Saturday, December 24, 2016
I feel like in many ways, the reputation of PFR's Disappear is doomed. I've lately read several articles lamenting the lack of backing veteran Christian artists are finding in their latter years (here's a great one!). For one, Christian music is a niche genre. Then there's the fact that some people de-convert and don't care for the lyrical content of the music anymore. There's also a large crowd who treats music as disposable, and doesn't come back to anything they've listened to in the past. That doesn't leave older Christian artists many listeners.
PFR were not quite huge in the 90's, but certainly had a following, and held a certain respect in the mainstream Christian rock scene of the mid-90's. The respect was due to the band's excellent, Beatles-esque harmonies, their tight musicianship, and strong songwriting abilities. While they never put out an absolute standout mid-90's album, like their respective peers DC Talk with Jesus Freak, Jars of Clay with their self-titled album, or Newsboys with Take Me to Your Leader, their Great Lengths is at least on par with Audio Adrenaline's Bloom. Then they "broke up." DC Talk also broke-up (or went on a still-active 18-year hiatus...whatever you want to call it), Audio Adrenaline and Newsboys mutated into ungainly, original member-free zombies, and Jars of Clay shunned their original fanbase to produce one of the most critically acclaimed back-catalogues of the past 20 years. Somewhere in the middle of all of that, PFR got back together to record Disappear. They also put out a live album, and an album of re-workings, then broke-up for what we can assume will be forever. However, this final PFR review of mine is for Disappear, PFR's final full-length album of original material, released by Squint Entertainment in 2001. Shortly after Disappear's release, Squint Entertainment went out of business... leaving Disappear not promoted. With the factors I mentioned in this review's opening sentences already working against it, this complete lack of visibility rendered Disappear's title unfortunately apt. I am the only person I know who owns it. But fifteen years later, I'm still listening.
Man, this is like the saddest review intro I've ever written. Disappear is a good album, not perfect by any means, but it doesn't deserve to be as completely overlooked as it has. It shows PFR maturing, yet not becoming boring or predictable.
"Amsterdam" kicks things off with high-energy, but experiments with some cool guitar effects and brings a sense of urgency and a bit of darkness, which the band's previous music never quite touched upon. It also brings back those fabulous harmonies their previous, supposed-to-be-final album, Them lacked. "Gone" keeps the energy high, making for a very rocking opening duo. "All Ready" then comes completely out of left-field with a Celtic, autumnal intro, perhaps full of even more energy than the previous two songs. "All Ready" also features, in its chorus, some of the most beautiful harmonies PFR have sung.
After this wonderful opening trio, the band offer the standard PFR CCM radio ballad of the album, with "Missing Love," but it's actually one of the best they've done. It features some gorgeous strings, and lets them breathe for an excellent extended outro--I hate when a band doles out the money for some classical instrumentation then relegates it entirely to the background--I love the respect PFR show for it here. "Closer" picks the rock back up, a mid-tempo number that highlights Disappear's excellent production qualities--with a trio, you'd hope guitar, bass, and drums are all given equal love in the mix, and PFR continue to excel in this.
Unfortunately, Disappear is not a perfect album, and is let down by its sixth and seventh tracks. "Even a Whisper" perhaps aims for the circular melodies of past songs like "Merry-Go-Round," but falls into a pit of cheese. It also features an unfortunately boppy drum beat that brings to mind what I call the "K-Love" rhythm. This song is not going on my PFR mix-tape. "Language of the Soul" also disappoints, another ballad, but nowhere in the league of "Missing Love," just too schmaltzy. Thankfully, these two songs come and go, and Disappear picks back up. "Falling" is a return to urgency, and thematically links back to "Amsterdam." There's a definitel sense of searching and longing in these lyrics that I enjoy. "Me," is next, a true weirdo of a song, and maybe my favorite for that very reason. In between the industrial choruses (I'm not kidding!), an effect-laden guitar riff, and a distant spaghetti-western bass line bring to life an imaginative sound I haven't heard in any other song. It may be too strange for some, and certainly not what one would expect from PFR, but I dig it. It reminds me of when I moved into my first apartment, broke and lying on the carpet in the middle of the night next to my stereo, but I'll actually get to that when I review another band's album in a few weeks.
Disappear closes with "You," a hazy, sort-of ballad that ends the album on a definite high. It's spacey and mysterious, yet victorious, another unique feather in PFR's cap. The strings return and are again allowed freedom to soar, lifting Disappear into a twilit stratosphere for its final two minutes.
And that's it. No more PFR--and just when it looked like, instead of becoming old and boring, they were going to experiment with new sounds more than ever. Miss you guys.
Also, the only person to post songs from this album to Youtube was apparently raptured five years ago.
2001 Squint Entertainment
1. Amsterdam 2:41
2. Gone 3:20
3. All Ready 3:09
4. Missing Love 5:24
5. Closer 3:15
6. Even a Whisper 3:11
7. Language of the Soul 3:47
8. Falling 2:56
9. Me 2:35
10. You 4:46