41. Shaded Pain – LSU


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.

  1. don
    September 12, 2011 at 5:18 pm

    Welcome back! Yay – more posts!

    I didn’t understand your use of renege, by the way.

    renege |riˈneg; -ˈnig| (also renegue)
    verb [ intrans. ]
    go back on a promise, undertaking, or contract : the administration had reneged on its election promises.

    feel free to delete this comment

  2. don
    September 12, 2011 at 5:20 pm

    meant genre I suppose

  3. Shawn McLaughlin
    September 12, 2011 at 5:58 pm

    HE’S ALIVE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  4. Shawn McLaughlin
    September 12, 2011 at 9:30 pm

    Yeah, Don….genre makes sense. Auto-correct perhaps? Late in life dyslexia from Dave?

    “Sensible pop songs” Nice description. I, however, am not usually on the same page with Knott, melodically. I liked this album for the lyrics and Knott’s commitment to the style. It was also a brave step, artistically, after the more refined “Kiss of Life”.

  5. aarjayaitch
    September 12, 2011 at 11:56 pm

    “it still remains of the finest and most important albums ever released by a Christian label.”
    This is another one of the posts where I could not agree with you more. I have loved this album ever since my first listen, and I still listen to it regularly. I had a similar reaction to Plague of Flies, “What in the world was that?! I loved it!” I would also agree that Tether To Tassel is my personal favorite, but I also especially like I’m Torn. There is never a dull moment on this all-too-short masterpiece and the haunting last song ends the disc perfectly and unforgettably.

    • September 13, 2011 at 3:41 pm

      Agreed. I about wore this out upon its release. Knott was a musical visionary. Shaded Pain was well ahead of its time.

    September 14, 2011 at 5:57 pm


  7. don
    September 14, 2011 at 9:17 pm

    I think I listened to this album, and I may even own it. If not I will.

    My memory is that the one that came out two discs after it was much more to my liking. “This is the healing”

    But all worth owning, yes sirree Mr. Doidge!

    • don
      September 14, 2011 at 9:18 pm

      (It took me awhile to appreciate the edgier but ultimately better albums in Christian rock)

  8. adam
    September 15, 2011 at 7:34 pm

    This one also took me by surprise. I was no stranger to “alternative” Christian music, but after “A Kiss of Life,” I was expecting something much more upbeat. I mean, the Lifesavors were VERY peppy before becoming Lifesavers, and Lifesavers were still pretty …. well, if LSU is “dark,” I guess the word is “light”? But the track “Free Her” from “A Kiss of Life” hinted at what was to come here…. I just don’t think the world was ready for it.

    For me, I preferred “A Kiss of Life.” I have nothing against the harder sound, and this is a very important album. And it’s not that I don’t like this album. But “Kiss of Life” was a pop classic, and I was disappointed that the pendulum had swung so far in the opposite direction. I don’t know that I ever really gave this a fair listen.

  9. Shawn McLaughlin
    September 16, 2011 at 2:13 pm

    “What about the love we never find
    Cut by the body forced to run and hide
    What about the human, the human I am inside
    How can we be forgiven if we don’t live our lives
    We throw off the shackles and then we wear the chains
    shaded pain
    we find out who we are and then we lose our names
    shaded pain.”

    This is really impacting but nothing that “should” be considered controversial. Man…..the Christian community can be dingleberries sometimes!

    September 16, 2011 at 6:20 pm

    I think dingleberries is a bad word….heh heh heh

  11. aarjayaitch
    September 16, 2011 at 11:45 pm

    Let all the people say, “Amen!”

  12. TopekaRoy
    September 17, 2011 at 2:08 am

    I walked into a Logos bookstore one day looking for the next Lifesavers album. I found the demo cassette for this record, popped it in at a listening station and heard about 30 seconds of whatever song it was cued up to. I realized I had finally found :”the cure” for boring Christian music. This is what the early Cure could have been if they had a little more talent.

    There were a lot of Christian bands pushing the boundaries of Christian music in the mid 80’s. LSU completely obliterated them with this album. It’s no surprise that Knott felt compelled to add “Underground” to the bands name with this release. It was such a radical departure from anything that other Christian bands were doing at the time. Kudos to Frontline Records for having the courage to release it.

    I would be hard pressed to come up with 5 albums that I think are better, much less 40. Nearly a quarter of a century after it’s release, this continues to be one of my all time favorite albums.

    October 5, 2011 at 12:04 pm

    If Matt Maher ever needs a guitar player…I’m there….Tom Booth sure teaches em well….

  14. StickBoy
    October 21, 2011 at 11:16 pm

    Uh, what can you say about this album that the music itself doesn’t. This is the smack-your-face lyrical and sonic assault of one of the most prolific musicians I’ve ever had the pleasure to hear. Knott cuts through the tripe and goes for the jugular, and it’s a beautiful thing every time you spin Shaded Pain.

  15. Greenchili
    January 27, 2012 at 8:44 am

    I really like the tone/sound of this album.

  1. July 12, 2012 at 12:27 pm

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