Album Review :
Cool Hand Luke - The Fires of Life

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Artist: Cool Hand Luke
Album: The Fires of Life
Label: Floodgate Records
Release Date: May 25, 2004
Review by: Michael Mayer III

Tracklisting:

  1. Skydive
  2. The Foster
  3. Rats in the Cellar
  4. Cinematic
  5. I’m Not Ready
  6. Sequence #3
  7. Friendly Jas
  8. I’m Not Running
  9. The Zombie Song
  10. Rest for the Weary
  11. The Fires of Life

Wow. Sometimes the simplest of music can be the most powerful. It can also have the most depth without having a thousand instruments going on at once. The lyrics of Cool Hand Luke are a major reason for the depth of what, on the surface, may seem simple. The acoustic guitar and piano is the focus in a good amount of these songs and sets the tone for a very atmospheric and moving album. As far as vocals go Radiohead and Tool certainly come to mind. Mark’s voice is soothing and in ‘Rats in the Cellar’ he channels his inner Maynard (Tool). Make no mistake though, Cool Hand Luke have their own sound and aren’t anywhere near as depressing. Even better, there’s a great use of backing vocals by the band that add to the emotion. Most songs may start off slow but they usually erupt at some point. All of it is done with great build-ups to high climaxes that really deliver. The pseudo-love song ‘Friendly Jas’ is a good example of this as it just explodes halfway through.

I really feel I should talk more about the lyrics though. I can’t overstate how amazing they are and contribute to this being a great album. The best example is ‘The Zombie Song’, a title that seems weird when you look at it but once you listen it all makes sense. Mark compares some people’s walk with Christ as if they are the living dead, going through the motions and taking all they have been given for granted. In the aforementioned ‘Rats In the Cellar’, which they cite a C.S. Lewis work as inspiration, Mark sings of sins we try to hide in the dark but ultimately get exposed, as they need to be, in order for us to move on and overcome. ‘Cinematic’ is another moving piece that compares our life to a movie on the silver screen. One verse claims “I want to live in such a way/That when I’m gone my friends would say/That if my life was turned to film/I’d be standing on a mountain shouting victory in the end”. At the end there are great thought-provoking questions sung: “What if it ended here?/What if the credits rolled now?/What would the critics say?/Would it be the biggest let down?” This song caused me to think about those powerful questions about my own life so props to them on that.

‘I’m Not Ready’ is a painful admittance of how little we realize the expensiveness of that price that was paid for our souls. The somber tone of the piano sets the stage and Mark’s voice sounds small somehow. If that was done on purpose then they really nailed this track as far as production goes. Sometimes we need a good dose of self reflection to know just where we stand in all of this and how to better ourselves. This song tells that story in each verse. It starts off with:

“Every time I read that story again
I wanna run and take the nails out
You remind me that those nails are mine
Once and for all to the end”

By the end there is that realization that a change is needed and there is a release of will as Mark lets his voice go and the guitars come to life behind him:

“I’ve been fighting against myself
And I’ve torn myself to pieces
I hear You calling, God, I hear You calling
“Stand up, stand up
And spend yourself for Jesus”
Too long have I been chained
I’m ready Jesus, set me free”

The Fires of Life is about as spiritual of an album as you can get and there’s no doubt in my mind that Cool Hand Luke is one of the best in the business lyrically. This is the type of band that deserves more recognition than they get. Not so much for the fame as the fact that more people need to hear what they have to say. It is the type of album that could change lives if the conditions are right. They even give scriptures at certain points in the lyrics found in the art booklet. Everything about this release feels cohesive.

Overall: The bottom line is this is a challenging, eye-opening album that is so very rewarding if you take the time to dig a little into what is being said. It’s honest and thought-provoking, in all the best ways, made all the more potent with the beautiful composition of the music. However, it is a bit of a softer album and at times that can lose the listener’s interest if they aren’t paying full attention since most of it has the same vibe. Even then it can be addictive just because of the vocals and piano melodies. To those who dig deep enough, this may very well be considered an artistic masterpiece as Mark paints a new picture with every song’s brilliant imagery. It is their best release to my ears.

Gems of this album are: ‘Rats In the Cellar’, ‘Cinematic’, ‘Friendly Jas’, ‘The Zombie Song’

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