“We’ve been through so much. Lost and gained some trust.”
To say Derek Webb’s musical journey has been tumultuous might be an understatement. My introduction to the artist began with my freshman year of college, when he was touring in support of The Ringing Bell. I didn’t attend the show (I know, I know) but knowledge of the tour did spur me into taking advantage of a free download of that album. I later dove into Stockholm Syndrome and Ctrl, both exploratory records in their own right. The former caused some prominent Christian music blogs to delve out the bad ratings, seemingly just because of the use of the word “shit” in one song.
Fingers Crossed has been heralded as a record that could alienate some of Webb’s remaining CCM demographic fans once and for all. Sonically, this record definitely does not fit the CCM sound, but most of Webb’s records haven’t. Just a few tracks in, I find my mindset somewhere between the minimalistic darkness of alt-J’s Relaxer record and contemplative folk.
If you follow Webb, you’ve probably heard about how well “The Spirit Bears The Curse” lampoons worship music with cliche lyrics that can easily be applied to [insert your idol here]. The twist at the end of the song, paired with a very familiar sounding worship song climax, made me uncomfortable even though I knew it was coming. Well done.
Also, if you know Webb’s journey through faith and personal transitions the past few years the subject matter of these songs is painfully obvious. Yet, in songs like “I Will” relatable words like “I’m haunted by the love I couldn’t save” are bound to stand out to many. As that organ emerges in the bridge of the song, I can help but wonder what memories this song will evoke in those that listen. The most haunting moment for me wasn’t a word – it was the glitchy climax of “Dodged a Bullet,” in which the electronic effects evoked gunfire in my mind. My mind drifted to the tragedy in Las Vegas. I wonder if anyone who died at that concert was in the midst of unresolved conflict. Whose inner turmoil is eternally hovering the air in a macabre question mark?
The album’s sparseness is present in a way that transcends the subject matter of each song. Back to back holiday-themed songs “Chasing Empty Mangers” and “Easter Eggs” are relevant to their respective times of year but hardly festive, and fit in well to Webb’s narrative of vulnerability and struggle.
In spite of the album’s bleakness, musical nuggets in the vein of Ctrl and Stockholm Syndrome keep us from sinking too low. These songs aren’t enjoyable for their danceability. Any creative beats are meant to be simply thus – a backbone meant to keep us alert and focused on what Webb has to say.
It was during “Easter Eggs” that I thought to myself, “You know, I could have a thousand conversations over beer with Derek and still be nowhere near done exploring the content of this record.” I’d like to get to know him better, not as a musician I look up to, but as a fellow struggling human. Fingers crossed that happens someday.