Song of the Day: the violet burning - Song of the Harlot

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Many people nowadays have a love-hate relationship with worship music. It can sometimes be too simplistic, or based on shallow theology, yet believers have a real desire to connect with the Lord through music. The so-called Modern Worship movement has both helped and hindered this process. While it’s outside of our purposes here to give an overview of the practical, musical, and theological ramifications of modern worship music, let’s take a look at an early innovator.

the violet burning (lower case intentional) started out as a hard-edged alternative rock band with both goth and post-punk tendencies. They released a critically-acclaimed and well-received debut called Chosen, before changing directions for their sophomore effort.

Strength was really difficult to pigeonhole when it came out. It lacked any of the harder-sounding rocks songs of the debut, and even scarcely could be considered “rock,” instead opting for layers of ethereal guitars and ambient soundscapes. This was less an album to rock out to and more like adeep reservoir to dive into.

But it wasn’t just the music that set Stength apart. Lyrically, it was a full-on worship album. To my knowledge, this hadn’t really been done before. These weren’t evangelistic lyrics (like their alternative predecessors in the 80s), nor social commentary, nor even praise choruses–as was becoming so popular in the early 90s. This was a full-on alternative rock worship opera. And the lyrical depth was incredible. Take our featured song, for instance. It begins by telling the story of the prostitute who washed Jesus’ feet with expensive perfume, but then draws an all-too-personal comparison:

My life–sorrows kissed my lonely heart
Fear of man tears me apart
And I try–but many times I’ve loved the world
So many times I’ve been the whore
And I’ve cried a million tears or maybe more
So many times I have been the whore

I will fall down on my knees
And I will sing
I love you Lord, I love you Lord
I will weep
I love you Lord, I love you Lord

And my tears will fall down at your feet
Let me smother them with kisses
Let me dry them with my hair

If I could be anyone at all
If I could be anyone at all
Just let me be–the whore at your feet

I’m trying to imagine a scenario today in which lyrics this honest, this raw, and dare I say this intimate, could be sung in a corporate worship setting. And at the same time, this album–usually unrecognized–is probably the earliest example what became initially known as Alternative Worship and later, more sanitised version, Modern Worship (with parallels in Britain from Deleriou5?) The band has mostly gone back to creating excellent alternative rock, but have dabbled in worship here and there. Regardless of what genre or lyrical emphasis they’ve focused on, they’ve never shied away from writing and singing about humanity in all of its glory and all of its ugliness. In my mind this puts them in great company with the biblical psalmist. Rocking out and worshipping God seems very much a King David thing to do.

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Timo Cuoco
August 1, 2020 12:48 am

I agree whole heartily. I helped out a couple years ago Michael Pritzl for his next full length. You have awesome reviews and help me think of our Lord Jesus. This is THE REASON why IVM exits. Alternative music that glorifies our SAVIOUR. I remember the first song I heard back in the 90s Undone I heard on an indie Christian rock station in Springfield MO where I fell in love with Christian music & haven’t strayed since. Thanx for your review dude!

Last edited 2 days ago by Timo Cuoco