as an entrance into a group that many would not otherwise know. This is the reverse of the process that happens for those who were fans of the original. It appears very unlikely at this point that we will ever get any new Savage Garden music, and so we must be content with the two great albums of pop music that we got, and yet in the years since the band broke up there have now been two compilations of the group’s music, both of which I have now listened to. If you are a fan of music and you are interested in getting to know Savage Garden as an act, which is the better compilation to listen to, given that both of them are about the same length? Let us investigate.

This album is sixteen songs long and contains eight songs from both of the studio albums, demonstrating that in the past albums had pretty long runs, a far different situation from today. The album is organized in chronological order of the release of the singles, which gives an interesting look when there are songs that don’t catch on before much more familiar later singles, which indicates that this album probably does not distinguish between promo singles and ones that are actively pushed by the label. Be that as it may, there are no duds here. The songs can be neatly divided between those songs that are very well known, those songs that are known by fans of the band if not by the general public, and those which are very obscure to most listeners. Savage Garden has only two songs that are well-known by the general public, their two #1 hits, one from each album (“Truly Madly Deeply” and “I Knew I Loved You”), with two other songs from their first album being a bit less well known (“I Want You” and “To The Moon And Back”). Most of the songs that Savage Garden fans would know and like most from the two studio albums are here as well (“Universe,” “Santa Monica,” “Tears Of Pearls,” “The Animal Song,” “Crash And Burn,” “Affirmation,” “Chained To You,” “Hold Me,” and “The Best Thing.” These are all pretty stellar pop songs as well. Only a couple of songs, like “All Around Me,” and “She” are obscure, and even these are decent enough if not as memorable as the rest.

In examining this album compared to the other Savage Garden retrospective that I have listened to, I have to say that I like this one a lot more to listen to. At least fourteen of the songs are ones that stick in my head as songs I want to listen to again. That is a vastly better ratio than the other retrospective, which means that on a scale of what songs one wants to listen to more, this album is the option for those who like the music that the albums had on them, and if one likes just about everything here one can always go to the two studio albums to see the few songs that are left off. That said, there are reasons why one would like to listen to the other retrospective if one wants to listen to B-sides of their most popular singles as well as hear what Darren Hayes is up to these days. If that is more to your tastes, that is fine, if they are not my particular tastes.

Posted in History, Music History, Musings | Tagged , | Leave a comment

In The Ghetto

One of my more tedious online acquaintances is the sort of person who complains about the fate of hiphop music despite the fact that it remains vastly overrepresented on the charts in the United States. In listening to him complain about the fate of the genre he personally identifies with to the exclusion of all others, I was struck by the desire to compare the fate that he sees for his own genre of choice as an urban black male with other genres that have not fared well in the mainstream listening public but which have a healthy amount of support from a group of devoted fans who enjoy what they listen to even if it seldom crosses into the mainstream.

Let’s talk about country music. I consider myself to be a moderate fan of the genre, and have been for almost my entire life. If it is not one of the genres I listen to most, it is something I enjoy listening to from time to time and one whose accomplishments I cheer on and enjoy reading and watching from a moderate distance. Yet for most of its history, country music has been a form of music that has been considered to be in the ghetto, an insular world of music that few people cross into but that is passionately loved by many, as I can attest to from my own concert-going experience. In its beginning, country music was formed by the union of the Western music tradition with the Hillbilly music genre, creating something called Country & Western, or more often these days, just country. Until songs that were only played on the radio were eligible to chart many country hits never even hit the mainstream charts at all, and even to this day there are patterns of radio play, including dropping songs like a hot potato as soon as they hit #1 in airplay, that hinder the genre’s success in metrics like Year-End hits.

What does it mean for a genre to be in the ghetto? By this we mean that it lives in an insular world where what is enjoyed by those inside is scarcely known to those on the outside. It is by no means a bad thing to have a somewhat insular culture that is little known by outsiders. There are a vast number of genre worlds that I only have very slight acquaintance with but which are perfectly healthy within themselves, including the world of contemporary classical music, Christian music, jazz, and so on. All of these genres very rarely have someone within them that is popular or even known by mainstream audiences but which have very devoted followings and robust infrastructures that include live music shows, prestigious awards, and the like. No one who listens to such genres needs to feel apologetic about people not being familiar with what is enjoyed by those inside, it is simply that the mainstream does not always go looking for a lot of the culture that is being produced in out of the way places.

Is it a bad thing for a genre to be in the ghetto? Not at all. There is often little that such a genre can do on its own to be a part of the mainstream. Sometimes, as is the case with country music, changes in the rules can reveal the genuine popularity of a given genre and thus bring some people who are at least a bit curious about it in contact with its most popular offerings. This can be both a good and a bad thing. For the most part, though, people generally do not seek out genres they are not familiar with. Unless someone who is on the inside acquaints them with it, they will remain outsiders. And familiarity with some genres does not always mean that we extrapolate our own experience with ghettoized genres to other genres that are suffering the same fate. It regrettable that we are not always as empathetic as we could be, but such is the way life works often.

Posted in Musings | Tagged , | 2 Comments