Olivia (The Band): Olivia
Sound/Style: energetic pop with punk overtones and Christ-centered lyrics
By Steve Morley
(UMCom) -- Christian rock artists often have a slippery slope to walk – that of rightly straddling the line between encouraging the Body and spreading the Good News to unbelievers. The two functions are not especially compatible, and even well-intentioned efforts to hit both targets can dilute the result. Because today’s rock is so tied to style and fashion considerations, Christian rockers who hope to be credible in the mainstream often try to look the part, which smacks of double-agent tactics (and arouses the suspicion of those who keep their proselytzer shields nearby at all times. Olivia (and we have to specify "The Band" here, because pop songstress/entrepreneur Olivia Newton-John actually owns the rights to that name) is comprised of four friends who grew up surfing together in their home state of Hawaii. Perhaps all the practice they’ve had riding those waves has given them the ability to navigate the choppy waters between Christian rock and secular listeners without dimming or dumbing down the gospel message. The key here seems to be that the members of Olivia aren’t following any obvious marketing scheme. With their toothy grins, jeans and tee-shirts, they simply set about the business of making modern rock music. These days, anything can be a ruse, but there’s no evidence to convict Olivia of spiritual espionage. One thing may catch you off-guard, though – you wouldn’t expect guys who look like this to wield the sound of a barely-controlled typhoon.
"Stars And Stripes" kicks open the door to their debut disc with a snapping backbeat and lyrics that blur the symbolism of the U.S. flag with the visible heavens and the stripes Jesus endured at the hands of Roman soldiers. Those lacerations are revisited more graphically in "39," a lashing rocker that doesn’t skimp on the details of salvation’s horrible cost: "black eye and spit/innocence they hit/and in our place He stands." "Novocain" laments the way media violence dulls its consumers’ ability to feel true compassion for suffering, while "Saturday" offers gratitude for simple pleasures and the joy of in-the-moment living, "never taking any second for granted." "Shut It Out," a Top 10 hit on Christian rock radio, addresses the denial of our human failings and the separation from God that results – a topic that applies equally to the churched and unchurched. The band’s varied rhythmic palette – which lessens the repetitive quality of their high-throttle sound – is used to especially good effect on the aforementioned cut. The song moves between a hyper-polka verse and a hammering chorus, while its bridge section pulses with a tribal tom-tom attack and a stuttering snare. Elsewhere, as on the double espresso-fueled "Along The Way," Olivia display power coupled with precision.
As a new band that is still a product of its influences, Olivia could stand to work on distinguishing their sound from that of other bands in their genre. Whatever they do next, though, one can only hope they’ll retain the naturalness they display on their unpretentious self-titled debut CD.
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.