By John DiBiase of Jesusfreakhideout.com
Jars Of Clay has never been the type of band to get too comfortable in one place artistically. Since their ground breaking debut in the mid-90's, the foursome have explored many different avenues of pop, alternative, indie, and even bluegrass, pulling off each new direction skillfully. Their 2006 release, Good Monsters, took a brave look at more of a rock edge towards the record's beginning before softening things up later on in the album. It was a strong effort, but it never really felt unified - something that became more evident after hear its successor. For their first self-financed non-seasonal studio album as an independent artist, The Long Fall Back To Earth is a lush collection of pop rock songs with an indie touch that proves to be a well-balanced and solid effort from start to finish.
It's seldom found that an album not only features strong tracks all the way through, but does it with such style, depth, and diversity without sacrificing continuity. Good Monsters was an album that could be at times playful and poetic - something that Jars Of Clay has often done - but felt more like a compilation of ideas and emotions, while The Long Fall Back To Earth is thread together by a common theme about relationships. Thematically, much of the album deals with their dynamics - particularly romantic ones. From the struggles of being on the road ("Closer," "Safe To Land") or the hopelessness and innocence of the pursuit of someone else's heart ("There Might Be A Light," "Heart"), explores situations that are familiar and relevant to almost anybody.
Musically, The Long Fall Back To Earth trickles in slowly with a beautiful piano that sort of massages the listener, as the music rolls to a boil when it jumps into the opener, "Weapons" - a modest rocker that aims to disarm the listener of any preconceived thoughts and feelings going into the record. From there, the album's first single, "Two Hands," wraps the concept of the human struggle between surrender and our flesh into a catchy and honest pop song. It's one of those radio-ready tunes that can stir the heart, at the same time as the voice, to sing along. Those concerned that they may be in for a subdued effort will find "Heaven" to be one of the album's strongest and edgiest moments, as the rock song reflects on finding glimpses of eternity in Christ's residence in our hearts. "Closer" and "Safe To Land" were not only featured on last year's unique Closer EP, but they address conflict within romantic relationships. "Closer," as well as "Heaven," and the funky pop anthem "Don't Stop" musically draw heavily from the 80's for influence, citing artists like Depeche Mode and Tears For Fears (particularly on "Closer"). Even the rumbling intro for the eventually more upbeat rock-based track "Scenic Route" seems to subtly tip its hat to Don Henley's "Boys Of Summer."
One of the things that makes The Long Fall Back To Earth such a gem is that its second half is just as good as its first - something that seems to seldom happen on records. Following "Headphones," an engaging ballad (featuring guest vocals by Katie Herzig) that addresses our common tendency to confine ourselves to our personal space instead of reaching out to others, concludes the album's first half, as "Don't Stop" pumps up the second half of The Long Fall.
"Boys (Lesson One)" is probably the most subdued moment on the record, maybe feeling the slightest bit out of place in the process (being that it's book ended by two of the most bold songs on the project), but is a touching love letter from the men of Jars Of Clay to their young sons. The album then shifts back to the upbeat with "Hero," before the record closes with a powerful collection of pop songs that examine different angles of love. "Scenic Route" encourages taking the time to savor the moments in a relationship, while "There Might Be A Light" is an infectious acoustic-driven anthem for those struggling with unrequited love ("There might be a light / Somewhere in your mind / When you think of you and I / I wait for it to shine / I know it will come on... soon"). The catchy tunes continue almost relentlessly as the album closes on a high note with "Forgive Me," which explores the ways we can ask for forgiveness, and offers an artistic surprise ending with the electronic leanings of the quirky outside-of-the-box "Heart."
Records like The Long Fall Back To Earth are a rare find. It bares a feel much like a gift that keeps on giving as the listener peels back the vibrant and lush layers of emotion and sonic goodness with each spin through. Jars Of Clay has an exciting pop rock release on their hands here that just might be the first truly satisfying, must-have release of 2009.