Two-time Grammy Award winning, multi-platinum selling artist Jars of Clay are a band who has stretched and grown considerably during their eight or so years as a band. Since their double platinum selling self-titled debut album in 1995, Jars of Clay have been adjusting well to their overnight success. Their first record, folk-flavored acoustic guitar-driven pop/rock accompanied by electronic drum loops and beats, has been copied and mimicked many times since its release. And while many artists were influenced by it, it only took two years following its release for the band to begin straying from the signature sound they created. Much Afraid, their 1997 sophomore release, was darker than its predecessor and saw the introduction of electric guitars to help drive its overall melancholy feel. In 1999, the foursome took yet another artistic diversion and tried their best to create music they truly felt comfortable with, leaving the norm of a producer guiding their efforts, with the appropriately titled If I Left the Zoo. Zoo was a successful release, but not what fans had come to know as "Jars of Clay." Now 2002, Jars of Clay has produced what is probably their best release since their 1995 debut project, a mature, deep and thoughtful album entitled The Eleventh Hour.
Since their departure from their debut sound on their 1995 release, it has been hard to relax into anything new. While The Eleventh Hour musically towers over Much Afraid and Zoo, those albums have paved the way for Hour. Listeners have gotten used to the band's use of electric guitars, more artistically-composed songs, and performance of flashier shows than when they began. From the opening of The Eleventh Hour with "Disappear," the maturity of their sound is clear. Lead singer Dan Haseltine's vocals are much stronger and confident than before. You're no longer listening to the thoughts and musical brainchildren of four boys, but now four men. "Something Beautiful" is more reminiscent of the earlier Jars works. This melodic yet edgy pop ballad serves as a prayer for God to change us into something more beautiful than our ordinary selves. "Revolution" is the ugly duckling on the record, but certainly a highlight. Jars is a little more aggressive here than in previous recordings, opening with pounding drums and driving guitars, with Haseltine's vocal style creating a slight Wallflowers feel. This song probably would have fit better on If I Left the Zoo, but it's still an appreciated addition to this recording.
"Fly" is a catchy pop tune with a meaningful message that was inspired by friends of theirs. "It is the story of a man and a woman," the band explains, "and who, shortly after they were married, found out the once dormant cancer had returned to destroy her body. The couple spent their entire marriage in the hospital. Until one evening, while holding hands, he let her go. 'Fly' is about that moment. It is a song about hope -- the hope we can only begin to explore when we are on the verge of eternity." Jars captures this hope well with a surprisingly upbeat feel considering the theme, but definitely another album highlight.
"I Need You" features a slightly more classic Jars of Clay sound, serving as a more worshipful acknowledgment of our never-ending desire for our Savior and Creator. "Silence" ironically follows, a slow stripped-down drum loop-based ballad that arises out of the times of tragedy and despair where we wonder where God could be in all of it. Every Christian comes to a point in their walk with God where doubt momentarily takes over in the midst of trouble causing us to question where the Almighty is. The song cries, "I thought You were silent/ I thought You left me for the wreckage and the waste/ On an empty beach of faith/ Was it true?... I, I got a question - Where are You?"
The title track is yet another album plus. The catchy tune paints a picture of our last moments of life. If we take God at His word, the eleventh hour of our life -- the last few moments -- should merely slip by as we keep our eyes set on eternity with Him. The album closes with "The Edge of Water," a song with a message opposite of "Silence," written from the perspective of someone longing desperately for our Savior's return.
The Eleventh Hour is a triumph in the evolutionary cycle of Jars of Clay. Maybe it isn't quite as revolutionary or spiritually bold as their debut, but Eleventh Hour is an excellent collection of songs that will easily find itself as one of the most loved albums of the year.- Review date: 3/2/02, written by John DiBiase
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