COOL HAND LUKE The Sleeping House(Lujo)
Christian rock music is a curious thing. On the one hand, you have Christians who shudder at the slightest hint of an electric guitar, who still brandish about fiercely old burnt Beatles records and who insist that rock and roll is the work of the devil. On the other hand, you have Christians of postmodern design and thinking who insist that rock music is the church’s way of remaining relevant and contemporary to modern day pop culture. Regardless of where you stand on this issue, the undeniable fact is that for some time now, Christian rock bands have been slowly edging their way into the mainstream, and no other record illustrates this point better than rock band Cool Hand Luke with their fifth album, The Sleeping House.
Following in the footsteps of radio-friendly Christian bands such as Switchfoot, Relient K and The Fray, Cool Hand Luke present an album that is by turns, liquid and expansive in sound with broad strokes of cinematic color, with an edgy darkness though that sets this album apart from previous efforts. Lyrically, Mark Nicks explores themes of faith, hope and sacrifice, all Christian standards, but with a raw edge born out of a palpable desperation that could be interpreted either as the fervor of faith or the confession of doubt.
The Sleeping House starts off with the liquid minute-and-a-half introduction entitled Fast Asleep, with lovely lush melting soundscapes that is reminiscent of U2 during their experimental 90s, though without the electronica infatuation. It’s a indicator to the strength of the sonic identity of the album that when the second track, Cast Your Bread started, I was blithely oblivious, still thinking that it was a very long first track I was listening to.
Cast Your Bread itself is a riddle of piano hooks and compelling vocals. Different elements work together to frame the central question of the lyrics and album, a paradoxical refrain drawn from biblical language used to demonstrate the principle of sacrifice and divine reward. The excellent track is followed by a driving mid-tempo rocker in the form of Failing In Love, as well as the thought-provoking Buy The Truth, which, though it covers no new ground with its message of spirituality over materialism, is worth the price of admission just for the piano melodies and cleverly crafted lyrics.
This being Cool Hand Luke’s first release to the general secular public, it’s a bold move by the band, then, not to downplay the complexity of their lyrics. Instead, Mark Nicks openly discusses themes that might be alien to modern radio. Eye Of The Storm, for example, stands as a quietly defiant track to the conventional wisdom of blaming God for sorrow and suffering. Built upon flowing piano hooks, it weaves its way through the various stages of loss before defiantly choosing to believe even in the face of tremendous sorrow. Incomprehensible Sleep is a compelling, reverberating track set in the mind of Jesus Christ, giving a nakedly personal and relatable perspective to the central figure of the album. “Don’t listen to the silence,” sings Nicks, before going on to plead, “Don’t you know that I will never lead you astray?” It makes for an interesting companion piece to U2’s 1991 Achtung Baby track, Until The End Of The World, which was set as a conversation between Judas Iscariot and Jesus Christ.
If there’s a downside to the artful manner in which Cool Hand Luke have gone about constructing their fifth studio LP, it’s that the whole is so much more than the sum of its parts. The Sleeping House stands as a liquid, organic collection; themes and lyrics echo and flow into each other in a way that demands for one to take the album as a whole to be able to fully appreciate the lyrical ideas sketched out in this album. Though the album is reminiscent strongly of radio favorites U2, Radiohead and Coldplay, The Sleeping House lacks the pop discipline to truly craft a single that stands as a compelling song of its own, and that is probably Cool Hand Luke’s single failure here. Still, they have managed to create a piece of music that brims with thought-provoking lyricism and edgy instrumentation, and for that they should be applauded.
(Samuel C Wee)