Today’s choice? The Prayer Chain.
In 1991, Christian alternative music was seeing a resurgence. There were a growing number of bands starting to write music and have lyrics that were a challenge both to listener and the status quo. One of these bands was the Prayer Chain. The Prayer Chain debuted in 1991 with the Neverland Sessions (so named because of the recording studio they used). Their music was much like what was coming from the Seattle Music Scene. Rough and edgy, they were writing songs about human nature, spiritual struggles, romantic struggles and so on. The Song Some Love was especially challenging to the Church of the time, as it was addressing the Church’s treatment of the divorced, the gay and many others. It essentially asked if the Church was showing the love we claim to have. Their big two hits from the CD were Shine (not a cover of the Collective Soul). It was the cheeriest song in the collection, and not really indicative of their usual work. But it was an exciting song, that was almost a praise song, which translated to big business. The other big track was I Believe, which became sort of “the signature sound” for the band. It began softly, intoning the many things the songwriter doesn’t worry about (infant baptism, laying on of hands, wonders and signs), but then builds up to an aggressive chorus, declaring “I Believe in One God/And I believe in the Truth/ And I believe in one God above/and I believe in YOU.” It became a defining moment for the band.
These two tracks garnered the attention of Reunion Records (one of the largest Christian labels). Reunion signed them and took several songs from the independent CD and had them remixed. Word released the six song Whirlpool EP. Again, it featured Shine, I Believe, Some Love, Mercy, Follow Me and the gut wrenching Whirlpool. It’s a song about doubts and feeling a lack of spiritual connection. “Do you have to die again for me to understand/What You mean to me/And what I mean to You” agonizes the lead vocalist Tim Tabor. It’s passionate and hits one in the gut.
The success allowed the band to have a shot at another full length disc. In 1993, Reunion released Shawl, which had a message for listeners from the outset. Taber yells out “It looks like rain again/They all cry Shine again/Hide yourself, hide yourself/In this winter shawl/Crawl With Me/Fall with me/Promise me/Shine is dead!” while the band chants in the background. It’s an aggressive claim that the band is done with slogans and moving forward. They built on their previous sound, more guitars and a heavier bass. Overall, their sound was still very Pearl Jam and Stone Temple Pilots. But it was done so well, it was hard to care. The guitar work of Andrew Prickett swirls around the listener, complimenting Taber’s vocals. Eric Campuzano adds a slight hint of funk to his bass which are complimented by Wayne Everett on drums, making the listener want to move to the sound.
In Fifty Eight, the band addresses the frustrations and lonlienss a fatherless childhood can bring, while Pure questions the intentions of a person in a dating relationship (“Gold digger, do you love her?”). There is a song that follows the blue print of I Believe to a near fault. Never Enough is saved by it’s lyrical honesty (“Down on my knees/forgive the thief next to me/The blood of the Healer/It’s never enough”). Overall, Shawl was an excellent CD, making many fans anxious for the follow up.
The fans had to wait two years before a follow-up came. We got Mercury in 1995, and it was a shock to the system. In a good way. The disc begins with a song that almost feels like all build-up…Humb has Psalm 136 as it’s lyrics, and it takes almost three minutes for things to kick in… the title is indicative of the song. Tim Tabor’s vocals almost seem distant… like he is lost in prayer, rather than singing a song. There is an eastern flavor to the music.
The disc has a unique vibe, unlike any of their previous work. Well, okay, not entirely true, we still have swirly guitars and lots of reverb. The lyrics are more poetic than previous works, helping up the artistic merits of the disc. The songs have no regard for radio friendliness, most of them clocking in at over six minutes.
After that, the band called it quits. All the members went on to do different, equally intriguing works (such as the Lassie Foundation). They released a few collections of rarities and b-sides (such as 1996’s Antarctica). And they have come back together for live performances on a few occasions. But it appears, Mercury was their true Swan Song. I declare the Prayer Chain a Christian band that did not suck.