In 2003, Jonah 33 tossed their hat into the crowded Christian hard rock scene with their self-titled release on Ardent Records. With a post-grunge sound, influenced by secular acts Pearl Jam and Nirvana, the band hit hard with a sound different than their genre-mates. The lyrics were powerful, strong, and Christ-centered. They had a solid debut on their hands and the makings of a bright future. Now we find ourselves in 2005 and all indications had seemingly pointed to them making that bright future the present with their sophomore release The Strangest Day.
The first thing that was evident when listening through the album was the fact that the production quality seemed to have been lost. The depth and power that was conveyed through the chunky guitar riffs of their debut sound like they should be there, but just aren't. You're left waiting and expecting those big moments only to find that they don't come. It's particularly noticeable on songs like "This Is It (You Instead of Me)" and "Desensitized" that come off sounding unpolished and unfinished. As well, the song "Solution" has an up-beat pop-rock sound. While it's good for what it is, it just seems out of character for the band and the album.
However, that's not to say the album doesn't have any redeeming qualities. The title track, "The Strangest Day," brings a blend of rock with piano and strings. It brings in the depth and full sound that is lost in the production. The song "Search Me Know Me" is an honest and passionate worship ballad. "Need to Let Go" deals with letting go of those who have passed away and moving on with your life through the love of Christ. "Burning Clean," probably my favorite song here, is a solid rock song about casting away the actions and sin of your past life to refine yourself to Christ-likeness. Singer Vince Lichlyter's vocals are solid throughout. He does a good job of maintaining his vocal range of being able to pull of the soft-melodic numbers, but still being able to make frequent and effective use of the "I just ate gravel for breakfast" rock vocals that have become a feature of the band and the genre.
While unfortunately being one of the songs noticeably bitten by the production bug, "Father's Song" presents a fundamental message that this writer is convinced isn't heard enough in this day and age. The message is spelled out in the lyrics, "Point the finger at education and curse the silver screen / The Prison system regurgitates and we wonder what this means / and boys will be boys, but not without a man called Dad /something's wrong / the boy moves on to try to live a life that he's never had / to try to live a life that he'll never have / Excuse but has anyone seen everyone's Dad cause a boy is the only thing that God can use to make a man." A call to action for fathers is something that isn't heard nearly enough in music these days, so it's nice to hear a statement like this in a band's music.
Overall, The Strangest Day seems to be a step back from their previous release rather than a step into that promising future. However, the potential isn't lost. There's still enough here to warrant a listen. If you're already a Jonah 33 junkie you're probably going to buy this anyway, but you'll still find enough of a resemblance to their debut to help you to adjust to the other differences. If you're just getting into the band, then you might not want to make this your first go around.- Review date: 12/23/05, written by Matt Johnson
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