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Stockholm Syndrome
Artist:  Derek Webb
Label:  INO Records
Time:  13 Tracks / 48 mins 

I have always been hugely impressed by Webb’s solo work, particularly She Must and Shall Go Free . He says things that make you think and says them with a tune that keeps those thoughts in your head, and his music can speak to heart, body and spirit. 

But when I first heard Stockholm Syndrome , it did not seem like the Derek Webb that I had previously appreciated. It was not that I was disappointed by the words; more that the music was often so distracting that I could not take in what he was saying. On the very first play I found the sound almost too depressing and monotonous to finish without a break. 

The disc sets Webb’s songs against a bed of percussive electronica, but the two sometimes fit like wearing a jacket on your foot: this is not the vibrant, energetic dance of Andy Hunter; the compelling, summery beats of Röyksopp; or the expansive pop of Air. Here, Webb’s words can be buried under keyboard drone or set against rattling hip-hop beats. 

With further listens, the shock wears off somewhat. In some ways it is good that the worst two offenders kick the disc off, so they are soon out of the way, but they are so bad that the rest of the disc suffers by association (“Opening Credits” is pointless and the verses of “Black Eye” sadly suffer from a dull, monotonous synth riff that completely overwhelms the song).

After about twenty listens, the songs themselves burst through and start to get into your head, and it makes you wonder what this disc could have sounded like ­ not that the electronica is a problem per se; it’s just that this electronica only works some of the time.

What about when it does work well? “Cobra Con” has a funky feel; while over drum ‘n’ bass and keyboards, “Spirit and the Kick Drum” thoughtfully contrasts whether people want God or something easier. Jena and Jimmy is as catchy a pop piece as Webb has ever written, although it is about Jimmy wanting Jena physically, while ignoring who she is as a person. “Heaven” is the one track that takes an almost conventional Webb folky sound and sets it against light beats and almost reggaefied keyboard chops. 

It is frustrating to have no lyrics in the CD cover, especially because, apart from the level of reflection they can sometimes require, Webb’s insight is often more rounded theologically than a lot of artists on CCM labels. So I was left with the inconvenience of trying to piece together the lyrics on the Internet. Webb often speaks the truth that others don’t dare to touch in case it affects their sales. Here, for example, he questions a lot of Christian cultural assumptions. He has often used relationship imagery to describe Christ and the church, but here he uses the Stockholm Syndrome metaphor to show how we can be infatuated with the things that enslave and demolish us. He questions the relationship between Christians and the government in a couple of songs. The dreamy “American Flag Umbrella” is a complex lyric touching inclusivity and war, while in “The State” he concludes that before he married the State:

  Right and wrong were written on my heart and not just in the laws that condemned me
  But now with Caesar satisfied I can even do the things that should offend me.
(That’s very different from an artist like the Annie Moses Band capping a disc with a patriotic tune to catch the right wing vote).

The “Black Eye” lyric (“Time looks the same at the ones who hate / And the ones that do nothing”) is foundational to the album’s concept, as is a track that is now missing.

Although it has had huge web press, we have to mention the controversial song that label INO scrubbed from the album (I respected them when they put out Sara Groves’ The Word, but although Webb defends them, they have now lost huge credibility with me).

“What Matters More” is written directly from a Tony Campolo quote: “I have three things I’d like to say today. First, while you were sleeping last night, 30,000 kids died of starvation or diseases related to malnutrition. Second, most of you don’t give a shit. [And third] What’s worse is that you’re more upset with the fact that I said shit than the fact that 30,000 kids died last night.” 

Webb sings,:

We can talk and debate it until were blue in the face 
About the language and tradition that he's coming to save 
Meanwhile we sit just like we don't give a s*** 
About 50,000 people that are dying today.
The song also challenges:
You say you always treat people like you like to be
I guess you love being hated for your sexuality... 
If I can tell what's in your heart by what comes out of your mouth
Then it sure looks to me like being straight is all it's about.
Basically, as the title says, Webb is questioning the priorities of Christians. Surely this controversy answers itself. There seems to have been far more heat expended over a mild expletive than about the things in the world that need to be put right, like poverty, injustice and disease ­ which is what he’s saying! Webb also rightly wants to know why Christians do not show the grace of Jesus, despite what they claim. Surely, these are basic issues for Christian musicians to address? But because it can be perceived to be pro-gay, the label pulled the track and instantly demonstrated to the world that it has neither guts nor scriptural understanding. Ironically, I suspect many of the label’s most regular customers are patriotic Americans, who trumpet the nation’s dedication to free speech!

This is a deeply thoughtful release, with some important lyrics and memorable tunes, but with a desperate need for an outside producer (Although Webb has apparently had great fun producing this, that is not necessarily a benefit to the buyer). Releasing it without a key track for political reasons appals me. If you’re going to buy this, there are plenty of options direct from Webb’s site, so that you don’t miss out or compromise your integrity.

Derek Walker

Derek Webb is no stranger to controversy.  In previous releases, he has questioned T-shirt theology, challenged the faith some put in government, focused on the sin of complacency, and fashioned himself as a polarizing force within Christian music circles.  Stockholm Syndrome is no exception.

The album takes its title from the concept of prisoners who become so ennured to their surroundings that they begin to sympathize with, or even embrace, the views of their captors.  Webb’s position is that many Christians have done the same with the world in which they live.Musically, it is a huge departure from the Derek Webb who sang and strummed his guitar.  In a way, this is his Zooropa or Kid A it iis full of loops, computer effects, hip hop references think Derek Webb as Beck meets Half-Handed Cloud.  This record would not be out of place on the Secretly Canadian label.

“Cobra Con” deals with persistence.  “Freddie, Please” confronts Fred Phelps of the Westboro Baptist Church, and asks the question: “How can you tell me you love me when you hate me?”  “Spirit and the Kick Drum” addresses the human dichotomy of sin, and Webb’s protagonist isn’t spared: “I don’t want the Son/I want of jury of peers.”  Lambasting lazy Christians who want all of the good without any conviction or accountability seems to be the message here and he reminds us that Christ promised trouble in this world.

“The State” critiques our politics, and “I Love/Hate You” shows a man fighting against his own selfish instincts.  “Jena and Jimmy” portrays a chance encounter in which a guy slickly maneuvers a girl into hooking up a picture of Satan and the world? Webb’s approach is like that of the Old Testament prophets –
confronting sin bluntly and often sarcastically, but never backing away from or sugarcoating the message that needs to be heard.  Some will be offended, looking for the truth “spoken in love,” and wanting a gentler reminder.  Does the message get lost in this?  Not if you’re listening.  While I appreciated the acoustic Webb more as a listener, the lyrical content is a ruthless examination of today’s church, and one that, in my opinion, needs to be done more often.

Brian A. Smith
2 December 2009

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