The Classic Crime became one of the bigger names in Christian rock with the release of 2008's The Silver Cord. Their debut Albatross was a good one, indeed, but the follow-up album stepped up their game tremendously. Another two years have passed, and they're back yet again, keeping a little of the newer sound they possessed on their last outing. Vagabonds is the name of the new album, and though it doesn't quite match up to The Silver Cord, it's definitely another solid piece of work.
"A Perfect Voice" if the first from the gate, a good opening track, but not amongst the strongest tracks on the album. It carries a pretty good message though ("I may not be a perfect man but I'll still stand, yeah I'm counting on grace to win this race for me in the end"). "Cheap Shots" is the first of five songs that really stick out as the highlights of Vagabonds. It's also the first song where Matt McDonald's controversial-at-times lyrics come in to play. It's easy to take lyrics like "I have a demon in me, it shows its teeth and escapes" and "I've never been too proud to sin" out of context and question the band, but McDonald is singing about a struggle that, according to the Bible, we all struggle with - our tongues. He speaks on his anger toward gossipers, admitting that he can be just as bad sometimes. The two-minute "Solar Powered Life" is a simply-written song about McDonald's wife (complete with a fantastic rock sound that includes a beautiful little riff played between verses, an upbeat rhythm and a collection of voices singing the chorus at the end).
McDonald sings of his love of music in "Four Chords," which uses a simply-constructed chorus to drive home its message. Even in the music's simplicity, the song is really well done (I like the contrast of McDonald's voice changing tune while the guitar stays in the same chord for two lines at a time). One of my favorite songs on Vagabonds is the title track. It takes a positive look at the downcast in big cities, again focusing on the power music has to influence peoples' lives. It's another fantastic rock song that shows where the band's heart lies. More slightly controversial lyrics show up in "The Happy Nihilist." Sung from the perspective of a nihilist (someone who believes that human life has no purpose whatsoever, that we're just here), the character of the song - for lack of a better word - starts by talking about his belief in humankind being an accident. He realizes he's starting to be haunted by doubt, and that he just might be wrong. There was a lot of buzz before the release of the album when McDonald mentioned in a blog that there was profanity on the new album. This is the only song with profanity, and it's only the out-of-context usage of "hell" in the song's chorus. McDonald's blog made some good points about why he was okay with including it in the song, but regardless of whether it's right or wrong, most likely some people will be offended by it. But this is the only song with profanity in it.
The next few songs, though good songs, don't pack the same punch as its forerunners. "Everything and Nothing" slows the pace down a little. It has potential be to criticized, as it can almost come off as an attack on some Christians. While "I've never been much for smoke and mirrors so I need a hand to hold" shows the need for something deeper than the magician that some make God out to be, the words "They chastise me for being honest when they hide behind their pride and their porn" could almost seem spiteful. But there are those in the church who take God's name in vain and are condemning instead of graceful and honest. If anything, McDonald is calling for change. "The Count" is close to being considered a rock ballad (with a few more upbeat portions), and it's filled with lyrics crying out to God for help. An intricate guitar line brings in "Different Now," a song about two friends who become closer and discover a hidden love they had for each other. It contains beautifully-written lyrics that are full of smiles when the listener reflects on the love shared between the two. The chorus' music is similar to the chorus of "Four Chords," with very little transition in the guitars.
The final song is also about love, but from a different angle this time. It's much more stripped down (having an acoustic sound), and it sings of a heartbreaking tale of a man whose wife is cheating on him, knowing that it's just tearing him apart. It's another song that will be viewed as controversial, describing the wife as a "whore" and saying "A credit to his self-control if it were me that monster would probably die," speaking of the other man. Thankfully, God is not left out of the picture. "Where is God? I've been taught that He's close to the broken, it's true I have spoken with Him some, when I look in my brother's eyes I can see where His love comes from" acknowledges God's existence in tough times, being there to take care of those who are broken. The song does end speaking of love in positive terms as well, ending on a great note.
If there was a list of the top rock bands on Tooth & Nail, The Classic Crime would probably be in the top ten. They're just an overall good band, and Vagabonds is a good addition to their discography. Again, I don't think that it carries the same strength as The Silver Cord, but on its own, it's pretty solid, and a much-needed rock album for fans of the genre.- Review date: 4/1/10, written by Scott Fryberger of Jesusfreakhideout.com
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