28. Doppelganger – Daniel Amos
I have mentioned in previous reviews that 1983 was just a great year for Christian Music. I can’t explain it other than the walls that held back creativity and stagnated musical expressions were crumbling. There was brilliance pouring out of the souls of many young and energetic Christian thinkers and musicians.
One of the brightest spots in an already bright year was the second in the 4-part Alarma Chronicles by stalwart CCM heroes Daniel Amos. “Doppelganger” would prove to be so groundbreaking and enigmatic that it would be several years before many would recognize its brilliance and any chance of Daniel Amos remaining in the mainstream of CCM was all but blown to smithereens. Its predecessor (Alarma) broke barriers and drove the handful of Daniel Amos country music fans away in droves: Doppelganger would eliminate the rest.
“Doppelganger” is the first haunted album in CCM history. Scary, eerie and creepy. And not a single misstep in the entire collection. Superlatives are simply lacking.
But the record is scary. It’sodd, quirky, off-key and off-kilter. There is backward masking done on purpose and links between its predecessor and it’s follow-up. There are tips of the hat TS Elliot and scathing retorts against televangelist. Few sacred cows go unskewered. Every time the listener begins to point the finger at a particular songs’ subject, he soon discover how quickly the finger is pointing back at him. It is musically and lyrically unsafe.
It is brilliant.
I had just started working at The Pink Lady bookstore when Alarma was released and I was an instant fan. I had earned a reputation as a music expert and had weaseled my way into getting advance releases from the record companies in exchange for pushing their albums. really, I just wanted to be the first to have it and would push it if it was good, anyway.
Getting an advance of Doppelganger was proving to be next to impossible. The band had switched labels and the distribution company at the time (Benson) wasn’t sure if or when the album was coming out. But as a total shock to me Terry Taylor’s home phone number was listed and i was 17 and didn’t know any better. Taylor graciously spoke with me and offered to get me a pre-release vinyl copy of the album the next day.
I met Taylor at Maranatha Village and he gave me what he thought was a test pressing of the album. What he actually gave me was a white labeled test pressing of a radio special featuring the entire album and interview notes with Taylor!
Yes, I still own it!
But what awaited me as the needle was placed in the groove was something I never expected.
The initial tie between Alarma and doppelganger comes in the opening track, “Hollow Man.” Alarma’s closing track, “Ghost of the Heart” is played backwards while the lyrics, based on TS Elliot’s poem of the same name are recited. This eerie opening, sounding like Twin Peeks meets Psychedelic Furs, set the musical, lyrical and thematic tone for the entire project.
“Mall All Over the World”, the funky bass and drum driven rocker delivers a poignant message on Westernized religious experience. Prophet Taylor appears to be addressing the “Seeker driven” churches of the 1990’s a full decade before they became all the rage. Americanized Christianity and its clamor for commercialized, me-oriented experience over community and Biblical faith are rightly criticized in fine satiric fashion.
The use of satire is a prominent fixture in Taylor’s musical expressions and is a great weapon in the arsenal of a keen mind. Others have attempted it with varied results. But as a lyrical form, satire is a very powerful and biblical expression. Allow me to recommend Douglas Wilson’s wonderful treatise on the use of satire in Scripture called “The Serrated Edge.” (google it)
The danger of satire is when the less intellectually involved misunderstand what is being clearly presented. case in point is the following song, “Real Girls.” Many unfortunately mistook Taylor’s lament of the view of women in the world and church as an attack on women, when it was clearly just the opposite. I recall a young woman coming up to Taylor at a roller rink (seriously, the gigs great bands have had to endure) and blasting into him for both his view on women and his attack on the Resurrection Band.
OK…the Resurrection Band story.
While introducing “Mall All Over the World,” Taylor joked that Rez Band clearly ripped them off with their song “Elevator Muzik” by borrowing the concept in Taylor’s lyric that states “Elevator up, escalate down.” Spending ten minutes defending oneself against attacks on something like that must just drive someone crazy!
Televangelist take the brunt of Taylor’s lyrical dagger in “New car.” The name-it-and-claim-it crew of TBN and Christian television are shown for their wasteful and wanton ways. Again, Taylor proves himself a prophet here given that the great scandals of Swaggart, Hinn, Bakker and others were many years in the future.
The masculine side of the human race receives its own treatment in “Big Boys Cry.” But here those big boys are those that present the Gospel or are involved in ministry one way of the other. Are those in the pulpit allowed to be real and feel, struggle and fail?
“Youth With a Machine” is an aggressive new wave/punk rocker that oozes pure coolness with one of Taylor’s best melodies. Modern technology is addressed well before the invention of the cell phone. The theme of how the Gospel must penetrate the soulless life that believes it has no real needs and feels little true emotion.
Doppelganger receives its title from “The Double.” A wonderful metaphor for the Biblical concept of the “old man,” the song reveals the constant struggle with the two natures we possess, the physical and spiritual. Ultimately like the Apostle Paul, Taylor understands the struggle remains until Christ rules over all.
This same theme is continued with “Distance and Direction,” a musical departure that would fit nicely on Vox Humana or Taylor’s solo projects. the beautiful and soft melody reveals that constant human struggle that is shared amongst all who honestly examine their motives and decisions.
“Memory Lane” is a personal favorite for nearly 30 years and is the first of several self-defense songs Taylor has written. Taylor was continually receiving comments and complaints from older fans that did not or would not travel with them on the musical trail the band was blazing. Very “punkish” the song once again uses some great satirical expressions. But Taylor does not leave the metaphor alone, but rather extends it to those who stay where they are spiritually, reliving past experiences and victories and never moving forward on their own spiritual trail blazing.
The satirical highlight may reside in “Angels Tuck You In.” Modern evangelicalism’s claim of the wonderful, painless Christian life is examined in brilliant sardonic fashion. Comparing the christian life to a trip to Disneyland where special little angels are there at your beackon call is scathing while the musical palette is sweet and unassuming.
The theme continues but in a much more aggressive and obvious way with “Little Crosses.” This is the one song Taylor did not have a hand in writing. This Jerry Chamberlain tune is the most guitar focused rocker musically. Modern Christendom’s love and fascination for trinkets and “Jesus Junk” as a replacement for real faith in that which cannot be seen, is given a pretty rough treatment. But for someone who worked in the Christian Bookstore industry, it is more than justified.
“Autographs For the Sick” is just plain odd. Delightfully so. Different voices speaking in various languages over a funky and quirky guitar riff with an English translator. Very Swirling eddies like. Me thinks someone was listening to Tonio K.
Though never mentioned by name, it didn’t take a genius to presume the subject of “I Didn’t Build It For Me” was Orange County mega-church Pastor and positive thinker Robert Schuller. Constructed in the late 70’s and early 80’s the massive Crystal Cathedral is either a landmark or eye-sore depending on one perspective. But the question as to the purpose of building such a structure and the proper use funds needed to do so receives firm and harsh treatment.
The albums full song closer is “Here I Am.” Born out of the previously explored theme of how we seldom ever truly connect with those with whom we share a deep and lasting bond in Christ. This real lack of true communion is sad and all too real. Placed against the backdrop of one of Taylor’s most pleasant melodies, this song of longing and hope is a fitting and natural close.
A short reprise of “Hollow Man” with differing lyrics punctuates the haunting and unforgettable message of the entire project.
Though not necessarily the very best Daniel Amos project recorded it remains my personal favorite and the one I listen to most.