(UMCom) -- The Christian music industry may be driven by a different ideal than the rest of the world, yet it adheres to certain earthbound principles. Example: You don’t change something that’s working (or in this case, selling). One unfortunate side effect of this approach, however, is a relative lack of imaginative lyrics in Christian pop music. Writers tend (or are encouraged) to play it safe with their subject matter. The result is a seemingly endless orbit around simple and overt references to God that, however well meaning, border on religious duty. Then you have the inverse: secular acts who purport to write Christian music but who house it in abstractions that leave faith issues largely untouched. It figures, then, that you’d have to look outside the mainstream to locate music with different angles on what it means to seek, follow and learn about the Prince of Peace.
On its disc Downpour, acoustic rock group Chronos offers concepts that are neither pedestrian nor overly lofty and obscure. Lyricist and vocalist Doug Ray uses everything from dream states to dramatic devices to create songs dealing with ideas as basic as the crucifixion and the joy of salvation. His desire to transcend earthly pleasures (yet not forego pleasure itself) informs "Scream Louder (Cloud 10)," a cut that crosses loose, grooving rock with jazzy sax and a hoedown-bound fiddle: "Cloud nine’s a little too crowded/Ten is where I belong/I might need some room for dancing/I’ve been stuck in the mud too long." The comical "Dime," which flirts with a reggae rhythm, likens a much-needed soul scrubbing to an errant coin undergoing the heavy-duty rinse cycle: "My head is full of all the dirt that is surrounding me/Shaken up, watered down, so tired of this spinning/I’m a dime in a washing machine."
Chronos also tackles a theatrical-styled narrative, presenting the perspective of the soldier who helped nail Jesus to the cross on "Hammer No More." On "Red Rocket," the cross itself becomes the vehicle that propels Christ to His eternal destiny. "Without Me" is a sobering reminder that each of us bears a personal responsibility for Christ’s sacrifice: "Without me, the thorns would not have torn your flesh/Without me, the crowd would not have wanted you dead." The track’s low, sawing cello lines strive for heaviness, yet the song’s bouncing cadence stops short of setting an appropriately dark tone. If there’s a problem on the record, it’s with the sometimes meandering music, loaded with ideas and likeable textures but scant on peaks and stylistic continuity.
While the band’s crisp, acoustic guitar-driven sound shows instrumental skill and glimpses of artistic vision, their ultra-clean performances – on record, at least – seem sterile and overly polite. When, as they often do, the six-member band draws from free-wheeling fusion-rockers like Bruce Hornsby and The Dave Matthews Band, it’s as though they’re trying not to disturb their neighbors. When they loosen their shoelaces on the final two tracks – though a bit too late to meet their secular contenders at the finish line – you can hear the group’s considerable potential. The same can be said of the opener, "Strange Ways," which shows the band’s strengths at integrating beefy string arrangements into their compositions.
Chronos, based in Springfield, Mo., is a rumbling thundercloud of promising musical notions, but those elements have yet to fully coalesce, making Downpour less of a gusher than a refreshing spring shower. All the same, any and all ears seeking light yet progressive pop-rock – especially those who appreciate the need for novel lyrics in Christian music – are encouraged to queue up at the front of what could yet become a long line of followers.
Steve Morley is a freelance music journalist living in College Grove, Tenn.
This review was developed by UMC.org, the official online ministry of the United Methodist Church.