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Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Newsboys -- Love Liberty Disco

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If I ever make a list of the most underrated Christian albums of all time, Newsboys' Love Liberty Disco will be near the top. But why...and how? Newsboys are one of the most popular, best-selling "Christian" acts of all time. They've sold seven million records! They have SIX gold albums! In fact, the three albums consecutively released before Love Liberty Disco ALL went gold. Love Liberty Disco did not go gold, though. Dig through the bands' numerous "greatest hits" albums, and you'll be hard pressed to find a single track from Love Liberty Disco. Try to find live versions of its songs on Youtube, and you'll find even less. Love Liberty Disco is the black sheep of Newsboys' extensive catalogue. The band seemed to go out of their way to pretend it was never released almost immediately after they released it. Maybe it's the title.
Who likes disco? Not me.
How about in late 1999. when this album was released? Not many people liked disco.
In late 2015, sixteen years later? Even less people like disco.
The thing is, though, Love Liberty Disco is not a disco album. While the title track is kind of disco (one of only two out of ten tracks that could be classified as "that here), the "Disco" in Love Liberty Disco is metaphorical, not a goofy genre of music whose prominence quickly rose and fell in the 1970's. The "Disco" is a metaphor for a place where everyone is loved.
The truth is, Love Liberty Disco is the deepest, darkest, hardest, realest, most honest and optimistic album the Newsboys ever released. It's the only Newboys album you're going to see a 10/10 above on The Nicsperiment.
With the 2015 edition of Newsboys nearly unrecognizable next to the 1999 one, it's time for someone to finally give this undiscovered gem its due. Here's a track-by-track review.
1. "Beautiful Sound" And here I must make a confession: for me, this is an intensely personal album. When I reviewed Moby's Play back in August, I detailed my early 2000 conversion to true Christianity from the bitter, works-based, money-centered religion of my childhood. Several albums from this period helped me, then 18, to define my worldview. In that regard, Love Liberty Disco was pivotal. The opening lyrics, set to a guitar effect that sounds like the sun rising:

Turn the page/can't turn the light out
Every word, every line/carries to my soul

reflected my own awakening of faith. The words to the second verse couldn't have been more me:

18 years/I guess it was alright
I'd let you do the thinking/I'd just bide my time

Maybe the song mirrors frontman, Peter Furler's own conversion, but it might as well have been the story of mine. Musically, "Beautiful Sound" also hints at Love Liberty Disco's sound: it's a more minimalistic, sort of 70's light rock, atop (and sometimes underneath) beds of gorgeous strings. This whole album is a musical love-letter to the music Furler grew up hearing. "Beautiful Sound"'s bridge makes the song's title literal, a cacophony of strings upon wild strings, as Furler emotes in wordless joy. Perfect in its imperfection.

2. "Love Liberty Disco" When Love Liberty Disco was released, I was a senior in high school, and I worked in the electronics department at Wal-Mart in rural New Roads, Louisiana. I saw our (Wal-Mart's) lone copy of the album, and its weird front cover, five days a week for a about two months. Obviously, the title was a turn-off, as well as the fact that I thought I was at a stage in life where I was over a band called "Newsboys." Then, one afternoon on the way to work, in January of 2000, I got into a life-altering car accident. I totaled my 96' Thunderbird, totaled the car I ran into, and nearly ended the lives of the pregnant teenager and her grandmother who were in that other car. Their car rolled down a hill, between an electricity pole and a gas main, and into a front porch. Before I could even get out of my car, the girl, about five months along, had run up the hill from the wreckage of her car to destroy me, and I made the snap decision to just let her do whatever she wanted.
However, after a few seconds of punching my already ruined car and cursing me out like a deck swab, she collapsed into me in tears, and snow started to fall. The entire experience was extremely surreal, the girl and her grandmother leaning against the wall of the gas station across the street from our accident, while I went inside and cried in the bathroom. Everything ended up being okay except our cars, and I checked in on the girl at the McDonald's where she worked until she was pretty close to labor. I clipped her son's birth announcement from the newspaper, out of an intense desire to remind myself that I, the most awful human being alive, almost prevented the cause of the announcement from happening. I also got to enjoy the humbling experience of driving my mom's minivan to work almost every night for the next month.
Through it all, I couldn't help but search for meaning.
What was the point of all of this?

If I told you that somebody did love you
Would you say, "Hey, show me that face"
And if I told you that true freedom was actual
Would you say, "Can you take me to this place?"

These are the opening lines to this title track, which is musically almost willfully cheesy, flirting with the disco of the title, but in a way that makes the song more comforting than off-putting. The song, as a whole, is a representation of this album title's "disco" as an overall theme--not a place where baby boomers dance the night away, not a place where jet-setters mingle under roving bands of colored light, not a dated genre of music, but a metaphysical place, a place where everyone is loved...and that place is God.
3. "Forever Man" My mom's minivan held one distinct advantage over my Thunderbird: a CD player. My Thunderbird only had an FM/AM radio and a cassette player. A couple weeks after the car accident, on a late, lonely night at work, I looked at Love Liberty Disco on the store shelf, remembered a good night I had spent with a Newsboys album the year before, and on a whim, purchased it. "Forever Man" is all about searching for meaning in existence, and features one of the most charming three-part harmony bridges since the Beach Boys hit middle-age.
4. "Good Stuff" Perhaps the most shallow song on the album, it rocks more than the others, and serves to give the album a nice lift before Love Liberty Disco's darker, more emotional second half. On the ride home from work, shrink wrap riding in the passenger seat, I made it about this far into the album by the time I pulled into my driveway.
5. "Everyone's Someone" And here it is, my favorite Newsboys song, and the centerpiece of one of my favorite albums.

Find yourself/your darkest enemy
Given up/on what you thought you'd be
Plans were made/nothing's really changed
Be planning on one thing/you're loved just the same

Leading into this period of time in my life, a lot of my darker impulses, particularly the one that doesn't want me to be here anymore, had come to roost in my head together. The car accident just threw fuel on the fire. I first heard this song a couple of weeks after...let's just call it a dark night...the darkest night, and sobs ensued.
I think for anyone looking for the meaning of life, it's all in this song. The second verse fills in the picture:

Kinda look old/like a man with everything
Give it all for something real/no, you can't take it with you
Nothing's forged/nothing's new
Do I imagine being you
Maker of the rain/let's it fall on me and you

Bad things happen to good people. Bad things happen to bad people. Good things happen to both.
Here's a video to the song by a guy who really gets it:

Musically, the song's intro is an ode to 80's pop rock, but in the verse, "Everyone's Someone" morphs into a blues song. That sweet blues guitar carries on into a nice solo in the bridge, even when the strings swell. It's so beautiful, and such a unique combination of sounds. If some random nobody band released this on one of Pitchfork's favorite indie labels today, the hipsters'd be raving about it, but as this song was recorded 16 years ago for a black sheep album by a popular Christian band,"Everyone's Someone" has wanted for recognition. I hope that this little bit from The Nicsperiment will carry it to someone's ears.
6. "Say You Need Love" This is the album's final upbeat track. It probably comes closest to any of the other tracks to disco outside of the title track. If you can't tell by the title, this song dives deeper into the topic of needing love (not just in general).

Heard it said you're an accident/biological mistake
So you're a love child, who could say it better/A physical grace, a perfect display

The song is light and breezy, yet it contains the same weight as the rest of the album--the pain of needing love, the pain of finding love and still feeling pain.

Has someone you trusted left you betrayed?
Has someone who loved you thrown love away?
Do you see God? does he have a face?
Looks like your father's, how does it relate?

7. "I Would Give Everything" Think about the happy cheery Newsboys image. Then think about their singer painfully admitting "I would give everything/to give nothing more" and "Bygones by/You took away the pain/still my humanity haunts me/Every day I feel ashamed." This is as honest as it gets. Everything isn't always hunky-dory, no matter how close you are to God. Jesus asked his father "Why have You forsaken me?" while he was hanging on the cross, and it is ridiculous to act like it is wrong to be a Christian and at the same time sometimes feel weary and defeated. Newsboys have never recorded anything like this album again, nothing this brutally emotionally honest, but I'm glad they did it when they did, when I needed it the most.
8. "Break" Furler's expressions of pain continue. As he looks around at the hurt of the world, and tries to see the world through God's eyes,

Now it's more than I can take
And I feel like I could break

Musically, the song is almost a mirror image of "Beautiful Sound," with the guitar a setting moon in lieu of a rising sun, and the strings swelling in heavy emotional release instead of an expression of joy.
9. "I Surrender All" I read in an interview, long since lost in the pages of time, that Peter Furler's wife forced him to include this song on the album. I can't imagine Love Liberty Disco without it, so I guess Summer Furler is the opposite of Yoko Ono. "I Surrender All" expresses the desire to stay steadfast in faith, even through deep feelings of pain, loneliness, and isolation.

No one knows your heart
And no one knows your fears
When no one solves the mysteries
Or even wipes away the tears

I surrender all
To the promises you made
And I will give it all
To the maker of the day

Can you hear the sound of laughter
From the other side of life?
There are days when I feel like a stranger sometimes
Tell me, are there any other fools like me?

I surrender all
To the promises you made
And I will give it all
To the maker of the day

The song's arrangement is a minimalistic beauty, a lightly strummed electric guitar, a strong, subtle beat, distant strings, and Furler's emotional singing. I love that the line "Do you hear the sound of laughter/from the other side of life" is echoed by a short, lonely violin line that sounds like it's coming from an empty room six houses down.

He doesn't love us 'cause of who we are
He only loves us 'cause of who he is

is essentially the album's final argument, the climax before the closing track's falling action and denouement. Also, Otto, the coolest person in Baton Rouge, host of KLSU's world music program, once came into the studio during one of my KLSU broadcasts (when I was a DJ), as I was playing this song, sat in the chair next to mine, jerked his head toward the in-studio speakers, and said "This song is legit."
10. "Fall on You" If Love Liberty Disco is all about the love of God, "Fall on You" explores man's choice in the matter. I've seen opposing viewpoints by those few who've actually listened to this thing, and the lyrics are certainly thought-provoking and up for interpretation:

What makes a man aware of his need?
Is it by faith, by words or by deed
For your heart to be broken, to truly be sent home
Some things have to fall on you

Spirit saves
Letter kills
Plant the seed
I'll be waiting

Some things have to fall on you
Spirit has to fall
It's true

I take it as a sort of truce between Calvinism and Arminianism (spellcheck doesn't recognize "Arminianism" as a word, so guess it is pro-pre-destination). The soul has to be called, but the soul also has to answer. After the sentiments of unconditional love throughout the rest of the album, "Fall on You" gives an authoritative weight and depth that makes what preceded it feel all the more real.
And that's it for Love Liberty Disco. I put a lot of myself into this, but few albums mean more to me than this one, and few albums that I love are loved so little as Love Liberty Disco. It is truly perfect in its imperfections, every optimistic sentiment, indulgent orchestral flourish, and vulnerable aside only making the album greater. Give it a shot. It might just change your life. It certainly changed mine.

1999 Sparrow
1. Beautiful Sound 3:46
2. Love Liberty Disco 3:43
3. Forever Man 3:13
4. Good Stuff 2:59
5. Everyone's Someone 5:14
6. Say You Need Love 3:18
7. I Would Give Everything 3:22
8. Break 3:20
9. I Surrender All 4:12
10. Fall on You 2:30

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