But before we get to that–
You should be writing reviews. You like the freedom to choose books and music without some focus-group-driven-middleman telling you what’s “good?” You enjoy the digital world’s capacity for instant gratification? You want to help that author or artist that stirred your soul?
Write. A. Damn. Review.
In the digital world, your word carries weight. You have clout. Use it.
Okay, now where was I…oh yeah.
John McKenna’s New Blue Sky–you guessed it–a review.
John McKenna’s New Blue Sky represents what happens when hard rock’s passion grows up and develops, instead of becoming a parody of itself. An album that took seven years to record, filled with songs penned over the course of nearly twenty years, New Blue Sky’s music manages to show you where it’s been without giving up its soul.
I don’t know if the album will, as McKenna says, change your DNA, but listening to these songs feels damn good. When using digital technology to sketch landscapes for the ear, it’s easy to lose the balance between what can be done with technology and what should be done. Yet, on this album, every instrument, sound, and fill strikes the ear as natural and thoughtfully arranged.
Like all of McKenna’s work, New Blue Sky is a concept album. It begins by examining the price we’ve already paid by exchanging our dreams of love for the cold currency of emotional safety. It then sets about exploring the possibilities for reclaiming those dreams and making them real.
Track one, “End Game,” introduces a sacrificial hero prepared to come back and show you the way if he lives through his own journey. Because he will …take the chances you won’t take… he can teach you how to feel. In the next track, “The House,” the narrator’s opening lesson is that the past where you were born and chained is nothing more than paper and glass.
The first thing that saves the album’s concept from hubris is the flawed humanity of the narrating voice. The “Rainbow Train’s” imagery of blood and razors sheds light on the shadows that inspire one to reject institutions of prescribed thought and choose the path of introspection instead. That internal exploration begins with a symbolic death and emergent rebirth in “Buried Under Winter.”
The second thing that saves this album from hubris is that the narrator, after his sojourn through night and winter, may actually be able to deliver on his initial claim. The first time I tried to listen to the sixth track’s “Purple Music,” I was at work and had to turn it off. The song spoke so directly to who and how I have become that I could not surrender my initial experience with it to just a casual listen.
With “That Look” the narrator shares introspection’s discovery that figuring out how to feel means developing the capacity to feel entirely alone. “Maybe One Day” offers both a shared sense of vulnerability and the hope that we can dream the world into how it should be.
The climax of the concept’s narrative comes with “When you See Me.” The voices of the sacrificial hero and the flawed man are united with the listener in the common cause of our shared desire for agape, the absolute acceptance of spiritual love. And yet, with “Maybe Love” the narrator sacrifices his hero’s mantle, and agape circles back to the fragile uncertainty of eros. He finds peace by embracing the storms and tides of a more personal kind of love.
The album’s final song exhorts us to stop looking for an external hero to do for us that which we can only do for ourselves. It exhorts us to stand, open our hands, and bring the light simply by showing others that it can be done.