Christian Music That Doesn’t Suck# 45: Mad Men

This is one of my riskier calls. I may be to close for this to be objective. These guys were one of my favorite bands…especially their first three albums.

Mad at the World was a trio at the start comprised of two brothers (Roger and Randy Rose and a friend of theirs (Mike Pendelton). They started out a heavy keyboard band in the vein of Depeche Mode. They initially gained the interest of Sparrow Records…a major Christian Label at the time. Sparrow decided to pass because-and I am not joking-they already HAD their alternative music act. They only needed one. Steve Taylor.

But in the mid 80’s, there was a growing label called Frontline Records. Before there was a Tooth N’ Nail Records, Frontline was one of the only labels focusing on non-inspirational music. They started with rock, metal and alternative and eventually rap. Along with Broken (Later known as Brainstorm Artists International), they were the place to go for your Christian rock needs.

Frontline snapped Mad at the World up. Their first self-titled release did live up to their name. The lyrics were aggressive, railing against spiritual injustices and enthrall ing vices such as gambling. They actually took some heat for being too angry… And maybe there was something to that criticism. Easy Way Out addressed suicide in a way that lacked compassion. But the band also addressed the desire to find a true love within the confines of the Church. This was a brand of heartache that was often dismissed with platitudes about God’s timing and the like. MatW treated it seriously and with sympathy. They also reached out to try and offer hope to people who were drowning in sorrow in songs like Dry You’re Tears and It Can’t Rain Forever.

It was very much, as stated before, a Depeche Mode inspired album musically. This is no shock, as Roger Rose stated they were his favorite band. But he hated the messages in their songs. So they worked to craft music that could compete, but with a more evangelistic message. And the music is terrific on their debut.

Their follow-up was called Flowers In the Rain. It was still synth driven, but there was a heavier guitar influence. The lyrics also were less “angry”. There was an attitude, but it was full of an undercurrent of heartbreak. The band was looking out and seeing how cruel and lonely this world can be. In Fearfully and Wonderfully the band laments our obsession with beauty, our rejection of those deemed ugly, or with disabilities or scars. The song declares everyone beautiful, that everyone is full of worth because we are created beings, made with care by a loving God.

Why questioned the cruelty of people to each other…the suffering we inflict on people seen as beneath us. No Mistakes revisited the topic of human worth not being measured by our exteriors. Songs like Wait and Dancin’ On Your Grave rock mightily (though DoYG is very much the epitome of a turn or burn lyric).

The band went quiet for two years…when they returned with Seasons of Love and (musically speaking) were nearly unrecognizable … Gone were the synths. Present only were guitars. And holy heck, the opening track, the Narrow Road, was a total alt rock song.

See, no synths.  The songs were also staying in the overall vein of less angry, but very impassioned pleas for repentance or changing ones ways.  Yet they were more honest.  The songs reflected a growing maturity to life.  The title track is a gentle psalm about the turbulence in life.  And even admitting that love can be overwhelming, both for better and worse.  City of Anger is a tough rock track that addresses what a trap anger can be for people.

The album deals as a whole with the joys and heartaches of love.  It tackles the issues of addiction (which can be a warped form of love) in Promised Land and So Insane.  Then there is It’s Not a Joke.  Rather than the bitter “You’ll be sorry!” type of track this could have been, instead it is a lament.  The song looks at a friend who no longer believes, a stranger committing suicide  and faith in general.  Declaring none of these things are a joke, it is a rather polite, but insistent.

They followed this up in 1991 with Boomerang.  It was a bit heavier than Seasons of love.  The guitars are downright crunchy.  The band got a bit tougher, but in a way that was not like a typical turn or burn message.  Back to You warns that if you put out cruelty and ugliness, it will come home to roost some day.  Draggin’ the Chains Roger sings of being in a spiritual bondage to sin and hate.  Rather than point outwards, he sings from a personal perspective that is pretty effective in this rocker.

All These Questions is about trying to keep your faith strong in the face of doubt.  Alternative Christian rock was still the only place to get anything close to honest treatments of doubt as late as 1991, folks.

The angriest track on the album was by far Isn’t Sex a Wonderful Thing.  A blistering indictment of an oversexed culture, it was originally intended for Seasons of Love.  The label got cold feet.  I am not sure why, the song blasts infidelity, child molestation (with the line “and as he would rape her, he would say, this means daddy loves you, honey, that means it’s okay”) and casual sex.  I find aspects of the song problematic, but your views on things like gender and orientation probably will impact how one perceives lines like:

Does anybody care about their purity?
And is anybody sure what gender they should be?
And does anybody mind that God’s been left behind?
And here we are today, where not to many people left can
Honestly say
Isn’t sex a wonderful thing?
Seems like the human race can ruin anything
Isn’t sex a wonderful thing?

The album closed with what would appear to be a trend of updating older tunes.  Starting with a blistering hard rock version of No More Innocence.

1992 saw the release of the band’s shot at a concept album.  Called Through the Forest, it opened deceptively with an acoustic guitar lick…but then…

The tempo picks up.  The entire album is a tale about a person trying to find their way back to God.  The song I’ll never Go Back There is a declaration to not return to the old ways that kept the character lost.

The songs are pretty straight forward.  This is not really allegory, where the songs require thought.  I mean, the chorus is “I’ll never go back…to sinful living!”  While there are some decent tracks, this qualifies as my least favorite of the Mad At the World output.

The disc featured their second (and last) self revisit with a metal take on Mad At the World.  The album closed with a cover of an Elvis Presley track called If I Can Dream.  These three albums showcased a heavier vocal presence of Roger’s younger brother Randy.  His vocals were more “growly” than Roger’s more Brit Synth Pop vocals.

Only one year later the band returned with a very different sound.  More of a sixties based hard rock, they opened up the Ferris Wheel with the upbeat and  hopeful Not the Same.  With almost a psychedelic rock approach, the album was an unexpected change.

The songs are not in any danger of being uncertain or hard to interpret.  Titles like Jesus Lead Me, No Secrets (about how there are no secrets from God) and When Life Has a Plan (about how much better things are when you follow God’s plan) are straight forward and simple in their lyrical premise.  It happens to work better here than it did on Through the Forest.  The folksy rock seems work in the favor of the lyrics.  Going Nowhere Again feels like a late sixties hard rock  tune.  There is a definite Hendrix influence.

The band’s final release, the Dreamland Cafe, continued the psychedelic rock vibe (And the album’s cover followed suit).  On the Stage is a pretty nice opening track.  The album has a much mellower vibe, only dipping into Randy’s growling vocals on occasion.

Overall, it is a decent, but honestly not very memorable album.  I still find myself returning most to the first four albums the most and find those to represent the band’s strongest moments.

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