Derek Webb’s latest CD brought together for me many of the theological strings he had left hanging in his two previous records, “She Must and Shall Go Free” and “The House Show.”
Throughout his new CD “I See Things Upside Down,” Webb reflects on our uncanny ability to see things our way, instead of God’s way. His lyrics question our self-righteousness, our hypocrisy and our very commitment to God.
If the lyrics are not challenging enough, Webb introduces an eerie, synthesized backdrop of music to many of the songs. In some cases, the music may pose a “stumbling block” of sorts between listeners and the message. Going through the CD at times reminds me of going through the Bible and being tempted to flip past those passages that are too raw, too troubling or too true to apply to ourselves.
Webb book-ends the CD with two gems that are lyrically challenging as well as beautiful. “I Want a Broken Heart” depicts someone whose faith has been tainted by the world.
“I’ve got faith in the bank and money in my heart
I’ve got a calloused place where your ring used to be, my love
I’ve traded naked and unashamed for a better place to hide
For a righteous mask, a suit of fig leaves and lies”
But there is hope that follows in the recognition that God can begin to work in a broken heart:
“I thought the cattle on a thousand hills
Was not enough to pay my bills
And I fell in love with those who proved me wrong
And now I want a broken heart”
The final cut, “What Is Not Love,” beautifully sums up the CD and reprises the title:
“What looks like failure is success
And what looks like poverty is riches
When what is true looks more like a knife
It looks like you’re killing me, but your saving my life
“But I give myself to what looks like love
And I sell myself for what feels like love
And I pay to get what is not love
And all just because I see things upside down”
Webb carries the “upside-down” theme to its ultimate source: The cross:
“What looks like torture is a time to rejoice
What sounds like thunder is a comforting voice
When what is beautiful looks broken and crushed
And I say I don’t know you, but you say it’s finished”
While I would gladly buy this CD just for those two cuts, the CD contains many more beautiful and challenging elements.
“Better than Wine” is a pretty ballad that weaves romantic elements into Jesus’ love for us. “Reputation” is a hard-hitting lament from someone who has let everyone down but God. And “Medication” challenges the veils of self-indulgence through which we often view salvation:
“But I don’t want medication just give me liberation
Even if it cuts my legs right out from underneath
Don’t give me medication, I want the real sensation
Even when living feels just like death to me”
One of Webb’s pet peeves – the self-righteous condemnation some so-called Christians heap on non-believers – powers “T-Shirts.”
“They’ll know us by the T-shirts that we wear
They’ll know us by the way we point and stare
At anyone whose sin looks worse than ours
Who cannot hide the scars of this curse that we all bear”
“Ballad in Plain Red” picks up where “T-Shirts” leaves off – condemning our feeble attempts to “popularize” the Gospel:
“Don’t want the song I want a jingle
I love you Lord but don’t hear a single
And the truth is nearly impossible to rhyme
But I know the songs with all the hooks
And I know some lies that will sell some books
So grab ‘em fast, I’m running out of time”
The song “Nothing is Ever Enough,” was written by Webb as he was contemplating leaving Caedmon’s Call and embarking on a solo career. But the references to the band can easily be transferred to those parts of our own lives that threaten our spiritual future.
“She’s a jewel in the nose of a fool
She’s beautiful, but she don’t know who she is
And you’re a wreck because you suspect
That she’ll never be who she was years ago
‘Cause nothing is ever enough”
There’s something for everyone in this CD. By the same token, it is unlikely a listener will like every cut because they are so diverse.
The greatest disappointment for me was the re-mixed version of “I Repent,” Webb’s challenging song about our preoccupation with worldly things.
The raw lyrics, so aptly paired with straight guitar on “The House Show,” seem totally misplaced against music that would be more at home on The Beatles’ “Sgt. Peppers” album.
I just look at that as one more reason to get “The House Show.”
But maybe I see things upside down.
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