Does Contemporary Christian Music Suck?by Don Lacey on May. 01, 2012, under Art & Culture, Christian Self-Righteous Arrogance, Christianity, God & Bible, History, Power of Prayer, Question of the Day!, Religion
Here’s the latest opinion from Jim Wilson:
Does Contemporary Christian Music Suck?
“Can’t you see you’re not making Christianity any better, you’re just making rock ‘n roll worse?”
Does Christian music suck? That may depend how one defines Christian Music. For example, I do not believe Johnny Cash’s music sucks. Despite being an Atheist, I enjoy the vast majority of it, very much, and yet, Johnny Cash was a Christian and much of his music dealt with explicitly Christian topics. This is true of many American artists, whose music often deals with explicitly Christian matters, but is still enjoyable. Spiritual music is an important part of our American musical heritage and many artists have been able to draw upon heritage to great effect.
Aside from Johnny Cash, I think of The Byrds, Bob Dylan, Ray Charles, Elvis Presley, and Tom Waits as examples of musicians, who created great music with explicitly Christian content. This may be a reflection of my personal taste, as many more diverse and more recent examples abound. These selected examples, despite being decades old, do not reflect a bias towards the old over the new, as much of what I listen to is much newer than these however my newer music of choice tends to be more subversive and less Christian.
I, a non-believer, prefer music that reflects my own values. However, I appreciate some music by Christian artists with explicitly lyrics. I cannot reject all music that is somehow Christian as bad. On the other hand, everything I hear from the Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) scene based out of Nashville Tennessee has left me with little enjoyment and little interest in hearing more.
How is Johnny Cash’s music different from that of the Nashville based CCM scene? His sound was original and memorable. Most bands marketed as Christian rock bands tend to be extremely bland and forgettable musically. They attempt to bank in on whatever sound is cool at the time. The softer stuff has problems and the hard rocking stuff attempt to bank in on the post-grunge, pop punk, emo, or nu-metal that has dominated radio for the last fifteen years. I’m not hearing, raw chaos, technical playing outside the box lyrics, or anything that strikes me as the least bit challenging or unconventional. In modern rock, these are a must. If you can find an exception please let me know. I’d love to hear it. And if I am going to listen to rap, it had better be hard edged, socially relevant, subversive or intellectual and Christianity rap, strikes me as lacking in these departments.
Contemporary Christian music is mass produced and focused on acting as medium for a message. It’s not art for art’s sake. It is recorded with a target audience in mind. Its purpose is to be played at church camps and youth groups to develop a modern feel. The music is safe, sanitized, and neutered with an air of suburban conformity disguised as free expressions of individualism. It is the stuff an over-protective suburban mom would let their kids listen to, because Nirvana is out of the question. It is the worst aspects of modern music combined with all the most obnoxious elements of Christianity. Its problem is its singular purpose. Christians need to exist apart from the rest of society while having their own mirror image derivative institutions. For example: Christian phone books, movie review sites, and Conservapedia. Christian rock ironically imitates a music style typically associated with sex and drugs.
Christian Rock is excessively formulaic and preachy. I like music that is meant to convey a message and there is a lot of great message-centered music. I listen to many politically oriented punk bands that I disagree with that put strong statements with each song. Yet they still manage to do it in a way that keeps the music sounding raw, uncompromised, thought provoking, and not excessively preachy.
Christian Rock groups sound like their target audience is young teenagers. Often half way through a live set they start preaching. It feels like a failed motivational speech. The lyrical themes have been so heavily recycled that we’ve heard them all before a million times. They either sound like, love songs, with Jesus as the subject, obsess with becoming a follower, or glorify a bloody human sacrifice. Johnny Cash sounded authentic and had the decency to keep things interesting with songs about prisons, murders, and drugs. I appreciate his willingness to cover the likes of Danzig, Soundgarden, Leonard Cohen, and Nine Inch Nails.
There is an awful praise music trend I have seen at many church functions. The repetitive emotion-based, guilt-trip laden lyrics about Jesus’ supposed sacrifice. They are compositions of a few simple chords and a pattern of: verse, chorus, verse, chorus, verse, chorus, verse followed by an instrumental section playing the chords the chorus is built around. Then there is a motivational speech followed by an alter call to be saved or to repeat after the singer to affirm their dedication to the cause. It all just seems like an ill-conceived attempt to play on emotions, and yet the people eat it all up. It reminds me of the South Park episode in which Eric Cartman writes these types of songs, by replacing the words “darling” and “baby” in generic pop songs with Jesus with hilarious and slightly unsettling results.
Anyway, feel free to share your favorite CCM artists with me. I’ve tried Todd Agnew, which sounded like a soft Nickleback imitation. I’ve tried Jars of Clay which was bland and forgettable. I tried Superchick which was abstinence themed messages written for teenage girls. I tried Skillet, which sounded like it was trying hard to sound like everything else. If you think, I paint CCM music with a broad brush, do let me know, and by all means help me find exceptions to the rules. Otherwise, I will remain inclined to think that contemporary Christian music sucks and that today’s best music tends to be non-religious in nature,