I spent this last weekend listening to the 2006 release of +44, When Your Heart Stops Beating. For those of you unfamiliar with +44, they are the supposed Phoenix rising from the ashes of the now dissolved Blink 182. Just before the split both Travis Barker (drums) and Mark Hoppus (bass) were working on a side project with Barker’s other former bandmates from The Transplants. The side-project quickly became their sole focus in the aftermath of the Blink break-up. The album is, I am sure, refreshing to Blink fans who were somewhat disappointed with Tom Delonge’s new project Angels & Airwaves. In fact, the reason it is perhaps so refreshing for Blink fans is the reason that I felt compelled to write.
+ 44 sounds pretty much like a carbon copy of Blink 182. Their songs may be a bit more “mature” in the sense that Hoppus doesn’t sing about “seeing girls after class” and “farts,” but the style and sound are almost identical (with the exception, perhaps, of “Make You Smile”).
This commonality sent me off on a trail of thought: why is it that artists are considered good if they remain the same? Shouldn’t there be a level of maturation, development of skill, style, and general growth as musicians that attracts audiences. Why is it that so few artists actually grow over the years? I think of bands like MxPx and Green Day who always sound exactly the same (this is perhaps more a problem of “punk” music than any other style). But even more popular “rock” bands like The Rolling Stones and Aerosmith don’t show any real growth for all their years at the wheel of their music.
In an age where genre identification is increasingly hard (think of labels like “Post-Hardcore,” and bands like Showbread who classify themselves as “raw rock”), one can’t help but wonder if musicians are still settling for the pragmatic. Whatever worked on their last album must be good for this one. One can hardly blame them: we live in a culture of pragmatism, and for the most part fans continue to buy what they like and don’t do much venturing into the unknown.
But I wonder if it strikes more at the heart of a Christian appreciation of art to view the advantageous and the “boldly new” as better than the “old stand by.” Whatever one might think of the lyrics of Derek Webb he’s gone in a direction stylistically that is vastly different than Caedmon’s Call. And whatever one might say of Relient K’s “Deathbed” the song is a fresh take for a standard “pop-punk,” “Christian” band.
I confess my own thoughts on this subject are as immature and undeveloped as + 44’s sound is, and there will be more questions from this topic than answers. But I can’t help but wonder: Is it more “Christian” for an artist to pursue maturation, development, and creativity of his style and skill than to simply reproduce what worked last album. I think it must be if to be made in the image of God means partly to be instilled with the power to be creative and reflect the beautiful. A Theology of art seems to cry out for continued growth and development and not reproduction. It’s a lesson that is certainly for Christians, but I must advise + 44 to pick up on it too!
And for those of us who are musical consumers, let me recommend that you take an adventure into the unknown every now and again and learn to appreciate the progressive development of musical skill and to step outside the comforts of your favorite genre. In so doing you just might catch a glimpse of some truly beautiful music, and not a reproduction of last year’s somewhat decent work. You might just learn to see the beauty of our creative God as well, who makes no two things identical!