74. Kiss of Life – Lifesavers
KISS OF LIFE (1986)
Trying encapsulate Mike Knott’s amazing career is just impossible, unfair and critical suicide. Lifesavors? Lifesavers? Mike Knott. Michael Knott. Lifesavers Underground? LSU? Idle Lovell? Mr. Knott has had more incarnations than Terry Scott Taylor and each of them are valid contributions to the Christian Music market.
Kiss of Life was the first time for Mike Knott and the boys to be introduced to the major Christian Music industry, with the previosuly reviewed “Dreamlife” receiving minimal distribution and promotion. . Good distribution and great radio support helped break the band in the Christian alternative scene where Knott would flourish for several years. There were several rock radio hits on this project and they found their way to the airwaves.
Let’s start this by stating the obvious. Mike Knott is a genius. He knows how to craft a fine pop tune. He knows a hook when he hears one. He is also one of the best alternative/punk/pop vocalist in the history of Christian music. But he can also be edgy, controversial and impulsive. These are all good things when creating great music.
Now I know for some it is sacrilege to chose this album as the highest ranking “Lifesavers” project as Knott himself has more than once noted he wished it never existed! I have never bothered to ask why, but I might assume the reasons would the more blatant evangelical content and the pop flavor of the album which stands out against the rest of Knott’s fiery catalog. It’s a shame since it also contains some of Knott’s most memorable offerings.
He may not be happy that this album exists, but I sure am! I know there are a ton of the “cool” fans that join Mike in their dislike of this project, but there is amazing pop tracks here that made the “underground” in Christian music much more available to the general youth kid. In that way this project is downright ground breaking!
Kiss of Life kicks off with “She’s On Fire” which sounds like something lifted off the soundtrack to the average John Hughes film. Groovy and memorable in the vein of The Psychedelic Furs it gets the album off to a great start with the story of a “girl” that has found that one true love, a love greater than one finds exclusively on earth.
“I Pray You Pray” could have been an anthem for Christian High School kids going through early romances and never knowing what is right in God’s eyes. Those struggles are universal and what looks from the outset to be an easy answer truly isn’t when examined deeper. The pitfalls of relationships for Christians has been a constant struggle but few artist have ever dared to broach the subject.
A personal favorite is “I Can’t Wait.” Musically in the vein of Knott’s Idle Lovell project, which is why it also appears on that project, this melancholy and longing refrain is haunting and beautiful. It is hard to tell whether this is written primarily to a love lost or from the heart of one who longs to be with Christ, but it appears both themes are present.
The album fluctuates between mid-tempo ballads and straight ahead rockers. What is distinctly missing from this project is the punk rock that dominated the first two projects and the darker, more aggressive guitars of later projects. This is filled with much more of a pop sensibility. Closer to the aforementioned Psychedelic Furs as well as bands like The Cure and The Waterboys, there is an immediate likability to the project, but it stands out because of just how well it has stood up against fashions, fads and time.
One songs that stands out in the tradition of the Cure, et al is “Highway to Zion.” Knott’s penchant for a great chorus and his sexy, slurred vocals make the song memorable on many levels.
One unique stand out on the project is the ballad “Dreamin’.” I was working at a local radio station in Southern California and we would occasionally branch out beyond the normal Christian Adult Contemporary with artists like Steve Taylor, The 77′s and Charlie Peacock. I pestered the Program Director, literally begging him to give the song a listen. He was familiar with the band and of their live concert reputation, so I didn’t make much progress. Finally to get me off his back he let me play the first 30 seconds of the song for him. It was added to the station rotation that afternoon!
Dreamin’ is a breezy and warm tune with a killer sax solo and unforgettable chorus. It made some inroads into the more pop and adult contemporary radio formats that would never even touched the Lifesavers previously. Knott here expresses the innate desire amongst believers to be with the one who truly loves them at all times.
Another relationship song worth noting is “Love Boy Love Girl.” Another song that should have made it on to a movie soundtrack, Love Boy Love Girl is about sa well crafted a pop song as anything Knott has ever written. But it also addresses sexual purity and cultures rejection of universal truths and norms.
There is a very faithful cover of The Byrds “Turn, Turn, Turn,” which has to be the most often covered song by Christian artists in history. The heaviest and darkest songs follows with “We Live For The Son” and “Free Her.” These songs would hint at what would soon follow with the creation of LSU.
“We Live for the Son” takes its inspiration from both the late 60’s blues bands and the later 70’s punk influenced ones. As a Psychedelic Furs fan at the time, I just hear so much of what they were doing on the less commercial offerings here.
“Free Her” is the heaviest and darkest song on the project. Knott’s vocals are more aggressive and strained with a range from a guttural growl to a borderline scream. It is also the most interesting musically on the entire project. But I never recall seeing the song performed live for some reason.
The album concludes with the worshipful “See Me Fall.” Long before the invent of the modern worship music phenomenon and bands like Sonicflood and Delirious, bands like the Lifesavers, Undercover and the Altar Boys would write worshipful melodies within their artistic framework. In fact, many of these bands would add a “worship set” to their concerts long before it became the norm.That is the case here.
This song also has one the greatest sax solos in CCM history.
As stated above I understand there are many that simply do not like this album because it was too evangelical, not edgy enough or for a host of other reasons. But is is also the most accessible, cohesive and memorable album. Even on Knott’s more aggressive offering, there is always a true pop sensibility, it is just more dramatically presented and compelling here.