25. In Another Land – Larry Norman
IN ANOTHER LAND (1976)
“In Another Land” is the best selling Larry Norman album. It was also the first of Norman’s albums to released by a “Christian” record company. But it would was not the first, not would it be the last album in Norman’s career that faced censorship, delays, album cover controversies and bookstore blacklisting.
It is also many fans “favorite” album. I would argue it is clearly Norman’s most “commercial” release and is loaded with Norman “hits.” Actually hits is unfair since CCM radio avoided Norman like the plague during his entire five decade career. So, let’s just say it is filled with Norman “favorites.”
Like many Norman album the preceded and followed its release, “In Another land” contains songs that were also on other projects in similar or completely differing versions. Here, though, most songs receive a wonderful treatment and very high production standards. Jon Linn plays guitar and comedian Dudley Moore plays piano. Randy Stonehill makes his customary appearance and even John Michael Talbot serves as a guest musician.
many argue this is Norman’s most “Christian” album. As the third part of a trilogy that included “Only Visiting This Planet” (present) and “So Long Ago the Garden” (past), “In Another land” was Norman’s attempt to consider the future from a Biblical perspective. As a result Norman believes people understood the album’s material to be more “Christian” because he did not stray from his view of what the Bible says about the future. The album is, in a sense, an eschatological theological tract set to music.
Norman, like most musicians and modern evangelical churches at that, was directly influenced by the popular eschatological ideology of Dispensationalism. Hal Lindsey’s “The Late, Great Planet Earth” was immensely popular and the Jesus Movement was in full swing with a decidedly “rapture ready” point of view. This basic belief system would impact the albums content like no other single idea. Even the album cover of Norman standing on a hillside with an artistic rendering of Revelation’s “New Jerusalem” would serve as a backdrop for nearly every song on the project.
But leave it to Norman to kick off the album with a controversial defense of Christian rock with “The Rock That Doesn’t Roll.”. Though more subtle than “Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music,” the songs reference to Jesus being a “rock” that doesn’t “roll” was obvious enough for several Christian bookstores to refuse to carry the album. That added with Norman’s obviously unGodly long blonde hair splashed across the cover didn’t help. One foolish “backward masking guru” even tried to argue that Norman’s thumbs were “reversed” on the album cover, a clear Satanic presence! (uh, serious!)
The song itself is pure Norman brilliance. Rollicking and fun, the song would have been a great addition to his follow up, “Something New Under the Son.” Jon Linn’s blistering guitar work once again here shows he was Christian music’s greatest unsung rock guitar god.
The countrified “I Love You” is more Southern Rock than cowboy music, but the slide guitar and harmonized vocals made the song especially appealing. Despite the emotional, business and relational woes that impacted Norman and Stonehill soon following this release, no two people ever harmonized as well that didn’t share the same last name. This shows wonderfully here. It also makes sense given that the song is actually a randy Stonehill song that appears on his “Born Twice” debut. The lyrics, though, are completely changed except for a handful.
“U.F.O.” is the first of several eschatological themed songs. Jesus is described as a UFO during His second coming (or third or fourth, I can never get it straight). Norman employs a great acoustic guitar backdrop and very progressive vocal production by the day’s standards. The song does contain one of Norman’s most famous lines in which he declares “If there’s life on other planets/I’m sure that he must/And has been there once already/And has died to save their souls.” The line is pure genius given the descriptive and “science fiction” allegory the song delivers.
One of Norman’s trademarks was limited breaks between songs and one song merging into the next. He does that here with a fade into “I’ve Searched All Around.” Linn’s funky riff is very reminiscent of The Rolling Stones as is Norman’s Jagger-like vocal. The songs message of a soon coming end to the world continues the theme. Here Norman warns that the world has no answers to the real questions.
“Righteous Rocker #3″ is the third (really second” version of the song that first appeared on “Only Visiting This Planet.” the second was supposed to be on “So Long Ago the garden,” but was scrapped, removed, never recorded (depends on who is telling the story). This time it is a very produced a capella version.
Again we have an immediate segue into “Why Don’t You Look Into Jesus.” This bluesy groove is Norman’s finest song ever. There may be some who disagree, but I have yet to find a Norman song any better or a Norman fan that dopes not list it among their Top 3. This is, once again, a cover of a previously released version from OVTP. This significantly more sanitized version played much better in Church circles with the removal of gonorrhea and “getting laid.” he kept the lines about smoking and drinking because blasting those two legal things were quite alright for the church.
Another merged segue moves the album into one of Norman’s greatest vocal performances. “I Am a Servant” is just plain stunning. Norman’s falsetto carries the entire song and Moore’s piano and the wonderful string arrangement that accompanies Norman’s stirring lyrics make this one a real classic. Youth groups ate it up. I remember hearing the song used regularly in Youth Groups and even Church settings as “special music.”
Literally recorded in less than two minutes live in the studio with Moore’s wonderful piano performance, “The Sun Began to Rain” (The Son Began to Reign). According to Norman, this was a “one take” afterthought. It was used to replace 4 songs that Word records reportedly removed for being too negative.
“Shot Down” remained a Norman staple until his death. I don’t recall ever seeing Norman without him performing the song. The great Stone-like groove is pure Norman magic. This would be one of several songs in Norman’s career where the topic would be how he fended off criticism and remained faithful to his mission despite the attacks.
The eschatological theme returns with “Six Sixty Six,” a treatment of the popular 666 theme of Revelation 13 and the Beast of Revelation who is represented by the number. The song features John Michael Talbot making a cameo on the banjo. It’s best if i do not comment on the song itself as to do so would require pounding my head against the nearest wall too many times. But suffice it to say that Norman was not alone in his use of the passage in question.
“Diamonds” is an often overlooked Norman song that could have been a classic and a radio hit if it was longer than a minute-thirty. The beautiful strings and piano make for a compelling and inviting piece. Just much too short. But the classical arrangement that ends the song flows directly into “One Way.” This song is just so good. If it’s possible to write a flawless song, this is quite possibly the finest example. The building arrangement that accompanies Norman’s finest vocal performance made the song a lasting classic.
Norman is credited with inventing the “one way” sign with the index finger pointing toward the sky. Like much in Norman lore it’s difficult to separate legend from fact. The story goes that when Norman would receive applause his goal was to deflect the praise and transfer it to god, so he would point to the sky. That single index finger would also be attached to the song “One Way” and a legend is born.
The next song is “Song for a Small Circle of Friends.” This unique songs starts as a tribute to Stonehill and moves into a prayer of sorts for Norman’s “idols” that he would hope to play with in heaven. named are Eric Clapton, Paul McCartney. Bob Dylan among others. It’s actually quite a beautiful little song.
The song closes with “Hymn to the Last generation.” The song closes the theme as well as serves as an altar call of sorts. In an obvious nod to the Beatles, this much too short “hymn” calls for his listeners to come to Jesus or to stand together to reach the world for Jesus. It is at the close of this song that we first here the line for which the album is named.
Some will claim the album is much too high while others will argue it deserves top 10 status. I believe the placement fair (obviously) as though it is not Norman’s finest, it remains one of the most compelling, interesting and listenable of Norman’s career.