Wednesday, February 23, 2011

I've Heard It Before, More Subtly: Memento Mori By Flyleaf Is More Overt Than Flyleaf.

The Good: Good sound
The Bad: Short, Derivative, I'm not wild about a lot of the lyrics
The Basics: Flyleaf's more overt Christian rock lyrics make Memento Mori less of a mainstream attempt which is likely only to please the fans.

I have a very mixed relationship with genres that proclaim to be "faith based." More often than not "faith based" translates to mainstream society as "narrow and dogmatic." The problem with being a "live and let live" liberal (which I proudly declare myself to be) is that when people spout very specific and esoteric interpretations of what any religion (or religious text) states, the reaction of the "live and let live" liberal is "eh, you're entitled to your opinion." We take a stand for things like what are taught in schools and keeping theistic language from public policies, but beyond that, our solution to a lot of the stuff we disagree with is to turn the channel or read other books and the like. Still, I make an effort to expand my horizons quite a bit. One of the ways I do that is by listening to a lot of music.

A few years back, I found myself listening to and generally enjoying the debut album for the band Flyleaf, so when I found out they have a new album, Memento Mori on the market, I decided I would see what direction they decided to go in. Any ambiguity about what Flyleaf is all about in the music they make is fully eliminated with Memento Mori. With Flyleaf, the band was a group of rockers who had fairly subtle Christian undertones which gave them the chance for real mainstream success. With Memento Mori, they abandon the pretext of trying to appeal to the mainstream and they go for "spreading the word." As a result, this is very much a hit-or-miss album and those who tire quickly of hearing evangelical talking points will quickly find this is not an album they want to keep. Despite the generally listenable, rockin' nature of many of the songs on Memento Mori, the lyrics just don't have the same universal appeal and angst of many of the songs on Flyleaf.

With fourteen tracks (there is a musical interlude between "Tiny Heart" and "Treasure") occupying just over fifty minutes, Memento Mori is very much the work of the band Flyleaf. The band wrote all of the song and Lacey Mosley provides all of the primary vocals as the lead singer. The band plays all of its own instruments, which are pretty standard metal-driven guitar, bass and drums, though there is a keyboardist brought in for a few tracks. The guest keyboardist is also the album's producer, so one assumes the band was generally pleased with his production.

Memento Mori sounds exactly like what one would expect if Evanescence was singing Christian rock, with a less melodic overall sound. Mosley has an angst to her voice which she carries well on songs like "Beautiful Bride" where she leads the chant-like accompaniment of the audience which makes the listener feel like they are at a giant revival meeting. Mosley does have the ability to entrance with her vocals and one suspects a large amount of her popularity comes from the ability translate a very traditional message into an appealing modern sound. On "Arise," she is clear and articulate and she has a practiced, inspirational sound. And when the vocals are not produced over with reverb and used as mere accent pieces to the sounds of followers, Memento Mori resonates.

Instrumentally, Flyleaf on Memento Mori could be any number of rock bands. They have a very generic guitar-bass-drums combo sound which makes them as indistinct as the Goo Goo Dolls or Daughtry from the instrumental accompaniment. Indeed, Flyleaf has moments, like on "Beautiful Bride" where it could be a Tool album for the instrumental accompaniment. The real difference is that Flyleaf makes a point of making sure their lyrics may be understood. Most of the songs, though, are made up of repetitive guitar thrashings with limited tunes actually being created. After several repetitions of the album, it is certainly the vocals which stand out, despite the fact they are competing with pounding guitars, drums and bass.

The reason the vocals are so produced to be prominent is Flyleaf has a message and on Memento Mori it is an unwavering, overt Evangelical Christian message. Songs like "Beautiful Bride" cry out for the "Beautiful bride / Body of Christ / One flesh abiding / Strong and unifying / Fighting ends in forgiveness / Unite and fight all division" before making a battle cry loaded with Evangelical buzzwords like "Urgency's here now / Train your fingers for battle / Fighting this violence / With your feet wrapped in peace / Sad tears and silence / Now screams of joy / Victory" ("Beautiful Bride"). On Memento Mori, the songs are frequently a call to action or a glorification of god.

Unfortunately for mainstream rock listeners, it is a very narrow message and it plays poorly on multiple listens. Flyleaf is not creating an album about faith and the strength of belief with Memento Mori, this is instead a call for belief in a very specific god. When Mosley sings "Time for surrender / Spread out your open hands / And He will raise you up / Confessing all that's broken / And watch the healing come / Spread out your open hands / Admit you've held them shut / Be swept away by this" ("Swept Away") she is evoking very specific Christian imagery and evangelical doctrines.

And here's my real problem with Memento Mori; I picked this album up under pretenses that were quickly dispelled as false. Flyleaf, the band's hugely successful mainstream crossover album rocked and the Christian elements were not present in all songs. Instead, Mosley and her bandmates created an almost emo sound and feel which captured well the overall angst of growing up. On Memento Mori, they mortgage universal emotions for straightforward evangelical Christian messages like "Can I tell you a story / As we dance while the Son starts to bleed / Trees rejoice with the wind here / Hallelujah, Yeshua" ("Treasure"). It is, frankly, not what I signed up for. I wanted rock with incidental (if any) Christian themes. What I got was overt evangelical proselytizing with a bland metal-rock sound backing it.

To be fair to Flyleaf, the band is no longer doing what I despise most about many in the genre. Flyleaf is overtly singing about their Christianity and their desire to spread it to the masses. Instead of trying to create mainstream hits that one has to dig or know the code for, on Memento Mori, the band openly declares they are making faith-based music. And if you don't like that, don't buy the c.d.

The best song is "Chasm," I was not impressed by the interlude "Melting."

For other women with powerful voices, check out my reviews of:
Tear The World Down - We Are The Fallen
One Cell In The Sea - A Fine Frenzy
Many Great Companions - Dar Williams


For other music reviews, please be sure to visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011, 2010 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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