Mark Wagner Need Love. Am I missing something? The great Nashville blender strikes again.



Label: Otis Alan Music
Time: 8 Tracks / 31 minutes

“There is hope. Those words were etched into Mark Wagner's mind after his first visit to Africa as a sponsored artist for Mocha Club ( Mark visited The Village of Hope in Northern Uganda, and found a place that exists between two very different worlds. The village is pinned between the reality of a devastating civil war that has ravaged the country and its people for two decades, and a world of limitless possibilities, wrought with the one force that can topple the LRA: hope.”

This was some blurb that I read before hearing this disc. I also read a blog by Wagner, in which he revealed how deep was the impact of that experience in Africa. He came across boy soldiers who were forced to watch their parents being murdered and then urged to murder their own friends; women who had been kidnapped and used as sex slaves for soldiers; and men with dismembered limbs, left for dead in their burning villages.

Wagner also wrote of lives turned around by faith and wrecked spirits energised into a new life. On his return to Nashville, he resolved to “keep telling that story” as part of his purpose as a songwriter. So I listened to the music and waited and wondered and waited some more. Was this the right disc or even the same artist?

What still amazes me is how little connection there is to this experience when you listen to the music. There are no stories about the victims, perpetrators or villages; nothing about the atmosphere of hate; nothing about the need for reconciliation; nothing about the pain that the war has caused to God’s heart and purposes; no songs dealing with the trauma. Nothing in the pace of the music hints at any stress, evil or danger.

This disc could have been produced by some mid-Western student whose worst experience has been struggling to get grades for demanding parents, or someone who has broken a couple of limbs and been dumped by a girlfriend. It simply boils all of life down to feeling better through a relationship with God.

The second track even sounds jaunty, its rhythm enjoying a small hip-hop-like lilt.Musically, it follows the CCM template down to a T: pointless overdriven opening chords, followed by a sudden stop to let the lyrics be heard and then choruses and bridges in the usual format. Job done.

Regular credits like Ben Shive, Ken Lewis and Shane D. Wilson ensure that it sounds like everyone else, so that no accountants get rattled.

I am not saying that the disc sounds bad, cheap or particularly boring. It has hooks that you recognise on successive listens, an upbeat pace and a cover of Rich Mullins “Creed” for a little variety in the middle. What frustrates me is the wasted opportunity to engage with the specific story and an apparent inability of Nashville’s Christian community to engage with real life in any artistic or theological depth.

The darkest lyrics do involve demons, ambush and attacks, but it’s all abstract and defensive:
“I’ve fought these demons all my life
Voices in my mind, they attack me in the night
Hidden forces all around, gunning for my heart.
You are my hideaway.”

For those who enjoy acts like MercyMe, NEEDTOBREATHE, Warren Barfield and the like, this has much to offer, but I suspect that many familiar with the back-story will see it as a wasted opportunity.


Derek Walker

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