reborn

REVIEW: Stryper – Reborn (2005)

STRYPER REBORN_0002


STRYPER REBORN_0001STRYPER – Reborn (2005 EMI)

A few gigs led to a greatest hits CD and two new songs.  That led to a tour and a live album.  That in turn finally gave way to a new studio album by Stryper.  The aptly titled Reborn was unlike any prior Stryper album:  Detuned and heavier than hell, Reborn shocked pretty much everybody that heard it! Drum loops, chugging riffs…this was Stryper? There was also a new bassist on board — Tracy Ferrie, from Michael Sweet’s solo band.

“Open Your Eyes” begins abruptly, as if to further surprise the listener with the new Stryper sound.  It bears no resemblance to old Stryper whatsoever.  It is stripped down, heavy, droney, with emphasis on the riff, and no screams!  Stryper appeared to go very “2000’s” with their new sound, but unlike Metallica, they hung onto the guitar solos!  Then “Reborn” is stuttery and chunky.  It takes some getting used to, because melody takes a back seat to heavy here.  It’s good — but there are few hooks.  Overall, the CD reminds me of mid-90’s Dio.  I must say that drummer Robert Sweet seems particularly in his element on this heavy stuff, but his snare drum sound is a bit stuffy.

Some understated and cool guitar harmonies help out “When Did I See You Cry” on the chorus.  It’s also the first song to present those uplifting Stryper harmonies.  “Make You Mine” is a slow rocker with a melodic vocal and a highlight.  It’s remarkable how Michael Sweet’s voice has grown to have so much character while retaining its power. “Live Again” steals the riff from “Shout at the Devil” and shakes it up a bit. “Shout” was stolen from “Foxy Lady” anyway, so who cares? The song sounds nothing like “Shout” otherwise, but it’s back to that heavy detuned Stryper sound.

“If I Die” is a slow, heavy burner with a great chorus. That’s followed by “Wait For You” which is a simple pop rock song but recorded heavy, complete with “na na na” backing vocals. “Rain” is a bit of a ballad, and Sweet really reaches for it on the chorus. Solid song albeit a tad generic. “10,000 Years” is stuttery and rhythmic but doesn’t have a lot of hooks. Album closer “I.G.W.T.” is a much heavier, much better remake of the title track from 1988’s In God We Trust. This version kills the original in every single way possible. Michael even nails that final scream.

The best song on the album, by a fair shake, is the mighty “Passion”.  Not only does it possess a chorus that will shake the foundations, but it’s also the most blatantly in your face about their faith.  “Jesus Christ, I wanna serve you, I want what you want for me.  Sacred voice, I don’t deserve you, through your Passion I am free.”  That chorus will not be for everybody obviously, but damn it sure is catchy when Sweet lets it all out!  Give it a listen and see what I mean.  You don’t have to sing along if you don’t want to.

REBORNWhen originally released, the CD came packaged in a semi-transparent yellow cellophane wrap. I found it as such when it first came out at a nearby Christian book & CD store. They wanted $24.99 for it, and I couldn’t justify paying that much for yellow shrink wrap, when I could wait for a used copy to come in at the Record Store at which I worked. I ended up with the used copy, but boy I sure did like the way it looked with the yellow cellophane. The image on the cover of the band ripping the yellow ooze from their bodies is meant to represent how Stryper felt “reborn” individually and collectively. Of course the yellow and black are a return to Stryper’s original trademark colour scheme which they dropped on Against the Law.

Since Reborn, Stryper have zeroed in on the “perfect” sound, sort of a cross between this and old Stryper with loads of melody and power. Their albums continue to impress. Reborn was a necessary first step back, and it takes some getting used to. It doesn’t have the longevity of their classic work, but it definitely ain’t shabby.

3.25/5 stars

I hope you enjoyed Stryper week here at mikeladano.com!  Tomorrow we return to our regularly scheduled instalment of Getting More Tale.

REVIEW: Stryper – In God We Trust (1988)

IN GOD WE TRUST_0001STRYPER – In God We Trust (1988 Enigma)

In Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, the President of the United Federation of Planets (Kurtwood Smith) made a throwaway comment in one of his speeches:  “Let us redefine progress to mean that just because we can do a thing, it does not necessarily mean we must do that thing.”

I wish somebody in Stryper’s circle or record label Enigma thought that way in 1988.

Just because you have an incredible range and clean voice, does not mean you need to shatter glass with it, and it also doesn’t mean it’s best used by creating heavenly, angelic harmony parts.  Just because you had a successful prior album (To Hell With the Devil) does not mean softening your sound on your next album will equal more success.  If a record company executive said, “If you write more commercial songs and record them with less guitars and more keyboards you’ll get on the radio,” that doesn’t mean they were right.

It’s easy to put on my 20/20 Hindsight Goggles and pick apart In God We Trust, the highly anticipated third album by Stryper.  It’s like shooting ducks in a barrel.  Whatever choices Stryper or management made, In God We Trust is their most dismissed album by fans and critics alike.  It was a perfect storm of bad decisions.  Stryper themselves, dissatisfied with the original title track, later re-recorded it as “IGWT” for  their heavy reunion album Reborn.  That modern, detuned version blows away anything on this album.

The first thing that strikes me about “In God We Trust” (the original, not the remake) is the prominence of the angelic harmonies.  It sounds like a cross between a choir and a toothpaste commercial.  Michael Sweet is an incredible vocalist, this is true, but I maintain that it took him a few albums to really find his voice’s character.  Aside from the harmonies, “In God We Trust” is actually quite a heavy speedy metal track.  Drummer and “visual timekeeper” Robert Sweet is a relentless beast.

“Always There For You” was the saccharine-sweet lead single.  Sweet employed his trademark of hiding his religious message behind a neutral, benign lyric.  “I’m always there for you, I’ll always stand by you, when the world has closed the door and you can’t go on anymore, I’m always there for you.”  It sounds like the directive was, “Write us another song like ‘Calling on You’ but more commercial so we can make an expensive video.”  Then the next song “Keep the Fire Burning” almost sounds like they said the same thing, except about “Free”.  Continuing with the theme of re-writing the past hits, “I Believe In You” is “Honestly, Part II”.  It is sunk completely by the too-sweet Sweet harmonies. This sounds like something my mom would listen to!

Heavier is “The Writing’s On the Wall” but I find the lyrics irritating. “The God that Stryper serves is no delusion!” As a Christian myself, I recognize that people don’t like that kind of thing in their faces all the time. That is a personal preference and I believe there is room for everybody’s opinions. A song like “The Writing’s On the Wall” doesn’t strike me as inviting in its message, but the opposite.

The second side of In God We Trust is commenced with the terribly titled “It’s Up 2 U”. This is actually one of the better songs even though it’s one of the most commercial. The harmonies here are lower are thicker, and it turns into a bit of an anthem on the chorus. Then “The World of You and I” starts with potential as an acoustic ballad, but transitions into a sickly-sweet chorus that I can’t decide if I like or not. For glass-shattering high notes, just skip to 2:10! For really bad songs, check out “Come to the Everlife”. This is like bad Quiet Riot circa QRIII.

“Lonely” is morose but not terrible. It makes the album lean terribly ballad-heavy and soft, however. The keyboards and harmonies overpower the song rendering it somewhat limp, but with a smooth and classy beat. Thankfully “The Reign” closes the album on a heavy, Maiden-esque note. It’s a menacing but preachy metal song.

Stryper did an about-face after this album, realizing that their efforts did not produce a hit. Their next record was the most controversial yet. But that’s another review. In God We Trust lacks the firepower to be worth more than:

2/5
stars

REVIEW: Stryper – Murder By Pride (2009)

Sunday. Time for some Stryper!

STRYPER – Murder By Pride (2009, Big 3 Records)

I was a Stryper fan back in the 80’s, but I was never overwhelmed by the band.  I respected what they were saying, and I never felt like they were “in it for the money”, like some of the other kids at school.   I just didn’t think their 80’s albums were that amazing, hanging on to a sort of Dokken-level of quality as far as I was concerned.  A few good hits, a few good album tracks, but nothing blowing me away like a Van Halen album does.

Since their reunion, though, holy smokes! (Pardon the pun!)  They’ve been awesome, and putting out quality albums.  They have improved with age.  They are better musicians, better singers, better writers, and don’t have hair 12″ tall anymore.  Michael Sweet certainly proved himself on tour with the “other band” he was singing and playing with, Boston!

Murder By Pride is really the first reunion era Stryper that was designed to appeal to the old fans.  While I loved the previous album, Reborn, I fully acknowledge that it’s not an immediate thriller.  Its post-grunge sounds threw a lot of people for a loop, although it contained some great tunes such as “Passion”.  Murder By Pride was the answer to the fans who asked for more melody, more harmony vocals, twin solos and riffs.  That is largerly what they got.  There’s even the odd scream!

Murder By Pride is their best studio album.   It’s got everything — great hard rock songs, great piano ballads, great performances and crisp production that brings out the toughness of the guitars and drums.  The drums (by guest Kenny Aranoff) are absolutely flawless.  If you didn’t know better you’d swear it was Robert Sweet, as he nails that Stryper sound.  I don’t know why Robert didn’t play on the album, as he plays on their current album, the also-smoking The Covering.

If the idea of Christian lyrics throw you for a loop, I won’t lie to you, they haven’t backed down over the years.   If anything they’ve gotten more bold.  (The Covering contained a song just called “God”!)

Key tracks:  Some of the heavy rockers like “Eclipse of the Son”, and “The Plan”.  The Boston cover “Peace of Mind” featuring Tom Scholz on guitar.   The acoustic ballad power “I Believe”.  The stunning title track, with a classic Stryper riff that must be second-cousins with “Free”. If you’re not knocked out by this song, you’re not a Stryper fan!

Great album.  Welcome back Stryper — may you continue to stick to your guns, deliver your message, and rock hard!

4/5 stars