80. The Innocence Mission – The Innocence Mission
THE INNOCENCE MISSION (1989)
The Innocence Mission
Everything about this album is simply beautiful.
From the stylish cover to the angelic quality of lead vocalist Karen Paris’ voice and from the ethereal melodic qualities to the lyrics fresh and surprising, the whole album reeks of beauty. Informed by their Catholic upbringing, the band demonstrates a love for the mystical and the iconic throughout.
Unlike their more popular Protestant contemporaries, Paris seems unafraid of the mystery that shrouds humanities relationship with God and one another. Both are dealt with a length on this amazing debut release.
Formed during the early to mid-1980’s when band members met each other at their High school, The Innocence Mission is really the table dressing for the songwriting prowess of lead vocalists Karen Pris and musician husband, Don. The other musicians have come and gone over the years leaving the Paris’ as the focal members of the group.
On the debut under consideration here Paris was responsible for writing or co-writing every song on the album.
The album starts with the one minute plus “Paper Dolls.” Here the ethereal and atmospheric quality of both the music and the vocals are introduced. Oddly enough, the song is about seeing our childhood heroes for who they truly are and the loss of innocence associated with that common reality.
“Black Sheep Wall” remains a personal favorite and the haunting melody never wavers. At times Paris’ voice falls into a sound similar to Maria McKee’s without the gusto. The black sheep here is reminded that there is still a shepherd out there in the field.
“Surreal” should have been a hit for the day. The 10,000 Maniacs and Sixpence type style was right in line with this song. Perhaps a few years later and it could have been. At times the band is noticeably ahead of itself musically.
It appears Paris’ brother was getting married and the family did not know the girl. “Curious” deals with those struggles of wondering about this new family member. There is a touch of warm humor here that is very inviting.
“Clear to You” will most likely remind many of artists like “Iona.” The atmospheric, though not quite Celtic, sound is so entrapping. Sounding almost like a hymn we are informed of one who hears, sees and knows all. And this same one is there to catch you when you fall and mourn.
The most commercial sounding song of the bunch is “Mercy” and I have always been surprised by the limited Christian rock radio response to the song. This song of God’s mercy is, well, just beautiful. For those in Christ there are no fires of hell, only mercy.
My wife has always loved “Broken Circle” and its powerful message of the need for family unity while decrying the fast paced life that separates one from another. One of the more “simple” songs on the album, the limited background instrumentation really brings the message to the forefront.
The unabashedly U2 inspired “I remember Me” is replete with Edge like guitar riff and the most powerful drumming on the album. “You Chase the Light” is just the opposite with a return to almost exclusively piano as the musical landscape. But the song also contains the best hook in a chorus on the project.
“Notebook” is my favorite lyrically. Here the artistic endeavors of a writer and painter are seen as having to do “real” jobs to make the rent. the painter must paint house, but he seen “coming to life” when he is front of his canvas. This desire of the artist in unquenchable.
What was hinted at previously comes to the forefront here with a much more obvious Celtic influence on “Come Around and See Me.” That is until the chorus where Paris’ best vocals show up with a sassy soulfulness.
Paris is really a poet trapped in the body of a singer. Her “Wonder of birds” is simply enchanting and mesmerizing. Oh, to reach the heights of a bird and feel the freedom associated with flight. Paris expresses this desire for her art to find that similar freedom of expression, and she does so in such a beautiful fashion. But here she couches it another song that should have been a radio hit.
The album closes with “Medjugorje.” I remember hearing a customer at a Christian Bookstore complain to the manager about them carrying the album because of the Catholic inspired lyric. The very short song is a fitting end to the beautiful album. I’ve always hoped that customer picked up a certain Swirling Eddies album.
Few albums among my collection are as consistently stunning and beautiful as this project. I doubt many in the future will reach its heights.