41. Shaded Pain – LSU
SHADED PAIN (1987)
LSU (Lifesavers Underground)
“Mr. Frontline Rep…do you have a return authorization form with you?”
I heard the above phrase more than a handful of times soon after the release of “Shaded Pain” by owners of Christian bookstores who were offended, outraged and incensed over the content and sound of the “debut” Lifesavers Underground project. After the safe and strong selling Lifesaver album, “Kiss of Life,” the dark and “scary” Shaded pain was too much for an industry still dominated by Carman, Amy Grant and Sandi Patty.
Shaded Pain is the polar opposite to “Kiss of Life.” Where the latter was filled with pop laden, hook filled “new wave” with hopeful images and even a radio single, the former is dark, post-punk, Gothic and filled with images of loss, death and darkness.
A testament to the sheer brilliance and remarkable talent of LSU ring-leader, Michael Knott, both albums are spectacular within their own realms. A closer listen to both shows an artist in transition and one clearly at the top of his game. Knott’s artistry is shown also in the albums artwork, which many stores complained was “scary” and laden with phallic symbols (seriously!).
It would not be long, though, before those same stores re-ordered the project as it’s word of mouth, “underground” following built sales pressure on the industry. It also wasn’t long before it was considered the finest alternative album of the year and is now considered one of the finest in its renege. There is no way to exhaust the superlatives in relation to this project.
Lost, though, in the discussion of the dark and eerie content is Knott’s remarkable penchant for memorable hooks and unforgettable melodies. In fact, when one strips away the images and ethereal, dark tones guitar and vocals, the album is really a wonderful collection of sensible pop songs filtered through a darker and more transparent songwriting style.
Chris Brigandi (Lifters, Wild Blue Yonder) produced the album for pennies and deserves kudos for breaking barriers and giving Knott the room to breathe here. Brian Doidge’s guitar is spot and really drives the messages with a fierce and uncontrolled abandon. This is punk rock in the most conservative, defining way; one in which the freedom to express both lyrically and musically the angst and furor of youth with no restrictions.
To be thanked for this amazing contribution to the CCM world, Knott was marginalized, criticized and repudiated by bookstores, many in the CCM press and radio shrieked in horror. Fans and critics, though, would herald Knott for many years to follow as the most important figure in his genre, on par with Terry Scott Taylor and Mike Roe. But for all the recognition and praise, this would remain his finest hour.
The albums kicks off with the most “pop” song on the disc. It is the closest thing to “Kiss of Life” and would serve as a bridge between the two albums. But the content would never have flown on the previous release, as its theme of death and “crossing over to the other side” would set the mood for the entire project and remain a constant theme throughout. I guess one can address the theme safely on countless Southern Gospel and Negro Spirituals, but the theme is off-limits in white, suburban Christianity.
The common spiritual theme of the old man and the sinful nature is addressed in uncommon darker themes in “Bye Bye Colour.” The grace-filled world in its colorful display is replaced a blue, blue heart. One can feel the coldness in the music that couples the songs lyrical theme.
The same theme remains on “Die Baby Die” where the protagonist must confront the old nature and kill it, in no uncertain themes. The lyrics are rather limited, so here it is all about passion and performance. I cannot say for sure this is Knott’s finest vocal expression, but I cannot think of any that are better. He lets loose and screams with an abandon that fits the mood and sense of the song like few others of its contemporaries.
Love lost and spiritual reckoning combine thematically in the silky and eerie, “Lonely Boy.” The guitar work here is fantastic both in its subtle moments and at the points in which it is the primary focus. Winding and whirling, Doidge’s work is the perfect accompaniment to Knott’s pained expressions.
Even on the albums most optimistic song, “Our Time Has Come,” the theme of spiritual awakening amidst a failing Church, the call is to “kiss the clever.” Knott never made it easy on himself here. The imagery in this song may be the finest on the whole project. Borrowing from Revelation’s judgment scene, the song embraces God’s judgment as one that purifies and brings life in the harvest time.
The personal favorite from the album is “Tether to Tassel.” Though I would never want to read too much (or not enough) into the lyrical content here, I recognize themes of graduation and being forced into the real world (prison to Bastille) where one is responsible for their own faith and decisions. A more hook oriented riff, the chorus sticks long after the fade.
“I’m Torn” sounds like a refugee from the Idle Lovell project and continues the albums rich theme of loss, death and struggle in this world while yearning for the next.
The sheer radical abandon of “Plague of Flies” was actually how I was first introduced to this project. Mike MacLane of Frontline Records called me into his office and played the original demo for me. Like many, my initial response was “what the crap was that?” It was not very often that the expression “balls to the wall” would fit in a review from a CCM artist, but that is exactly what the song is/was. I loved all 87 seconds of it!
“Plague of Flies” bleeds immediately into “More to Life,” a song that is best described as “fearless.” A full force attack on false ministries and a Church that is inward focused and loveless. Knott cries out that there must be more than these Godless ministers and ministries bastardizing the name of Christ.
The title track closes the album, and ironically, is the mellowest song on the album. Accompanied by a dark and lonely acoustic piano melody, Knott’s “echoed” vocals are poignant and pain-filled. A brilliant close to the darkness that preceded it, the song sounds more like a funeral dirge than altar call. There is no Aesop’s Fable moral to the story here. Knott does not cop-out with common “christianese” to placate the CCM world, but rather he continues the questions without resolution.
It would be a few years before the album would receive the cult-like status it now holds, but some 25 years later, it still remains of the finest and most important albums ever released by a Christian label.