Review Summary: Derek Webb attempts to write a manifesto of criticisms against the modern church. What’s remarkable is that much of the time he actually succeeds.
I’ve lied to so many lovers
And I’ve gotten away with it too
But if God is against us
Then who can be for us my friends?
There’s justice for everyone
Derek Webb is the vocalist of contemporary Christian seven-piece Caedmon’s Call. Webb left the band to pursue a solo career in 2003. Quickly Webb gained a reputation for being controversial among Christian retailers, with lines like “I am a whore I do confess / I put you on just like a wedding dress"
causing some retailers to not stock his music. Among his other accomplishments include starting NoiseTrade, a free music website where artists post their music to be available for free download in exchange for an email address and zip code. The site now hosts thousands of albums. So it’s pretty clear that Webb is a bit of a renegade, at least within the Christian music industry. Stockholm Syndrome is his most controversial work---so much so that his label refused to release the album with one song on it, deeming it too offensive. Webb released the full album independently, humorously creating perhaps the first and only “explicit” and “clean” album versions in Christian music (“What Matters More” was the track in question, for the curious). Aside from this though, Webb takes a stand against pretty much everything he doesn’t like about the church and Christianity today. Webb attempts to write a manifesto of criticisms against the modern church, and what’s remarkable is that much of the time he actually succeeds.
Oppression is always oppression
No matter the reasons or means
For skin or for sex
By stares or by fists it’s the same
There are blinders on everyone
While previously exploring folk and acoustic sounds in his earlier solo work, on Stockholm Syndrome Webb takes on a Radiohead-esque electronic driven sound. Hip-hop beats often come into play, as well as the occasional acoustic guitar (“The Proverbial Gun,” “Heaven”) and piano (“American Flag Umbrella”). The production is sparse and unique, which is perhaps one of the most divisive points of Stockholm Syndrome. Quite honestly I didn’t even like
it at first, as in the entire album. Many of the beats and tones quite honestly seem completely random and unnecessary at first and only multiple listens reveal the album to be what it really is: a near masterpiece brought down by only a few scattered weaker tracks.
Where are your American brothers?
American before they were named
They’re a huddling mass
With no oceans to cross for our shores
Where there’s fortune for everyone
Stockholm Syndrome gradually progresses over its length, becoming more and more abrasive as it goes. The first two tracks (aside from the instrumental “Opening Credits”) are fairly harmless, at least by Webb’s standards, dealing with issues like violent protests and abusive relationships. “Freddie, Please” is an interesting song in concept, a letter written from the perspective of Jesus to Freddie Phelps of the Westboro Baptist Church (protests soldiers’ funerals, “God hates fags”). A chorus of “how could you do this to me / how can you tell them you love me when you hate me?”
makes the song a lyrical highlight if for nothing else but its originality but it wallows too long in its overly simplistic electronic melody to truly be a highlight. The next two tracks pick things up with upbeat moody synths and samples before going into the back-to-back pair of “The State” and “The Proverbial Gun,” the first of which is a brilliant take on war, patriotism, and freedom. The latter is a painfully honest take on the true dark consequences of these, providing a chilling political statement in the heart of the album. In fact the entirety of the album is fairly dark, except for a few tracks that are ironically upbeat and might seem to praise or at least condone certain things Webb would certainly not stand for (“I Love/Hate You,” “Jena & Jimmy”), but it becomes clear what Webb is doing here. His cynicism is cutting and close to home, but cleverly manages to break up the dark mood musically if not lyrically. The two biggest highlights “Heaven” and “American Flag Umbrella” (the second of which is the source of quotes in between paragraphs) both come towards the end of the album and are of the most the most lyrically acerbic songs.
I know a way out of Hell
We raise all our enemies’ children
After they’ve murdered ours
We affix all their scars to our walls
So there’s heartbreak for everyone
Stockholm Syndrome is unique in Christian music, at least to my knowledge, in that it is a mostly outward criticism of the church, rather than an introspective look at personal faith (although this is not entirely absent), from a definitively Christian perspective. This is not a Pedro the Lion album or an As Cities Burn album examining a personal relationship with God, but instead a look at the outward ideology of the masses and the unspoken legalistic rules in some modern churches. It is in this way that Stockholm Syndrome is in fact very original and more importantly, very significant. Webb pushes some boundaries and punches some noses but in the end he accomplishes what he set out to do. Now we can only hope and pray that people listen to what he has to say.
In the end it will all be ok
That’s what the wise men tell us
So if it’s not ok
Then it’s not the end, oh my friends
There’s hope for everyone