A while back, Billy Corgan, rock legend and frontman of the band The Smashing Pumpkins, gave an interview in which he said that God is the future of rock n’ roll and acknowledges that this is what he has been exploring in his music lately. See the interview below:
Those are pretty big statements from someone who once sang, “God is empty just like me.” But ever since his 2003 album with the band Zwan, Billy Corgan has indeed been singing about God. His lyrics won’t always make evangelicals feel comfortable with his orthodoxy (e.g., his most recent Smashing Pumpkin release begins by addressing God alongside Hindu gods), but he also has some startlingly Christian lyrics. On that Zwan album, he comes out and sings “I declare myself of faith” (on the song “Declarations of Faith”) and ends the album by covering a hymn—yes, a hymn—“Jesus I’ve taken my cross, all to leave and follow Thee.”
All that to say, Corgan was doing more than stirring the pot in that interview. He has indeed been exploring God in his music over the last decade. None of us will feel comfortable enough with his formulations of Christian doctrine to make him our pastor, but through his music he has jumped headlong into life’s most important questions and is addressing the concepts that mean most to us Christians.
When the interviewer asks Corgan what he would say to Christian rockers, he says, “make better music.” Now, my guess is that about half of my readers will burst out laughing at that and the other half will be offended. But here’s the thing. Corgan is giving a sound bite, he’s not taking the time to qualify his statement. But he does offer some explanation. He basically says that U2 has a great sound, and that tons of Christian bands are trying to sound a lot like U2. And he’s right. To an extent.
Corgan also tells Christian musicians that Jesus would want them to make better music. Again, half are laughing, half are irritated. But think about it. Would Jesus be condescending and tell Christians their music is not as cool as The Smashing Pumpkins? Probably not. But would Jesus want every Christian to whom he has given musical abilities to make the best music they possibly can? Of course. Would he want every Christian musician to follow the same musical template? Of course not. So add a bit of salt and Corgan’s got a great point.
But here’s where I’ll add a touch of encouragement. I think many Christians are “making better music.” Sure, there are plenty of worship bands that want nothing more than to sound exactly like Hillsong and plenty of Christian musicians who want to sound just like this or that band (U2, most typically). But I’ve been encouraged recently as I’ve found several bands that I think are making more than good Christian music—they’re making good music. We’ll all disagree on which bands fall into this category, but I’m telling you they’re out there. And there are other Christians making great music that have never been invited (or have simply chosen not to enter) into the world of Christian music.
Here are some that I appreciate:
Valley Maker – This band isn’t a part of the Christian music scene, but their first (self-titled) album sings through the narratives of Genesis. Their second album also explores some great Christian themes, among other things. Both albums are very good musically.
The Welcome Wagon – I’ve written on these guys in the past. It’s a Presbyterian minister and his wife singing hymns, and yet they’re not a part of the Christian music community. But they do have a significant following in the broader music world because their music is honest, creative, and oddly compelling.
Gungor – Gungor has been around for a while, and they refuse to fit into the mold of what Christian music is supposed to sound like. I’ve enjoyed their music, but what I’d consider to be their best album just came out a few weeks ago, and I think it’s excellent.
Josh Garrels – A lot of people I know LOVE Garrels. I like him, and I genuinely enjoy his music, but I haven’t been able to get myself to love it yet (though many whose musical taste I respect do). But without a doubt, Garrels is rejecting common templates for Christian music and making some very cool music.
Future of Forestry – This band has a long history with the Christian music world. They continue to explore and evolve musically, and in my opinion, each release gets stronger. This is just my judgment, of course, but I’d say that everything since the Travel EPs has been excellent.
Neulore – I’ve only heard their first EP, but it’s songs from the Garden of Eden as Adam sings to Eve. It’s pretty cool. I don’t believe they’re part of the Christian music community, but there’s something Christian going on there.
And then there are the many Christians who are making music in the broader music scene, who are being faithful to Jesus and diligently creative in their music, but whose lyrics don’t include the word “Jesus” enough to get them a consideration under the heading “Christian music.” That’s ok.I’ve explained in the past that “Christian music” is difficult to define and that based on current definitions, many Christians will need to make music outside of that arena. But we need to acknowledge that solid Christians are out there making solid music, and have been doing so for a long time.
That list could go on, but you get the idea. We could all point to several Christian musicians who are doing what Billy Corgan challenges Christian musicians to do. Good for Corgan for calling us out, and good for many of our musicians for beating him to the punch.