Due to all the hype that these guys have bought, I'm going to assume that you've already run out and purchased this album. Therefore, what do I need to write a review for? The topic is "Five Iron Frenzy," children--discuss amongst yourselves.
Nah, on second thought, I won't take the easy way out. So I'm writing this review with a more specific mission than usual. It's my goal in this little spiel to point out what I consider to be the highlights of this album--mainly, its lyrical gems--which the casual listener might easily miss.
First, though, let's talk music. Musically, this album is FIF's tightest release yet. The horn line displays the finesse that was evident on their last live album (I really have heard tremendous improvement from these guys in the last couple of years). The guitars take care of business in maintaining the characteristic ska off-beat in some songs, while expanding on that beat in others.
Also, the percussion is much more diverse with the addition of guest percussionist, Karl Perazzo of Santana. (He adds some interesting Latin flavor to the mix on "Solidarity" and "Hurricanes.") I also appreciate the fact that Five Iron is willing to incorporate diverse elements in their music, without completely abandoning their ska roots.
Lyrically, this album seems to have moved away from some of the incessant silliness of FIF's previous releases and focuses more on the message. (But compared to your typical band on the street, FIF still rates high on the silly scale, with four decidedly silly tracks on this album).
However, the message this time around isn't as simple to break down as your typical CCM album. Reese Roper, who wrote the lyrics for most of the songs, seems to have four favorite subjects on this release: faith, social and political issues, pure silliness, and love.
All of the songs come from a Christian world view, but the songs that are most up-front about issues of faith are "The Greatest Story Ever Told," "Me Oh My" (this one was written by Jeff the girl and was taken from Isaiah 56:1), "Hurricanes" (this song expresses a desperate longing for peace in the storms of life), and the last song, "World Without End." It is a straight-up praise and worship song that speaks of the amazing love that God has for us.
The very spark that burns the stars
drew near to me today
the God of everything that is
whispered in my ear that his love is boundless.
The more controversial songs on the album will be those that cover social and political issues. (My early prediction is that this album will be banned from more than a few "Christian" bookstores.) This album should provoke those who are daring enough to read the lyrics (what a concept!) to think in some new ways.
"Solidarity" is a Latin influenced reggae song that celebrates the solidarity of those who are free to share "unity, not uniformity." With its crazy beat, the Latin whoops and yelps, and the stirring message, this song is hard to listen to without dancing.
While most folks will be happy to embrace "Solidarity," some folks may find "Fahrenheit" harder to swallow. This song confronts head-on the sin of hating homosexuals, with these confessional lyrics:
When the world was black and white,
watch me turn my back tonight,
on Freddie Mercury,
I was in eight grade,
I said he was a queer,
I thought he had it coming,
he died of AIDS that year,
like Christ's death meant nothing to me.
(For you youngsters out there, Freddie Mercury was the lead singer of the rock band Queen.)
There is a secret message in this song, however. (And you don't even have to play your CD backward to hear it.) Just read the title of this song and the title of the one after that, and put them together--Fahrenheit 451. Yes, the secret message is the title of a thought-provoking book by sci-fi great, Ray Bradbury. Fahrenheit 451 tells the story of a man in a future society in which all books are banned, and how he transforms from an oppressor to a freedom fighter. Knowledge of this book will definitely help you understand the complete message of these two songs.
As for "Four Fifty-One," it addresses the issue of censorship in American cultural "Christianity." With this song, Reese hits the radio stations, the record companies, and especially the Pharisees in some churches who are afraid to open their minds. In the final analysis, we are left with the disturbing realization that censorship really is our own fault when we allow others (no matter how well-meaning) to do our thinking for us.
Mr. Roper, along with Dennis and Jeff, continue their mind-stretching exercise with the song "Giants." This song is definitely their most political to date with lyrics like this:
Corporate Darwinism crushes everything below
Advances in efficiency increasing productivity,
Are narrowing the margin for liberty,
This house is haunted by the ghost of Adam Smith
The Wealth of Nations and the further death of innocence
To rule the world, the desire of every man,
The earth is shaking, There are giants in the Land.
This song, an indictment of our western capitalistic system, stems from an Anarchist perspective. While I personally have some serious disagreements with Anarchist philosophy, I find the discussion of such serious issues a refreshing change from the usual trite subjects that Christian music too often spends all its time on.
Overall, I highly recommend this album to anyone willing to spend the time to read the lyrics and actually grapple with difficult issues. FIF has always been known as the "thinking man's ska," but this album has elevated that mission to new levels.