For the better part of the past 30 plus years, guitarist/vocalist Michael Sweet has helmed the hard rock band STRYPER, and in that time the band has released 11 studio albums and sold well over 10 million records in the process. In the past five years alone, Sweet has been a part of 7 recordings (4 STRYPER, 2 solo and a collab album), which in today’s terms is astronomical. I recently did an interview with Michael and keeping busy with songwriting, producing and recording is just a part of who God designed him to be. Not bad for a guy who just celebrated his 53rd birthday in July. Come August 26th Sweet will follow up his 2014 solo effort I’m Not Your Suicide with his 8th solo record, One Sided War. Like Sweet and STRYPER’s previous efforts, it’s always an exciting time for me when a new recording is out and I can tell you that One Sided War is hands down Sweet’s best solo effort to date and even gives his work with STRYPER a run for its money. In addition to himself, Sweet is joined by guitarists (Whitesnake, former Night Ranger) guitarist Joel Hoekstra and Ethan Brosh; bassist John O’Boyle (Tom Ingram Band) and Will Hunt (Evanescence).
The album starts out with the hard-hitting guitar solo laden (and first radio single) “Bizarre”. The track, in tune with some of Sweet/STRYPER’s heaviest material focuses on the spiritual life of today’s church, perhaps the lack thereof. In these times I think as Christians we have sometimes become lackluster in our faith, something that we once held. While pointing out what we were and what we could be, the chorus really points out the problem we face as Christians. “We have the heart and the soul of a king/If we only knew who we are/We could move mountains and do anything/But we just stand back from afar/Bizarre”
The title track “One Sided War” is perhaps my favorite track on the record. How many times have you had an argument, fight or battle with another Christian? Someone who is bitter and continues dredging up things of the past when you have thought they are long forgiven or forgotten. Whether it be a fellow believer or a non-believer, I have seen it in both – Michael points out our goal and what Scripture tells us to do in these instances – forgive, forget and wash our hands clean. Sometimes that entails to laying our weapons down along with our pride – making the other person seemingly in charge of the ‘one-sided war’.
Two versions of the track “Can’t Take This Life” appear on the record, one which includes the version Michael sings, and then the bonus track featuring a young and talented singer/guitarist in 15-year-old Moriah Formica. The song to me illustrates a picture of the devil’s ever presence in the lives of people who follow Christ. If you are for Jesus, the devil is going to take every chance he has to take moments of your life away with circumstances, but through Christ we own the victory already and he cannot take our life. Battles may be won from time to time, but the war already has a victor.
Ahh “Radio”. What an entertaining song! We have all come across a rock star who wants to be a country singer. Very few, and I mean very few, have been able to pull this off successfully. In my opinion, Hootie and the Blowfish’s Darius Rucker is one of the exceptions. Michael’s lyrics are almost a playful jab at those artists, sending a reminder to literally keep your day job and keep doing what you do best not try to conform just for the sake of winning over a completely different audience and demographic. Of course all the country clichés are included too. If you really want a laugh, check out the recently released music video for the song at http://youtu.be/JdR_P-UZDSQ.
The next two tracks “Golden Age” and “Only You” are ones I would consider the (rockin’) worship tunes on the record. Both focus on the aspects of God. I love the imagery that the words of “Golden Age” portrays, using both formal and informal ways of describing God’s existence and answering questions about and His purpose in Creation. The bridge is a powerful reminder, ending in a signature Sweet high-pitched scream out. “You can see The signature, written in the stars/Look around you won’t have to look far/Every cell and living thing is a work of art/Painted perfectly with all that wisdom imparts”. I have to point out that the guitar work from former Night Ranger and current Whitesnake guitarist Joel Hoekstra is downright AMAZING on this track, as is the tracks on other songs as well, but this one is by far the best.
“Who Am I” is the only real ballad on the record, and along with “You Make Me Wanna” are probably the two slower tracks on the entire record. The message of these two could be taken a few ways, since the word “Baby” appears in both, which could be used to described a relationship with the Lord, but if I had to lay my best guess on the table, I would say they could be love songs written to Michael’s wife Lisa. Could be wrong, but both tracks are still enjoyable and bring forth that classic solo sound Michael has used on previous solo and STRYPER records.
The pace picks back up with the song “Comfort Zone”. The heavy melodic song to me describes a content relationship with Christ, laying out the words found in Psalm 62:2 which says “He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress where I will never be shaken” (NLT). Another track with some amazing guitar tracks and one that also displays a message of honor to the Lord proclaiming “I’d fight a battle, take a bullet just for You/I’d fall a million miles from the sky to be with You”.
The album (minus the bonus track) ends with the track “One Way Up”, which is a groovy laid back country rock sounding track telling the story of a young (Michael Sweet?) coming to the realization of his true path in life. “One Way to live, One Way to die/One Way below and One Way up high/One Way to wrong and One Way only to right”. To me this could epitomize the message of John 14:6 with all true roads and highways to God leading through ONLY Jesus. The guitar solo even reminds me of some old Lynyrd Skynyrd tunes with it’s laid back melodic approach.
In closing, I have to say that I have listened to quite a few records in the first eight months of 2016, and One Sided War is hands down the stand out record among them all. Michael’s God-given talent and ability to surround himself with top caliber musicians is just amazing. Musically, it’s an all-around great record, one that I have listened to many times already and I think both fans of STRYPER and Michael’s solo material will really resonate with and enjoy for a long time to come. From a lyrical stand point, I am proud of Michael for staying true to his Christian faith with the words he writes. As popular as STRYPER has become over the past 30 years, Sweet could easily take the easy watered-down road with his lyrics, but proclaiming Christ first in his life is still evident even after all of these years in. Last, for those critics and bashers foolish enough to believe that Michael has “lost it” musically or vocally, or has even cowered to candy-coated pop-rock – this record should speak volumes of the invalidity of that claim. One Sided War is a record any true rock rock fan will need to pick up on August 26th – a masterpiece from start to finish and well beyond the finish line.
Released: August 26, 2016
Label: Rat Pack Records
One Sided War (3:28)
Can’t Take This Life (3:37)
Golden Age (3:57)
Only You (4:08)
I Am (4:15)
Who Am I (4:55)
You Me Make Wanna (3:50)
Comfort Zone (3:09)
One Way Up (4:15)
Can’t Take This Life (Bonus – Feat. Mariah Formica) (3:37)