Written by: Abby Thigpen (9/28/2023)
Alrighty friends. It’s been a minute since I’ve actually listened to RED but I always fire up their tunes when I need my world to be rocked for a bit. I remember when they were on the Winter Jam tour and they tore up the stage with blazing fires, swinging guitars and screams you could feel in the core of your bones. My favorite part would be watching older people’s mouths drop in disbelief that such a thing could happen at a Christian event. But I digress.
I had pretty high expectations for this album since Christian rock, to me, seems to be disappearing. Although the musical elements of the album are decent, most everything else feels a little basic to me. Most of the songs sound similar and there is a ton of repetition with themes like death, violence and darkness. Unfortunately, this album doesn’t really restore my hope for Christian rock music to make a strong comeback.
Honestly, the first couple tracks I don’t like much at all. Musically speaking, there are some great rhythms, strong guitars and drums, and nice vocal variability, but I cannot get myself to connect with the lyrics. There are so many mentions of death, bleeding, pain, darkness, violence and falling prey to other negative things like it. Don’t get me wrong, I know that all of those things are real things that we face in this life. My issue is that I don’t see any hope or message of the saving grace of Jesus Christ.
In fact, one of the only mentions of anything scriptural (that I found) was in “Our Time Will Come” which states “ashes to ashes and dust to dust,” which, again, is about death.
In my opinion, there is nothing about this album that makes it different than any other mainstream rock album. As Christians, we are called to look and act different, so that observation rubs me the wrong way. I am in no way saying we don’t acknowledge the not so pretty things that happen in this life, believe me I have faced my fair share, but I do think as Christians we should be pointing people towards Jesus in the midst of suffering, pain, hardships, etc. and the lyrics of this album missed the opportunity to convey that to people who may need to hear it.
Although I’m not really a fan of the album, it does get better as it progresses. I’m going to hope that “Tell Me How To Say Goodbye” is about leaving your old self behind and becoming a new creation in the life giving power of Jesus Christ, but I could be totally wrong because there isn’t anything too evident to argue that point. I also really enjoy the music of this song. I like the balance of the electronic beat with the strings and the crisp vocals.
The closing track is my favorite because I can almost see an argument for it being about our need for a savior. I also enjoy the light piano paired with the raw guitar and Mike’s crisp vocals.
It makes me sad to admit that I think this album is mostly a flop. It makes me think of the scriptures where Jesus tells people they should not be lukewarm about their faith (Revelation 3:15-18) or that they are either for him or against him (Luke 11:23), and I feel like that’s playing out here. You can’t be loosey goosey about your beliefs, or in this case your lyrics. I feel like that is more important now than ever with the state the world is in. I strongly believe you either use the stage to obviously name and praise him or you’re missing out on the opportunity you’ve been given to share the message of the gospel.
All in all, I would say that overall I am disappointed. I would probably add a track or two off this album to my musical library, but I don’t feel like it’s something to write home about. I am hoping some of the songs will grow on me over time. We shall see. But for now, I’ll stick to blasting Faceless on my speakers when I wanna be rocked.
ADDITIONAL REVIEW BY: Jay Heilman
Having been a fan of RED since they released their 2006 debut record, End of Silence, there are a lot of things that I can agree and disagree with when it comes the band’s most recent release, Rated R, and Abby Thigpen’s review of the record.
First off, I can agree that although musically, Rated R, is typical of the low-end assault of the Armstrong brothers’ bass and guitars, paired with Michael Barnes’ high and soaring vocals reminiscent of past releases from RED – I agree that I think that they have missed the mark lyrically. Now, don’t get me wrong, I am a guitarist myself, so the musical vehicle that carries an album is typically something I notice right off the bat when it comes to rock records and musically, Rated R is a solid rock record. However, when you are known to the majority of your fans as a Christian rock band or even a band comprised of Christians, you would hope to see more of a solid effort lyrically not only to point out the darkness and suffering in this fallen world, BUT to point people to the source of the Light and the Way out of it. But, as someone who has followed Christ for over 20 years now, don’t peg me as one who believes a song needs to sing “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus”, or “Lord, Lord, Lord” to get its message across to listeners, because its pretty evident in RED’s past work, that the often subtle and allegorical charm of the band’s past efforts (lyrically) have gone a long way in portraying Jesus as that Light, without necessarily using His name. Case and point – records like of Beauty and Rage (my favorite record) and even going back to their first couple of records, the above-mentioned End of Silence and 2009’s Innocence and Instinct, lyrically contain great messages that could reach any audience – whether it was a Christian audience or a mainstream audience, which the band has been accustomed to playing to more and more in recent years.
While the overall message is not blatant or obvious with Rated R, lyrically it is some of the band’s weakest in my opinion, but musically it is one of their best releases in years. Don’t get me wrong, musically I have enjoyed the last couple of records including Declaration and Gone, but overall I haven’t completely enjoyed a RED record both musically AND lyrically since 2015’s of Beauty and Rage. While RED had the opportunity to do this with Rated R, their first new record in over 3 years, I feel they fell somewhat short, but still manage to make a statement with its array of songs.
In closing, if you are looking for a solid rock record that’s not overrun with profanity, the lyrical scenery and glorification of sex and drug use along with other debauchery – then Rated R is a great listen and one I think most rock fans will enjoy. Just don’t expect a theologically driven message from it, because it’s just not there. Overall, with tracks like “Cold World”, “Tell Me How To Say Goodbye”, “Last Forever” and “Emergency” (some of my favorites), Rated R is still a solid listen and is worth picking up and deciding for yourself how it stands up to past releases in the band’s musical arsenal.