Multi-platinum selling band Jars of Clay has recorded many hits over the years, epitomised by their first, "Flood;" a hit on both mainstream and Christian radio stations. Never content to stick to one style, they constantly evolved their sound over the years, always presenting their fans with something different with every release. Perhaps this is one of the reasons they haven't faded into obscurity, with their risky but apparently successful tendency to suddenly take a left turn with each new album, leaving you with a delicious feeling of expectation for what they'll do with their next release. For the most part, this "Greatest Hits" collection highlights the various stylistic evolutions the band has gone through, displaying some of the best from each iteration of their music.
An obvious and logical choice to kick off the album is "Flood," the song that sent them hurtling into the spotlight. Even with this, their first single, a sound refreshingly different to most is already clearly evident, with guitar, synth and violin all interweaving together. In fact, three other tracks from their self-titled début are present here: the beautifully executed "Love Song for a Saviour," "Like a Child," and "Worlds Apart." Taking one of the first aforementioned left turns, "Crazy Times' (from their sophomore release, Much Afraid) displays a more edgy, rock-centric sound, with wailing electric guitars and catchy riffs that show that you just can't put the band in a stylistic box. When the album moves on to "Frail," however, it is evident that Jars of Clay weren't planning on abandoning their acoustic roots, and instead polished and matured them. "Frail" was actually the very first song they composed as a group, but though the title track of their original demo CD, it never appeared on their first album. Instead, it was finally re-recorded for Much Afraid.
One of the issues I have with this compilation though, is the particularly weak coverage given to If I Left the Zoo, The Eleventh Hour and Redemption Songs. While their début was given four track slots, those three are left with only one each. Surely the provision for another track could've been added to the disc, and two of the début tracks removed? Whatever misgivings may be felt at this obvious omission, the three tracks provided to represent these albums are unquestionably worthy of inclusion. "Unforgetful You" is chosen to represent If I Left the Zoo, and is undeniably the best choice for the compilation. "I Need You" gives a small idea of why The Eleventh Hour won a Grammy, with its beguiling chorus and clever mixture of folk, rock and synth. Quite a few of the songs from Redemption Songs would have fitted nicely in the single slot available, but perhaps "God Will Lift Up Your Head" was the best choice under the circumstances, and unarguably an excellent song in itself.
However, not all of the group's more recent albums have been so badly overlooked. A notable change in direction for them stylistically, Who We Are Instead displayed a more folk, country feel from the band, which they managed to accomplish remarkably well. It would have been an act of near-sacrilege to omit "Show You Love" from the track listing; I'm glad they remembered to include it, as it is unarguably one of the best songs from the album. "Amazing Grace," though not as memorable, is an interesting throwback to the heyday of Johnny Cash's country-gospel songs, and as such, is an acceptable choice. Still, I would've preferred "Trouble Is," "Faith Enough" or "Only Alive" in the place of "Amazing Grace," but that's just me.
Finally, we're brought up to what could have been Jars of Clay's most edgy and hard-hitting album yet, with a more aggressive feel overall. Good Monsters was a complete and utter left-fielder, preceded as it was by two of their softest and most reflective releases to date; nevertheless, the band shifted their style effortlessly, while still maintaining their unique touch. The two tracks included on the compilation from this release are examples of their auditory deviation, and also the best choices. "Dead Man (Carry Me)" is an infectious rock anthem; although the lyrics are sober, the song itself maintains a light and bouncy tone all the way through. On the other hand, "Work" carries the desperate and dark overtones into the music itself, but without a feeling of depression. Both are stellar rock songs, musically and perhaps more notably, lyrically as well.
Tacked on to the end of Greatest Hits is a new track the band specially recorded for this compilation. Displaying yet another side of their musical diversity, "Love Is The Protest" is an active and positive ending to the album. In a way, it's reminiscent of something that U2 could have come up with. It would've been more satisfying if we were treated to more than just one new track, to offset the disappointingly slim 14-track listing. Third Day's Chronology albums were full of goodies, from re-recordings of their classics to rare and hard-to-find songs, as well as a bonus DVD with music videos, footage of live performances, bootleg videos, and even a band documentary. Compared to all that, the addition of one new song is pathetic; surely Jars of Clay could have pulled something out of their archives, like acoustic versions of some of their more upbeat songs, or perhaps a couple of tracks from their rare b-sides album, The White Elephant Sessions?
Summing it all up, Jars of Clay - Greatest Hits is a fine introduction to an even finer band, with a collection of some of the best songs ever composed by the group. However, if you're looking for something as comprehensive as the Third Day Chronology collections, or even The Essential Jars of Clay, forget it-you won't find it here. Really, most dedicated fans will want to pass this one over; still, as a gift to convert your friend who is utterly clueless about them, it delivers.- Review date: 6/11/08, written by Adam Dawson
Record Label: Essential Records
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