No other Christian band has had a career quite like Jars of Clay, the 4-piece
group of fresh out-of-college-age fellas who made it big in 1995 almost overnight with
their self-titled debut release. They've been down many roads since then. They've been
blessed with many opportunities: songs included in movies and on soundtracks, 2 albums going
platinum and several big tours, one including opening up for Michael W. Smith.
However, with the release of 1997's Much Afraid the band released a project
different from their hit debut album... not the wisest move, but the band still produced
a good record. Now, two years later, the band is no longer afraid and is ready to
step out of their shell and make a raw album they want to make. And folks, the Jars
boys did just that. But is this a Jars of Clay album?
Their new album is appropriately entitled If I Left the Zoo, referring partly
to their decision to step out and record something different from what's expected. This is
especially evident with the opening track, "Goodbye, Goodnight," which lead vocalist
Dan Haseltine describes as "a comical look at the end of the millennium through the eyes
of the string players aboard the Titanic." The disc and song open with an accordion
and a banjo-sounding acoustic guitar riff as Haseltine comes in with a soft, at times gritty
vocal setting the mood for the sad, yet silly tune. Before the closure of the song, Haseltine
is backed up by "The Oxford Coffee Choir," a group of businessmen, for a line of the song, reinforcing
the comical atmosphere he described.
Their next bound to top the charts song follows next, "Unforgetful You," a solid pop tune
that takes Jars further from their signature sound and into new horizons of tasty and appealing
pop music. But has Jars lost the magic from their 1st release? In a way, yes, but the new direction
they have chosen, although seemingly already traveled, is appealing and it works. And although
If I Left the Zoo is a good musical production, it's not the Jars of Clay we've come
to know and love.
...Zoo highlights include "Collide," a hard rocking tune about the struggle and search for
the true meaning of love. "I'm Alright," a satirical look at denial and its grip on those who
believe everything is fine when they find their life empty, is another pop/rock tune that steps out
to include a gospel choir to add a soulful feel. "River Constantine" affectively ends the project
as a prayer about the Holy Spirit. A beautifully arranged piece reminiscent of the perfection of "Worlds
Apart" from the band's first effort.
If I Left the Zoo is a great disc, but will definitely shock avid Jars fans, who will
most likely find the album rather appealing after multiple spins. It will be interesting to see
where their new sound takes them. A leap up from Much Afraid and a detour from
Jars of Clay, If I Left the Zoo dares to experiment, and in doing so, creates
a fun, tasty snack that shall appeal to the current zoo residents as well as new listeners alike.
- Review date: 11/1/99, written by John DiBiase