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It’s Time For Christian Music Artists To Step Up Their Creative Game

Billy Corgan sheds some light on the sad state of Christian music.

by
Chris Queen

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September 8, 2013 - 10:00 am
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Billy Corgan

I grew up in a Christian home, deeply immersed in my faith. We were a churchgoing family – and still are, even though all us kids are grown. Part of my Christian upbringing involved listening to a lot of Christian music. Most of it was derivative, predictable and artistically sub-par, though I recall a few exceptions – artists like Amy Grant bringing themes of everyday life into her music, DC Talk offering up an eclectic take on hip-hop, Third Day tearing up the stage with meaty Southern rock and a heck of a stage show, and Charlie Peacock mixing alternative, funk, and world beat into an intriguing stew.

These days I can’t turn on Christian radio without turning it off almost as quickly. Christian radio fills the airwaves with cliche after cliche – vapid Jesus cheer leading and bland scripture reading put to poor quality music. Again, we can find a few exceptions, but for the most part, the Christian music industry produces substandard art.

A few weeks ago, Billy Corgan of Smashing Pumpkins gave an interview with CNN. In it, the he discusses his belief that God is the future of music:

“There’s a long-established concept that gets bandied about, which is misery makes for great art,” Corgan said during the Aug. 23 interview. “If you were asking a Shinto monk, I think they would laugh at this idea. You’re basically saying suffering is good for business, and I don’t think suffering is good for business. Crazy’s good for business, suffering isn’t.”

When asked what he was now exploring in his music, Corgan, 46, said bluntly, “God.”

The Illinois native said he believes God is the future of rock and roll, although that concept might not be readily welcomed.

“You’re not supposed to talk about God, even though most of the world believes in God. It’s sort of like ‘don’t go there,’” Corgan said, relating a comment he made to a magazine that failed to print his remarks. “I think God is the most unexplored territory in rock and roll music.”

The interviewer asks him, “Well what would you say to Christian rockers, then?” His reply:

“Make better music,” he said. “Personally, I think Jesus would like better bands.”

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All Comments   (14)
All Comments   (14)
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My problem with "Christian Music" is that I don't want to be spoon fed anything. So much just feels forced. I prefer music where God is understood. Our family listens to Country when we listen to the radio. So much of that ISN'T family friendly so we usually stick to kids tunes, but most of my favorite "Christian" music is just Country of a specific flavor.
45 weeks ago
45 weeks ago Link To Comment
Remember Sturgeons Law: "ninety percent of everything is crap." That includes not only Christian Music but secular music as well.
45 weeks ago
45 weeks ago Link To Comment
Indeed, I'd place the percentage at more like ninety-nine on both counts. Looking back over the music of any era, we tend to remember only the stuff we liked and forget the rest. The 1980s and 1990s produced most of what is my favorite music now, but I actually hated most what was playing on the radio back then. So, too, does a tiny bit of good Christian music endure and the rest fade from memory. Nobody sings ALL of the 600+ songs in a typical church hymnal, and I'll bet not even all of Bach and Handel's music has stood the test of time.

Since this seems to be a favorite place for listing the gems in the rubbish heap, I may as well list mine...

From the "no longer contemporary, but still quite good" category, Liberated Wailing Wall:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gg69nxfcX5M

From the "old rock opera songs" category, Sixth Day:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ffk47yIxWDI

From the "it's soft and gentle, but wow!" category, Michael W. Smith:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pxJTY733E6M

From the "I can't believe I'm actually listening to hip-hop" category, DC Talk:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kbB0QrBIs9k

And, from the "not actually CCM, but you could have fooled Johnny Cash" category, Depeche Mode:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u1xrNaTO1b
45 weeks ago
45 weeks ago Link To Comment
I agree one hundred percent with this article. There are, however, several bright spots in Christian music. As oxymoronic as it might sound Christian hardcore bands are some of the most respected and innovative groups out there. I can't stand them myself, but when secular outlets acknowledge the influence of the "Christian" sub genre you know it is good. The record label Tooth and Nail has been dedicated to producing middling to great alternative rock for a couple decades now.
I am no longer religious, but there are several "Christian" bands I still regularly enjoy.

Starflyer 59 sounds like an avant garde Beach Boys cover band with smooth guitars and slow building, laid back vocals. They are the first band I ever saw live and I still listen to them 15 years later. Check out the albums Everybody Makes Mistakes and Leave Here a Stranger

Joy Electric produces catchy, poppy electronica. I love electronic music from New Order to Hot Chip and this guy is pretty sick. Highly recommend My father the Cubist.

The original "emo" band Sunny Day Real Estate was fronted by a vocal Christian named Jeremy Enigk. They produced several great albums before bands like My Chemical Romance turned emo into a dirty word.

The Newsboys album Take Me to Your Leader is a great disco rock fusion album and has great song writing and production values. After this album Steve Taylor abandoned song writing duties and they turned into a glorified U2 cover band.

I also recommend Six Pence None the Richer's first couple albums. They became semi famous with the adult contemporary hit Kiss Me, but this song is atypical of their work. Earthy, moody pop songs with an edge of sadness and bitterness. Leigh Nash has one of the most unique, beautiful voices I have ever heard.

Five Iron Frenzy is ska punk with a large helping of zaniness. They raised 30 grand in an hour on Kickstarter to produce a new album ten years after they broke up! Fun, personal, almost philosophical lyrics and catchy guitar riffs backed up by horn flares! They put on a legendary show I still talk about.

That is all I can think of off the top of my head, but I am sure there are more out there!
45 weeks ago
45 weeks ago Link To Comment
The most evangelical video that somehow made it onto MTV -- REO Speedwagon I Do' Wanna Know

https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=m6UFhis2xMQ
45 weeks ago
45 weeks ago Link To Comment
Two others from sources you might not expect "Heaven" by Live, which was a minor hit, and God is God by, believe it or not, Steve Earle. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-c7-A17IYzQ
45 weeks ago
45 weeks ago Link To Comment
And "yetu yetu mbene" which opens one of the civilization discs- #5, I think- that's a Lutheran hymn, commissioned at St Olaf's, for their African students.
45 weeks ago
45 weeks ago Link To Comment
Soulmine Records in Oakland was built to make worship techno music for the goddess. I wish there was techno for God. And Rap.

Aaron Neville has boogie and Ave Maria on the same albums.

My neighbors, forever back when, had a Christian hard-rock band. I have no idea where they ended up, besides employed at Taco Bell, but still------it's possible.
45 weeks ago
45 weeks ago Link To Comment
Owl city is a decent postal service rip off. I would absolutely highly, highly, highly recommend a band named Joy Electric. I am no longer religious, but enjoy their music immensely. They have been around since the early aughts and produce arty, personal electronica.
45 weeks ago
45 weeks ago Link To Comment
Creed

U2

Alice Cooper

Whoever sang " counting the rosary" - it was a techno song. They might have been ironic, but the girl who used it as her signature meant "counting her rosary" seriously

the Beatles:

they aren't marketed as Christian, but in a bar, in a pinch, they are praying.
45 weeks ago
45 weeks ago Link To Comment
I don't think the Beatles qualify as Christian anything, when you consider Imagine and My Sweet Lord (with the chanting Hari Krishna).
45 weeks ago
45 weeks ago Link To Comment
Creed may play a being a religious band, but only for monetary benefit. I agree about the Beatles though.
45 weeks ago
45 weeks ago Link To Comment
This came up the other day in a discussion I heard on the radio about Miley Cyrus. They were talking about how bad Billy Ray's crossover hit, Achy Breaky heart was (made it to #4 on Billboard). Then the Macarena somehow came up. That wretched song was at the top of the Billboard Hot 100 for 14 weeks and stayed in the Hot 100 chart for 60 weeks, the longest reign among No. 1 songs, only surpassed fifteen years later by Adele's "Rolling in the Deep".

So first, can we agree that mainstream music very often doesn't have anything to brag about? Much of what they offer and what receives critical acclaim (or viral success) isn't really very good musically.

Second, I totally agree with you that the "safe for the whole family" pablum is awful. Our family stopped listening years ago. If I want happy-clappy 7-11 songs I'll listen to children's music.

Christian music used to be a lot more real (for lack of a better word). There wasn't the slick production Christian musicians have now, but they wrote more than just "Jesus is my boyfriend" songs. These days, music with hard theology that addresses more than just teenage problems would never make it past the program managers.

45 weeks ago
45 weeks ago Link To Comment
Dogma makes for lousy art.

The best songs aimed at honoring God in the last 30 years were by Mr. Mister and Rod Stewart. And you know what? They were popular.
45 weeks ago
45 weeks ago Link To Comment
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