"Mockingbird" is Derek Webb's latest love potion: a mirror, emetic, and trail mix for the Christian wandering this modern landscape. A very consistent effort, it examines personal and societal obligations through the lens of love. Surprisingly engaging, it boasts a number of songs worth adopting.
The Content: Touted as an album about "God, politics, and social issues," as suggested by Webb on his "How to Kill and Be Killed" DVD, "Mockingbird" presents meditations on the truth and consequences of love. Webb presents love as an act of intense loyalty to the Savior and those He loves. In that context, politics, the art of getting along with other people, becomes sacred business, and having songs of love and politics rub shoulders becomes quite natural.
"Mockingbird" is the confessional opener, presenting Webb's search for authenticity, truth, and solid ground in this world of many songs. "A New Law" is a powerful plea for an uncomplicated life, presumably referencing John 13:34. "A King and a Kingdom" is a genuine rallying cry that veers into truly frightening territory--in my mind, the most powerful song on the album. "I Hate Everything (But You)" was co-written by Webb's wife, Sandra McCracken, and it's a good one, a nice love song. With love and allegiance surveyed, "Rich Young Ruler" and "My Enemies are Men Like Me" tackle poverty and war powerfully, in part through the eyes of the Savior. I don't quite get "Zeroes and Ones" yet--the lack of a lyrics sheet doesn't help. "In God We Trust" is a simple meditation on trusting God--and oh there are many situations worth noting here. "Please, Before I Go" is a pretty little love song. "Love is Not Against the Law" summarizes what came before.
The Music: The tunes are melodically simple, the arrangements clean and interesting, and the vocals affecting. Much tighter than previous efforts, it holds up well to repeated listenings from start to finish. "A Consistent Ethic of Human Life" is an instrumental touchstone that features strings, brass, and bells, providing an important structural framework for the album. (For example, if you hear horn and trumpet, expect love to be an important theme of the song.) Their presence makes this album a much richer experience. "Rich Young Ruler" boasts an electric guitar solo! but not by Derek Webb, alas. (I do wish he would make a more electric guitar-driven album with solos done by himself.) Overall, this might be Derek's best solo effort, musically.
Concerns: "A King and a Kingdom": Webb has been very concerned about Christians making Jesus into their own image (see, for example, "I Repent" from ISTUD: "by domesticating you until you look just like me"), and the "white Middle Class Republican" line is quite in keeping with that. (Many Sunday School materials show Jesus as a cute white guy with long hair. Some black churches portray Jesus as being black. This sort of thing is not uncommon and worth noting.) As with the use of "whore" in "Wedding Dress" from SMASGF, Webb uses "hell" quite literally--shock value, but not profanity, intended: i.e. sure as hell is real, our enemy is _____. "My Enemies Are Men Like Me": Though naive on the surface, it acquires its power from the eye-opening stanza about Jesus' example. Most of these songs paraphrase or imply Scripture (e.g. "Mockingbird": Matthew 12:43-45 and Mark 5:9-10.) and merit careful consideration. Webb lets you know where he's coming from--search the Scriptures to see if he's on target or not.
Impression: This is Derek Webb's most accessible album to date. The music is attractive though not ground-breaking. The lyrics are thought-provoking. For those who appreciate Webb's efforts to promote self-examination, this is a must-have and food for thought.
Also recommended: Keller's "A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23," which echoes the high view of the Lord presented in the album. Also check out Sandra McCracken's new album, "The Builder and the Architect," a fine collection of hymns dressed in contemporary garb and a good counterweight to Derek's output.