Review Summary: Jars of Clay age gracefully.
Bands getting older can be a tricky thing.
Seriously. A lot can go wrong. As bands grow older they can do a lot things that aren’t desirable. They can easily stagnate in their new material and ride on the successes of their older material, or they may try to feign some sort of youthful energy and hipness to keep up with the times. In an ideal world, a band will simply keep putting out new material that is completely original and true to their original sound, but realistically it never really happens. Which begs the question, what should a band do? Jars of Clay provide an answer with The Long Fall Back to Earth, writing an album that is both unified and incredibly mature. Quite simply, they have written an album that is very adult in its content, but not in a crude way. The Long Fall Back to Earth poignantly examines relationships in an almost family-like setting while staying musically creative enough to succeed.
Now it is hard to say that anything in Jars of Clay’s catalogue could have ever been called “questionable” by critics (they are a Christian band, for those that didn’t already know), but the lack of such content is not indicative of maturity. The Long Fall Back to Earth focuses on human relationships much more than spiritual ones, but it does so like a loyal father would. “Closer” is a simple love song, boasting quirky lines like “I'll drop out of the race for more personal space cause the rockets we're in get so cold and I miss your skin…“ showing off the lyrical skill these guys have picked up. “Headphones,” another highlight, features beautiful dueling vocals between Jars’ Dan Haseltine and guest vocalist Katie Herzig swelling to a gorgeous climax. The epitome of the band’s perspective though is “Boys (Lesson One),” playing out like a letter from the band to their sons. The chorus gently coaches “I've been where you're going, and it's not that far. It's too far to walk, but you don't have to run, you'll get there in time.” This familial perspective is rarely found today with such poignancy. Jars of Clay stay straightforward throughout the album, but manage to never sound patronizing or conceited in their maturity.
Sonically, The Long Fall Back to Earth is pretty simple. To label it as pop rock is fairly accurate, though a few tracks carry a slight indie flavor. Comparisons to Coldplay are inevitable I suppose, but the album as a whole is fairly diverse. Melodic and sweeping synths are used fairly frequently, with a majority of the songs being either synth, piano, or acoustically driven with electric guitars used more minimally. It’s hard to praise the instrumentation much because it never really tries to stand out. I mean really, it’s not like there’s breakdowns or solos or anything. There is an almost absurd variety between all of the tracks despite never really changing the sound, definitely one of the album’s strong suits. The opening instrumental track shows off what I mean perfectly, starting with a very simple yet upbeat piano line slowly joined by soft guitar chords and background vocals and drumming. While incredibly basic and simple, it is very much engaging and calmly enjoyable.
The Long Fall Back to Earth is a deeply intimate and personal album that maintains an acoustic pop aesthetic while staying fast tempo and catchy. The guys clearly have carved out a nice little niche for themselves and hopefully will continue to write music at this caliber for years to come. Here’s to responsibility.
Recommended Tracks: Boys (Lesson One), Hero, Headphones, Closer