Review Summary: Ladies and gentlemen, I am not a religious man. But this Jesus character had some catchy tunes.
The general worldly consensus on musicals seems to be this: they suck. The main reason they are so detested? They are boring. So, a musical about religion should be extra terrible because it’s about a boring topic conveyed through a boring method. In theory, this theorem makes sense. However, the writers of classic rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar discovered a marvellous loophole in this idea: cram the play full of so much soul, jive and 70’s rock that people cannot help but love it. And damnit, they almost succeeded. The play as a whole is still fairly boring, but the musical portions of this musical are just fantastic.
The songs generally centre on the last week of Jesus’ life. Topics such as Jesus’ struggle to accept that he ultimately must die (Gethsemane), Judas decision to betray his teacher (Heaven On Their Minds) and the sorrow felt by Jesus’ loved ones when they find he’s going to die (Can We Start Again Please). Now, right now you might be thinking, “This sounds awful. This play is about as depressing as a crucifixion.” In all honesty, it isn’t. With some exception, few songs in the play evoke any of the emotions that they are actually about. Also, there is occasional comedic relief in songs like Pilate and Christ, where Jesus is essentially mocked.
We all love church hymns; religious or not. Something about robust, soulful black women singing songs filled with repetition, positive messages and catchy blues rhythms is appealing to humankind (especially if voice warbles are thrown in the background). This soundtrack takes that ideal and runs with it. Many songs on this soundtrack are just do damned catchy and groove-a-licious you cannot help but love them. Case in point, songs like What’s The Buzz and Superstar. Your fingers will snap, your feet will tap and you’ll hate yourself. Anyone who’s seen the church scene in Blues Brothers knows exactly what I’m talking about.
One bonus of being the soundtrack to a musical is that all the vocalists are professionals. Every song is sung perfectly. The talent some of these people have is inconceivable. A chief example is the character of Jesus. In the track Gethsemane (Jesus talks to God about his fear of dying), Jesus hits high notes that few men on earth can hit without being violently punched in the groin. Another bonus of being a musical is the use a choir. Nothing can bring one solitary line to life like thirty professional vocalists repeating it a dozen times. It sounds monotonous, yes, but I assure you it’s more so momentous. Superstar, possibly the best known song from the musical represents this well as the line, “Jesus Christ, superstar, who are you, what have you sacrificed”, is belted over and over with slight variation. This creates an absolutely glorious climax.
Instrumentally, this soundtrack has a lot of variety. Basically all traditional instruments are used in some capacity. Most instruments have a certain job to do throughout the play. Brass is typically evident in songs with a lot of swing to them (What’s The Buzz). Guitar is chiefly used in songs that veer more towards rock (Heaven On Their Minds). Piano is pretty consistent throughout, but keyboard is often used in scenes where an eerie vibe is needed. Overture and John 19:41 are both instrumental tracks and are both largely dominated by the strings. With twenty eight songs on two CD’s every instrument is made use of and gets a chance to shine.
I wish I could tell everyone this thing was as much fun as I’ve been describing the whole way through, but it does have its downfalls. Some songs do lack to toe tappin’ finger snappin’ greatness that makes this soundtrack all the merriment that it is; with such a depressing plot it was inevitable. With the exception of Everything’s Alright, most of the slower songs on the album tend to be a tad dreary. Example, The Crucifixion. The song drags on for two long and goes nowhere. There’s awkward sprite-like chanting in the background; the whole thing is unsettling. I think they could’ve done without the scene altogether. I mean, it seems essential, but they never show Macbeth kill in Shakespeare’s Macbeth and that turned out okay.
In conclusion, this album is too much fun to not like it. If you don’t like soulful, jived up rock music about Jesus then there’s something wrong with you. Sure, there’s the occasional song that’s stale like those ridiculous wafer crackers you get at Sunday mass, but otherwise this baby’s a ball of energy. Seriously, listen to it.
Jesus I am with you
Touch me, touch me, Jesus