Thursday, June 30, 2016

REVIEW: Kings K & Christian F-Bombs

I typically save all of my Christian music reviews for my end-of-year recap. If you haven't seen those, you can find 2014 here and 2015 here. Since the album I'm discussing in this article won't be featured on the 2016 list, it makes sense to talk about it now.

With much anticipation I awaited the new Kings Kaleidoscope album that released earlier this month. Their sound is very unique as they incorporate a broad spectrum of instruments in their music. Lead singer Chad Gardner has major pipes and can really belt out some loud and full notes. I ranked their album "Becoming Who We Are" #3 in 2014 for these reasons, combined with their commitment to biblical teaching in their songs.

Tracks like "139" and "Defender" were/are so wholesome and edifying on that record and it was especially encouraging to hear those songs from a band coming out of an unfortunate ministry situation. Kings K was a part of the Mars Hill Church network in the Seattle area and "Becoming Who We Are" released right in the middle of the church's crumbling. The band was (and is) so young still that that particular album at that particular time showed great promise for the future.

I started to think quite well of these guys that I even started wearing one of their band t-shirts. And I don't often wear band t-shirts.

Adding to the excitement for their new album was the fact that the Gospel Song Union was the label releasing it. They had released a Christmas music sampler last year, but there wasn't anything new on the record. The Kings Kaleidoscope album -- to my knowledge -- was the first real, full, original release by the Gospel Song Union.

As the release date was getting closer for their latest album, "Beyond Control," I checked out their website to find out some more information. To my surprise, I noticed that they were releasing two versions of the album: a "clean" version and an "explicit" version. I was taken aback because I have not had to use that vocabulary in regards to the music I listen to since I was a white teenager in rural Missouri pretending to be gangsta. (This was B.C., so no judgies.)

Through a bit of research, I found that there's just one explicit word used on the whole record -- twice in one song -- the F-word. The lyric goes like this:

Will I fall or will I misstep?
Will I call you with my last breathe (sic)?
Will you be there for me after?

Will I waste inside the silence? 
Where the fear is f______ violent
Wicked sinner thrown to Lions

With no hope on the horizon

So that's interesting.

The words are taken from Gardner's personal journal during a dark time in his life. The song ends with a massive musical shift and Christ responding to the depressed man:

I’m right beside you
I feel what you feel
And I’m here to hold you
When death is too real

You know I died too  
I was terrified
I gave myself for you
I was crucified
Because I love you
I love you, child

The concept behind the song is fantastic and it could surely be helpful for many people. But he drops an F-bomb.

What should Christians think of this?

Well, it's certainly not conventional. There's a lot that's already been said online about this four-letter word used twice on this album. It seems like most people pick one of two sides. There's the Let's-Accept-It-Because-Of-The-Context-And-Be-Moved-By-The-Truth-Of-The-Song camp and the God-Is-Holy-And-We-Should-Be-Too-So-Stand-Against-This-Band camp.

Here's a reflection of these two schools of thought from the comments on YouTube:

It seems to me that it is obvious they didn't use the f-word to fit in to any culture or for any gain of themselves. Most of their following has been made of Christians for a long time, so they're not here to please other Christians. They took quite a hit from this, so they were definitely intentional with they're lyrics. I'm currently in the process of becoming a worship pastor, and I've recognized the struggle of being under the microscope and feeling like you're just here to make other Christians "feel" good through music. Personally, I wouldn't quite go this far because of the position I'm in, but I'm glad that this song allows us to be transparent with ourselves and be honest about how we think and feel, and even how we'd sometimes like to pray. I'm grateful for the risks they took in their ministry, because this song really helped me in a time I needed to hear these words. 👍 I like it.
This has nothing to do with legalism. As a father I introduced my two girls to Kings kaleidoscope and we often listen to them in the car. Now I have to explain to them why the very band that I encouraged them to listen to is doing something contrary to what I'm trying to teach them regarding what the Bible says concerning bad language. They look up to these guys and unfortunately, this is an abuse of influence. Once it becomes about us it's no longer worship.

I tend to agree with the latter.

As the hub-bub began to bubble, Gardner and the band insisted that people just needed to listen to the full album in context. Instead of just reading lyrics online, looking up the song on YouTube, or making judgments based on hear-say, the best route would be to hear the full record -- especially the final three songs in sequence.
I've done that several times now and my opinion has not changed. Unwholesome words have no home in the Christian's mouth, let alone the mouth of a Christian who is in a position of teaching with influence! Ephesians 4:29 says, "Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear," (ESV).

The word for "corrupting" here is sapros. It means bad, rotten, worthless, unfit for use. The word "talk" is logos, which refers to words and speech. 

In Paul's day there was certain talk -- even certain vocabulary words -- that would fit this description. That changes with languages and with cultures. But the fact of the matter is that every tongue has a barrel of corrupt talk and unwholesome words. The Christian is not to dip his hand into that barrel and use what he finds. This is part of sanctification; the disciple of Christ is called to be separate from the things of this world.

How can a word that carries so much weight of corruption in our culture (it's certainly regarded as one of the "worst" curse words by many) be put on a stage in this way by a person who wants to glorify the pure and holy God of the universe? What happens when this song gets stuck in the head of a person who doesn't want to use that language? (That has happened to me already.) 

A little more abstract than that is the irony of the song being released by a record label that speaks of unity in gospel songs (i.e., Gospel Song Union). This album has not succeeded in unifying Christians due to the controversy of the language. It has only served as a divider. I would hope that this grieves Kings Kaleidoscope because I'm sure their motive was not for this to happen; however, it is what it is and the rest of the album is overshadowed by this four-letter word.

Speaking of the rest of the album, I was quite disappointed. I went in with a mindset that hoped for the rest of the tracks to redeem the "bad apple" song. It didn't happen. Although their amazing music quality has only improved (probably a 9 or 9.5 on a scale of 1-10), the lyrics have taken a major step down from their last album. I wasn't particularly edified or taught through the songs and thus, I was disappointed. I should say, though, that I'm still listening to it and my opinion will likely evolve.

So all of that is to say: it's too bad. "Beyond Control" is a major flop for me and it won't be featured on my end-of-year review. 

One of these days I look forward to owning "Becoming Who We Are" on vinyl, though. And I can't wait to see what they do next.

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