The Call - To Heaven and Back
Tracks: Soaring Bird, Criminal, Love is Everywhere, World on Fire, Think Over, Must Have Been Outta My Mind, All You Hold On Too, Compromise , Become America , What Are You Made Of, Confession 12/01/97
Released 12/01/97 by Fingerprint Records (catalog #9701) (out of print)
NOTE: The reviews below.
Peter Gabriel once referred to The Call as the "the future of American music." An empty prophecy because of the bands imminent break-up, but at the very least, a claim that advocated the high artistic quality, skillful musical strength and genuine uniqueness of this beloved band. By those that knew and appreciated them, they have been greatly missed.
_To Heaven and Back_ finds them doing again what they've always done best: creating their own special brand of thought-provoking, faith inspiring, and especially emotionally riveting rock and roll. This new album is a most welcome return to their form, and conjures the feeling and energy of some of their most appreciated albums like _Reconciled_ and _Let the Day Begin_.
Some of these new songs, like "Criminal" and "World on Fire" are as gutsy and aggressive as anything they've done before and feel more like the brash work on Michael Been's 1994 solo album, _On the Verge of a Nervous Breakthrough_. "Musta Been Outta My Mind" conjures the Rolling Stones with The Call's own unique twists. More subdued fare like "Think It Over" are as poignantly powerful as any of the modern day laments Been's penned in the past. With all these songs you'll not only hear The Call, you'll clearly feel The Call as well. Michael Been continues to sing with a sense of passionate urgency that, coupled with the band's unique take on rock and roll, can either compel or comfort you. There is much to inspire you here including this encouragement:
What do you live for What would you die for What do you stand for What are you made of.
Two songs here also appeared on last year's retrospective, _The Best of The Call_. I prefer the more acoustic versions of both "All You Hold on to" and "Become America" (which both featured Bruce Cockburn on guitar) than the more rocking versions on the new album. Additionally, the album is not well paced and would benefit from a re-ordering that groups some of the more aggressive tracks together thus helping to sustain the album's overall energy rather than seeming so episodic. These are smalls complaint about an otherwise consistently substantial album.
You'll find this album is as artistically appealing and lyrically rousing as any of their previous albums. I'll leave you with an appropriate quote about the band from Fingerprint Records that captures the spirit of The Call succinctly and accurately:
Since the release of their self-titled debut in 1982, The Call, hailing from California's Bay area, established themselves as a breed apart. Led by Michael Been's songwriting and voice, they burst on the scene like they knew everything was up for grabs - because it was. This is a mainstream band made up of Christians, not a Christian band for Christians only. They have toured with Peter Gabriel, Simple Minds, Tears for Fears and many others. Time magazine has picked three of their releases in their "Year End Top Ten." Rolling Stone magazine says: "Michael Been is one of the best lyricist in rock today." In Been's clear and jarring baritone voice, you hear the emotional landscape of the human heart as it shapeshifts its way across different territories where love was so intense that it threatened to consume itself, to the garden of stark confusion, to the seemingly endless desert of doubt. With a band that will swirl itself into a fury or whisper like a southwind, Been walks the tightrope as the group's frontman; he descends into the shadows willingly because he believes resolutely in the hope that there is indeed light and grace at the other side."
- Steven Stuart Baldwin
BTW, The Call's last studio album was 1990's "Red Moon" but Michael Been's 1994 solo album is definitely worthy of your attention.
They are among the most widely acclaimed rock bands of the past two decades. Bruce Springsteen, Russ Taff, dc Talk's Kevin Smith, Woody Harrelson, Mark Heard, director Martin Scorcese, U2's Bono, "Wheel of Fortune's" Pat Sajak, Simple Minds' Jim Kerr, Bruce Cockburn, screenwriter Paul Schraeder, and producer T-Bone Burnett all have referred to them as one of their "favorite bands".
Time Magazine called their music mystical, mythic...and wildly ambitious" while Rolling Stone compared them to Van Morrison, U2 and The Band.
Peter Gabriel was more forthright, calling them: "the future of American music".
But forget the accolades. Forget the ten years of predictions about the "next big thing" in rock music. Ignore the A-list of fans. Just listen to the songs, and you'll find yourself searching for your own list of superlatives. Like redemptive. Like passionate. Like true.
The fact is that The Call are among the most unapologetically religious bands in pop music history. When contemporary Christian music was dabbling with blandly "positive" pop, The Call's mainstream albums dealt directly and passionately with faith, perseverance, grace, sin and redemption. And when many "Christian" artists were deftly avoiding questions about their beliefs, band leader and chief songwriter, Michael Been faxed a copy of the Apostles Creed to music reviewers and radio programmers across the country, saying simply that "this should settle things for good." And yet, despite their commitment to publicly exploring questions of faith and their vast critical acclaim, The Call have remained largely unheard in the traditional Christian marketplace.
This is about to change.
The Call is back with "To Heaven and Back" the band's first entirely new project in nearly eight years, and its first project of new material to be released directly to the CCM marketplace. With the band's original line-up reunited after a seven-year hiatus, and plans to tour nationally in place, The Call is set to finally find a home in the music collections of Christian Music buyers.
"The title of the disc reflects my experience of faith," says Been. "When I first converted, it felt like I'd been transported to heaven. But after awhile, you learn that being a Christian is about life as a lover of God in the midst of the earth - with all its ambiguities and hardships and trials. Faith isn't about escape, it's about 'working out our salvation' everyday." "To Heaven and Back" stands shoulder to shoulder with the best of The Call's material over its 7 album, fifteen year career. The songs are, as they always have been, intense, pounding, hypnotic and melodic.
Grounded by Scott Musick's driving, rock solid percussion and Been's mesmerizing bass lines and raised to nearly transcendent heights by Tom Ferrier's guitar and Jim Goodwin's Keyboards. The songs on "To Heaven and Back" contain echoes of punk's brittle rhythms and harmonies reminiscent of 60s icons like the Animals, while at once reminding us that The Call was a "modern rock" band before the term was coined.
But the heart of The Call's songs are Micheal Been's vocals. Been is the kind of singer whose every word conveys an urgency and power that most singers only dream about. He doesn't need vocal gymnastics or histrionics to sell his songs; rather, he simply sings like his life was on the line, offering passionate, intimate, and finally, unswervingly honest readings of his songs.
For those who need an introduction to The Call, the disc tells the listener everything they need to know about why Been's songs have been so influential: they don't just tell us the truth, they make us face it - in ourselves, in others, and in the world around us.
For this reunion, The Call has assembled eleven songs that serve, for all intents and purposes, as an extended meditation on the nature if faithfulness in a broken world. Everywhere on "To Heaven and Back" we find Been struggling to discern the way of fidelity and hope in the face of faithfulness, betrayal, and despair. And as we might expect from a band as holistic as The Call, that struggle is addressed on every level of relationships - marital, spiritual, and even political.
Out of this conviction, Been is willing to ask questions of himself that few songwriters, of any creed, will face; namely, "How does one remain faithful in the face of infidelity?" and "How does one love when love is rejected?" In an age where so-called "family values" dominates agendas, The Call has the courage to look past the ideal and explore the harsh, real world struggles of living in light of shattered vows and broken hearts.
In "World On Fire" Been sings: I trust my life to providence/ I trust my soul to grace/ But nothing takes away this pain/ I can't forget your face," while in "Compromise" he grimaces in self doubt, "could I ever make you happy? / ? could I be the true love in your eyes?" a sentiment echoed in the disc's stirring final cut, "Confession." In "Love is Everywhere," the first single to mainstream radio, Been confronts the "incredible difficulty - if not impossibility - of seeing and experiencing love that is always presenting itself. It's about our blindness, our pride, our shameful, stubborn selfishness in the face of love that is endless and selfless." For The Call, true love is, even for the believer, as much as the realm of pain as it is of joy.
At the heart of this dichotomy is our infidelity, which spoil the fruit of love, and shatters our hope in the best of ideas. The Call confronts this faithlessness on several levels, including the political. In "Become America" Been stares unblinkingly at the disparity between the rhetorical promise of the American dream and the harsh reality of its practical realities, asking: When will the struggling poor/ walk with their heads held high once more/ children playing on haunted streets/ where dogs and vultures eat/ politicians weave their spell/ promise spoken from the mouth of hell/ when will America become America?"
"We're good at rhetoric of freedom in America," Been reminds us. "But our track record is less than stellar. And at a time when more and more Christians are becoming involved in politics, it's shameful that much of our activism ignores or even scapegoats the weak, the outcast, the widows and the imprisoned - the very ones Christ says are 'the least of these, my brothers."
Been's judgement of himself is similar. In both his love songs and his hymns of redemption, Been unflinchingly faces not only the infidelity of those around him, but also his own. "Heaven's door is locked from the outside" sings Been in "Musta Been Outta My Mind" and its implication is clear: If we fail to know love and grace and hope, it is because we have let it slip from our hands: we have walked away.
And like any good love song, the songs on "To Heaven and Back" serve as apt metaphors for our spiritual conditions as well. Take Been's tortured persona out of "Think It Over" and you might hear the voice of a jilted God, like in the Old Testament book of Hosea, pleading for his faithless lover's return. In "Criminal," the album's first single for Christian radio, Been sings in the voice of Christ reflecting on the injustice of his crucifixion. But regardless of whether the songs address love or politics or our relationship with God, underlying them is an utter confidence in grace, and an undeniable yearning for faithfulness. In "Confession," the disc's closing track, Been is characteristically open in his plaintive declaration to both love and God: "I would rather die than hurt/fail/shame you." This sentiment is the bedrock of these difficult, glorious, passionate songs and it is one that doesn't easily fade from the listener.
"I suppose I could have written cheesy pop songs for movie soundtracks and hit radio," says Been. "When I was young that's what I wanted to do. But when I sat down to write, only these songs would come. I guess the band is called The Call for a reason."
Written by Candace 1999
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