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
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