Prodigal managed the trick of being as good as, and quite possibly better, than their general market points of comparison.
30 Anniversary Limited Edition 3 CD Set
(Silver Orb Media)
Maybe those RIYL comparison posters are still around in some Christianny bookshops? Such-and-such band band with a evangenghetto label recording contract and Campus Life's approval is Recommended If You Like so and so evil, heathen noisemakers having hits on Godforsaken secular radio. At least as often as as such comparisons were right, they were humorously, ridiculously off base.
But Prodigal managed the trick of being as good as, and quite possibly better, than their general market points of comparison. The spiritual gravitas of their most thoughtful lyrics smartly fit the dynamic bombast and instrumental bravura of the same kind of prog pop that the Cincinnati quartet's fellow Midwesterners, such as Styx and Kansas, were laying down to accompany-per the latter combo's Kerry Livgren and John Elefante notwithstanding-generally more ponderous and dippier ruminations.
That's not to say Prodigal (possessing one of the best names for a Christian-comprised rock act ever?!) stayed aesthetically static during their 1982-85 recording tenure. Their eponymous debut sounds structured like a concept album, but including a couple of a capella interludes can lend that impression. Among harder rockers like "Fire With Fire" and the concluding tour de force of "Sidewinder," they interpolated some sly fusion jazz chording a la Ambrosia on a couple of cuts, including "Easy Street." Somehow a country-vibed go at what sounds like a straight man-to-woman love song, "Want You Back," does nothing to disrupt the album's flow. If an overarching theme can be ascertained from the set, it's one of deceived, lonely, preoccupied humanity coming to recognise their need for reconciliation with their Maker. Pretty closely paralleling the story of the wayward son in the parable of Jesus' from which the guys got their collective moniker, yes?
Dw. Dunphy of Popdose.com in his succinct, piquant notes to the anthology, insists that the second Prodigal album Electric Eye found the band at the peak of their powers. They must have agreed, since its 1984 release date sets the anniversary date for which the collection's named. Here, all but one of its ten songs clocks in under five minutes, and the jazziness and country influences are shed. Duly compensating are intermittent extra-musical sound effects, occasional electronic vocal processing, and a darker sense of humor. A lyrical undercurrent stressing the ways in which technology and societal pressures dampen humanity's spiritual longing complements the first album. Were Daniel Amos not so smart alecky (and given to new wave at the time) or Mark Heard so seemingly inconsolably forlorn, one could imagine either indulging in the nuanced Wizard Of Oz analogy of "Emerald City" or the titular track's scenario of doomed man cave self-satisfaction. Between the weightier textual explorations, they may have invented art rock ska with "Shout It Out"; if it's not actual crowd interaction toward the tune's end, it's a more than reasonable facsimile.
The last album from 1985, Just Like Real Life, continues the previous album's themes, but stressing the cost wrought to humanity by the inspidness of pop culture and materialism. Leftist crtics might read it as a a response to the downside of Reagan era prosperity, but from a more polished, brawnier aesthetic than either U.S. hardcore punk or the various expressions by UK pop and indie rock acts against the perceived heartlesness of Thatcher's capitalistic ideals. The intertwining of politics and spirituality aside, Prodigal ends their tenure with their most commercial sound. Every song clocks in under four minutes, and danceable new wave elements pervade a majority of its 11 songs. The latter quality makes it comparable to Vector among contemporaneous Christian market peers and The Fixx in the rest of the world. Lyric references from the Nazi concentration camp at Dachau to Mickey Rooney's serial monogamy witness to their wit and compassion, albeit with a heavier-handed touch than the equally dance-oriented Daniel Amos of the time was plumbing. But as with mid-'80s D.A. in their less parodist moments, Prodigal kept the Lord between the lines, making their body of work exemplary of implicitly Christian rock as pre-evangelistic and biblical worldview expression. Such music as Prodigal's reiterates the likely shame it was that much of the CCM industry didn't have the inroads to the general market that may have allowed the band to have become a precedent for the kind of crossover success Skillet and Lifehouse are having.
Apart from celebrating the three decades or so since the band was active, Limited Edition is fortuitously timed for another reason. The band's singing keyboardist and songwriting vocalist, Loyd Boldman, died earlier this year, just as mastering of the set was being completed. Thusly, this package memorializes both an intelligently godly band and the man who led it with such gusto. Once this deluxe package sells out, a savvy classic rock reissue label (if there are such things?) would do well to keep Prodigal's legacy in print, too.
Jamie Lee Rake