The Classic Crime is no stranger to creating thought provoking music. As a fan, I have been following them since the days of Albatross, and it is their ability to foster meaningful dialogue through their songs on everything from relationships to hardship and spiritual longing that keeps me coming back for more.
Which brings me to their latest release, How To Be Human. Sonically this album reminded me a lot of Albatross, only with notes of their previous release Phoenix lending it a more brooding and mature tone. It feels to be something of a fusion of past and present, with some creative undertones helping it to feel fresh and progressive at the same time (thanks mostly to some inventive layering of the guitar in a synth like fashion, giving depth to the song structure).
But it is the album narrative that really holds these songs together. The songs come across as a collective allegory, one that alludes to something more definitive, more intentional than the allegory itself. They exude a longing to express something that perhaps couldn’t be expressed in words alone, and in a world full of singles and songs and on the spot streaming, this kind of album first approach feels refreshing. It tells a story from start to finish, with each track connecting to the next by interweaving some rather strong imagery, evoking the idea of a spiritual journey. More so, with so much time existing between albums (relatively speaking), it felt like these songs were, in some form or another, a lyrical representation of a much more personal journey that the band (or members) themselves had been on over the last number years.
For me, the journey is always worth exploring, and thankfully a recent interview helped to shed some light on some of what I had been feeling over some early listens, revealing the experiences that helped give shape to this album over time.
The first song, Holy Water, invites us on a journey out to the outer edges of the universe and to beginning of time itself, all in an effort to give us some perspective for the story that is still to come. There is a struggle that remains evident throughout this song, one that tries to see the good in a world that sometimes seems so full of brokenness, a world that some of us have been taught to “see” as evil. It is in the midst of this struggle that the song calls us towards a moment of stillness, a chance to turn our gaze upwards and outwards so as to gain a broader and more inclusive view of the world in which we live. And as we learn to see the world from this vantage point , we also begin to see the world through the eyes of the Creator, a creator that continues to declare all of this to be “good” in the midst of the struggle. And if all is good, if God is good, then you are also seen through “his (good) perspective”. I am a part of his good perspective. The brokenness is a part of his good perspective.
This line really shook me. If only I could change my own perspective. If only I could learn how to embrace the struggle rather than reject it.
Yet far too often I simply give in to the incomprehensible, the confusion, the competing forces that battle for my attention every single day. I give in to the need to simply escape rather than embrace.
But there is hope. There is freedom in the words of these songs. By seeing the good in the world I can free myself to be the good in this world. As the words go on to declare, “You are alone, But you are alive.” I am alive. I am alive, and it is this alive-ness that connects me to something far greater than I can imagine in my limited capacity, from my single, shallow vantage point. It is this Holy Water, this Holy perspective that holds all of us together, that binds us as that which is good. And as I lift my eyes upwards and take the opportunity to realign my own perspective with that of the Creator, I find myself finally able to join in the chorus- all is good.
In the interview, singer Matt MacDonald describes the moment he penned these lyrics. He found himself under the vast loneliness of the midnight sky, stopped at a light in the middle of an empty street and soaking in the silence. He was completely alone. And it was in this moment that he had this sudden realization. Call it a revelation or epiphany if you will. He was struck by the bigness of it all set against the stillness and aloneness of the moment, and it realigned his perspective of his own personal journey. It was a moment in which he lifted his eyes upwards and found the courage to look back out on a broken world rather than escape it, and what he found was something good, something Holy, something that is being redeemed. He helped to remind me that I am also able to embrace the brokenness, because it is a part of being redeemed.
It is out of this revelation that we arrive at my favourite song on the album, Not Done with You Yet. As the words declare, “Life Is senseless, (but) I try to make sense of it.”
Matt describes the journey towards this album as a season of “deconstructing” his faith and (attempting) to put it back together. Having been down this road myself, I feel I am able to resonate with this journey. It is a process that can lead you towards some very dark places. At times I know I felt I was losing my grasp on everything that once made sense in this world. It was a time when I felt more lost than found. And perhaps the hardest part about taking this journey is just how lonely it makes you feel. You feel like you don’t truly belong anywhere. You struggle with the faith of your past and all the certainty it once held, but in doing so you are also confronted with the realization that you also don’t belong in a world where even the mere mention of “god” renders you irrational and intellectually void.
Deconstruction strips you bare. But for as painful and as hard as this process is, it also offers the opportunity for more honest introspection. There is opportunity to grow, to gain strength, and not just as a person, but as a person of faith. When you have nothing left to lose, the potential to gain increases immensely. And while it is often hard to see the light in the middle of the dark, the message that I find in this album is that hope is still present. And as I came to realize, God is still present. My faith might not look the same as it was- and thank God for that- but in many ways it is now much richer for it.
And so, as the words of this song continue to pierce through the darkness, “I am not done with you yet” resonates through the uncertainty. It reminds me that this forming and shaping and strengthening is a lifelong process, one in which my willingness to fall also allows me to be “lifted” daily. And, through it all this song guides me towards a prayer, a prayer for the courage to allow myself to fall and to be lifted even in these moments today:
“I met him there
And I was scared
And so I asked God if he could fix my flaws
And he said I gave them to you
I know they are killing you
(But) I am not done with you yet
“And I’m not fine
Because I spent ten years on the road
That made me different
I created new patterns of thought
Got a new perspective
I was just once an immigrant son of a silenced preacher’s wife
But black and white both died
So I asked God if he could fix my heart
He said I gave it to you
I know it’s broken in two
(But) I am not done with you yet.
This album gets really dark. It reaches into the depths of the de (re) construction process, and the song Wonder is about just how low it can get. It brings us face to face with the most honest question that flows out of being stripped bare- Have I gone too far? Can I ever go back? Perhaps I have lost it all in the process.
And yet, thankfully there is a “but” that breathes through each of these songs, an interruption of the despair that ends up speaking much louder and far more powerfully than the questions. It comes in the way of an invitation to stop “sleeping in the shadows” as the song Ghost says, and to open our eyes to the opportunity to see the idea of god anew, in a new light if you will, a light that provides us with new and wonderful “shades of green” in place of the black and white that once limited our perspective.
“I want different shades of green
Let the wilderness teach me something
Different shades of green
I want different shades of green
I want to imitate the mystery
Different shades of green”
This is what it means for me to imitate the mystery, to gain God’s perspective. For me, this idea that God stands above and over all good things, inviting me to see from His perspective, has been a crucial part of my own journey in and out and back into faith. The metaphor of “shades of green” uses the idea of a biological construct to enable us to see our world a bit broader, a bit clearer than we otherwise would if we had remained unaware. In biology, green arrives in more shades than any other colour, precisely because it is the image of life, the sign of something good. In the midst of all the struggle, we are given eyes to see that we are surrounded by the good, the green. We simply need to learn to see the shades.
Being challenged in our faith doesn’t have to mean losing everything. And in-fact, as the song says, in some sense it can allow us to rediscover what we knew all along. It might not look exactly like we once thought all those years ago, but in many ways it is something even better than we imagined. It is this thought that keeps me searching for truth in my own life. It is this thought that reminds me that growing in my faith might be challenging, but it doesn’t have to be defeating. As the song More declares so wonderfully, we can continue to sing,
“And I still want more
Until I hear the trumpet sound
Until my body is in the ground
(I want more) Until I finally find the source
I want more”
It is this idea that God is not done with me yet, that all good things are being restored, that keeps me moving forward, that keeps me wondering and wandering and looking and searching. It is this idea that keeps my eyes and ears and heart open to the more that God has in store for my own life, for this world in which I live.
And in understanding this, I have come to accept that confidence is not the same as certainty. The confidence that hope remains, that there is something worth searching for, allows me to move forward in my uncertainty. And truth be told, it is by letting go of my need to be certain that I have gained so much more confidence to live out of god’s perspective of my life, of our world.
So “Hold on and Let Go”. Embrace what this world has in store, live through the fear and the joy. Embrace the shadows and find the light in the darkness.
The album ends with a sort of haunting repetition of the imagery that the album narrative has helped me to imagine.
“Saviour save me”.
The minute these words ring out, we find ourselves back at the beginning, with the haunting question, but “Am I alone?” The thought lingers after the final note without resolution. Which is the point of this journey, I think. It is about moving forward even when we can’t see what lies ahead. Holding on to faith, holding onto hope in the midst of my questions and struggles. Surrendering my questions to the places in which they lead me. And as this album helps remind me of the perspective I have gained (and lost) along the way of my own journey, on the way of learning how to reach out to the edges of the universe so as to see the world through the eyes of my Creator, I have learned to rest in the promise that all is good, that all will be restored. This has become my hope and my prayer.
I will continue to pray that God grant me more clarity as the days move forward, and the courage to give myself over again and again to the idea that God is not done with me yet. I am alive. I am good. And I can become the good in this world.