Posts from — July 2009
Earlier in the month Derek Webb‘s fifth studio album, Stockholm Syndrome, was released digitally with much interest and controversy. Posted here is a review of the album by my friend Melanie Seibert. Follow her on Twitter @melanie_seibert.
A Review of Derek Webb’s Stockholm Syndrome
Stockholm Syndrome is a disease.
Ever since the famous 1973 bank robbery, experts in human psychology accept the fact that hostages sometimes sympathize with their captors. Its surprising frequency does not negate the fact that Stockholm Syndrome is a sickness. This is the pathological backdrop that Webb presents his fifth solo studio album.
Sonically, the album is mature; Webb isn’t afraid to contrast atonal choruses with melodic verses, as in “Black Eye,” or throw a straight-up dance party, like he does in “Cobra Con” and “Jena & Jimmy.” Old-school fans of Webb, who expect to hear him accompanied by acoustic guitar, with an occasional electric guitar track added in, may be taken aback. This is not Caedmon’s Call-era Webb, but a much more reflective, provocative, and confident solo artist.
Surprising as the sonic jolts of Stockholm Syndrome may be, though, they cannot match Webb’s lyrical ability to unsettle his listeners. A minor frenzy has erupted surrounding the song “What Matters More,” in which Webb criticizes Christendom for its intolerance and hypocrisy toward gays. Worse than that, he uses a swear word.
Careful listeners, though, will find much more disturbing fare here. In truth, “What Matters More” is simply one facet in Webb’s depressingly accurate gem, which functions as an extended meditation on human depravity. This album is best viewed as a whole, and it’s designed to be a testament to humanity’s demented affection for everything that robs us, holds us captive, and ultimately destroys us.
Webb is no pharisaical finger-pointer, either. He numbers himself among the depraved — for instance, the album cover is a close-up of him with a black eye. Trackwise, “Black Eye” is the strongest evidence of this, as Webb sets up his theme, making our skin crawl by calling a violent captor his “lover.” He clarifies that a “black eye is all is gonna take for me to love you. It’s written in my constitution.”
And it’s uncomfortably impossible to forget the violence inherent in the album’s theme when you hear “Jena & Jimmy” – probably the most rollicking date rape song ever recorded.
Perhaps most fascinating is the way the theme of sickness invades Webb’s portrayals of human love. In every single instance of the word “love” in this album, the concept bears no resemblance to the biblical standard of sincere care for another individual. Rather, it’s a sick obsession or a selfish act of pride. Case in point: “Freddie, Please,” a scathing ode to Fred Phelps (you know, the “God hates fags” guy) in which Webb, playing the role of Jesus, asks, “How can you tell them you love Me, when you hate Me, Freddie? Please.”
But for all this album’s painful truths about how sick we are, the hope of redemption is not absent. It is subtle, but the light at the end of the tunnel is there. Specifically, Webb declares in the last track that, “in the end, it’ll all be okay… So, if it’s not okay, then it’s not the end… There’s hope for everyone.”
And long after the music has finished playing, when the album’s story of sin and redemption still haunts you, you will cling to that last phrase. It’s a necessary reminder.
July 24, 2009 3 Comments