|Just Three Things... | Posted August 07, 2013
Derek Webb is a self-described agitator. From his initial involvement in the '90s CCM cornerstone group Caedmon's Call to his near-exile from the contemporary Christian scene with 2009's controversial Stockholm Syndrome, Webb has certainly traveled to both ends of the often treacherous and ever-broadening playing field of Christian music.
His initial solo release landed squarely in the middle of his two decade career in 2003, a project titled She Must And Shall Go Free, which explored the intricacies, faults, and ultimate redemption of the Church. Although establishing Webb's reputation as a game-changer from the first with some edgy language and themes, the album also produced enduring selections such as the title track and "Wedding Dress," both of which continue to resonate with listeners a decade later.
As the initial ripples of 2012's technological commentary album Ctrl were dying down, Derek Webb announced his intention to revisit some of the themes of She Must And Shall Go Free with the perspective built by a decade of engaging (and often inciting) dialog about the identity and function of the body of Christ. The result is I Was Wrong, I'm Sorry & I Love You, a 12-track long collection that is part autobiography, part commentary, part confession, all tempered by an earnest humility that ties the conversation together.
The album begins with the title track. The opening verse makes references to each stage of Derek Webb's career (as is clarified by the recently released corresponding lyric video), wrapping it up with a line that could serve as the whole project's thesis statement: "Over all these years, just three things I've tried to say: I was wrong, I'm sorry and I love you." It's a statement of breathtaking honesty that establishes the attitude necessary to approach matters as massive as those of the Church, a rich humility offered in a way that makes listeners (whether fans or skeptics) rethink much of Webb's previous work.
Throughout the album these three things, which Webb has stated are the most important statements for any relationship, continue to surface and work themselves out. Musically, the opener's melody is perhaps unusually pop-slanted for the artist, but the clamor of raw instrumentation in the chorus stays consistent with the folk-flavored indie style of his early solo work.
"Eye of the Hurricane" starts with the deceptively cheerful chirp of an acoustic guitar, beginning a song that could initially be a simple tale of travel. The song quickly progresses into the story of a prodigal contemplating home, a traveler experiencing the awkward discomfort of realizing, "I am the man from which I am running"-- an experience compared to running inside the eye of the hurricane, a place where faltering for a moment will thrust you into the chaos of the storm.
In what may be the most direct link to his debut album, Derek Webb uses "Lover Part 3" to expand on the theme of God speaking to His church, an idea previously explored both on She Must And Shall Go Free and 2004's I See Things Upside Down. Whereas the first part of this theme spoke primarily from the authority of a Father to a son returning home, "Lover Part 3" vocalizes the transcendent love story of Christ and the Church as His bride. The instrumentation is suitably gentle and reserved, letting the intensely poetic language take center stage.
"Closer Than You Think" grinds out a more gritty rock and roll instrumental bed, backing a song that explores communication (often miscommunication) inherent in the process of a community learning to relate to God. "Heavy" returns to a more bare bones approach musically, which lends itself well to the slightly plaintive tone of the song. This is a song where the element of apology is vocalized in a dialog framing the complex tension of issues like faith and fear, desire and abstinence, marked by confessing a common church reaction: "I try to make light of things I can't deny are so heavy."
"Everything Will Change" is a beautifully unashamed song of hope, using the verses to acknowledge the deep pain and disillusionment that comes from contact with the deep, human flaws of the Church while offering the soaring, anthemic chorus to extend the comfort that "one day you'll wake and the curse will break, and even you won't be the same. Your hope is not wasted on the day when everything will change." This fresh look at a traditional theme is followed by "I Measure the Days (Simplified Anglican Chant)," an interlude that is mostly self-explanatory in its title and intensely liturgical in its cadence and content.
"A Place At Your Table" uses playful instrumentation with hints of jazz guitar to explore the cross-denominational concept of communion or the Lord's Supper. Rather than espousing a particular doctrine on the topic, Webb focuses instead on the enduring mystery of the experience itself. "Nothing But Love" begins as a piano ballad, though as it works carefully through themes of being wronged and loving, synthesized layers and crackling drums swell underneath the resounding vocals.
Despite a slightly playful veneer, "The Vow" has an earnest heart as it explores the theme of marriage vows (which could both be literal or metaphorical depending on the audience's focus). Suitably, Derek Webb's wife and fellow musician Sandra McCracken lends her sweet backing vocals as a stabilizing element in the upbeat track.
"Your Heart Breaks In All The Right Places" features some of the cleanest guitar and vocal tones, building the atmosphere of an unguarded love song. Thematically, this is a conversation with God, recognizing both the sacred mystery and the vibrant intimacy that comes from beginning to know glimpses of His heart.
The album wraps with "Thy Will Be Done," a take on an old hymn surrendering actions, attitudes, and opinions to the loving sovereignty of God. The high church language preserved from the original with the simple melody structure and instrumentation give this song a sense of being steeped in its tradition, closing the collection with a kind of musical and thematic recognition of the heritage Webb is a part of as a Church songsmith.
Upon the initial announcement of a follow-up to She Must And Shall Go Free, it might have been assumed that Derek Webb planned to retract his past. However, I Was Wrong, I'm Sorry & I Love You is a culmination, not a contradiction, of Webb's previous body of work, reflecting past themes while recasting them with humility.
If listeners come to the album seeking mantras to repeat or banners to stand behind, they will be disappointed. This is an album of humbly engaging questions rather than offering definitive answers, the narrative of a Christ-follower navigating the complex, flawed, and beautiful institution that is the Church.
Musically, the album is layered to the point of sounding almost muddied if taken at face value, but offering sonic depths to plumb on repeat listens. Although those previously offended by or just not sold on Derek Webb will most likely still not find the kind of spiritual clarity they are looking for on this album, they are given the chance to see a Derek Webb who is not just an agitator for conflict's sake—he is human, and he offers the rare courage of owning up to that with three simple pleas: "I was wrong, I'm sorry and I love you."
Song to Download Now:
"I Was Wrong, I'm Sorry & I Love You" (Get it on iTunes here
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