In case you aren't a fan of bad television, let me tell you that P.M.Dawn were on the show Hit Me Baby One More Time last night. In this show, musical acts from the '80s and '90s perform two songs, a hit of their own and a hit from today. Then the studio audience votes on who was the best. P.M. Dawn managed to brush off competition from Missing Persons, Shannon, Animotion, and Juice Newton to win the favor of the voters.
In celebration I drug out my copy of P.M. Dawn's third album, Jesus Wept. Of all of their output, this CD intrigues me the most.
We know that P.M. Dawn came onto the scene with Set Adrift On Memory Bliss, a piece of dreamy pop that sampled Spandau Ballet's True. We also know that their second album was an even bigger success, with the ultra-melodic hits I'd Die Without You and Looking Through Patient Eyes. That makes Jesus Wept the classic "artistic statement" record, wherein, feeling assured of their commercial viability, the performer does whatever the hell they want.
So P.M.Dawn abandoned all pretense of being rappers, went even further into a synthesizer-and-melody driven sound, wrote articulate but nonsensical lyrics like "Angels always saturate your schemes", and recorded silence at Martin Luther King Jr.'s grave.
And then there's the God thing. Being a mainstream popular group and calling your album Jesus Wept is either bold or stupid. We all know, when it comes to pop music, albums about the J-man belong in their own small section of the music store. The thing is, Jesus is not mentioned by name anywhere in the songs, nor is this a Bible-thumping album. In fact, the lyrics raise more questions about spiritual matters than they dole out answers. And even though this is an "artistic statement" album, the statement seems to be: I don't really know anything except the fact that I don't know anything.
In fact, the whole album is about searching. The opening song, Downtown Venus, is an electric guitar-driven ode to self discovery: "I could be into me but I don't know what I'm like." Other songs, like My Own Personal Gravity and Apathy...Superstar!? continue this theme. On the latter Prince Be even talks to himself: "Am I unsure? Absolutely."
And in the chorus of that song he tells us, "I think everything's okay / I mean everything's all right / almost everyone I know believes in God and Love." Notice he doesn't say which God; this is not necessarily a Christian spirituality. Why God Loves You is the most direct statement on this topic (and also the catchiest song). Rather than moralizing, Be is tells us to find our inner divinity. It's hard to argue with that.
Other songs seem to approach God in a nearly romantic nature. I'll Be Waiting For You, Forever Damaged (The 96th), and Sometimes I Miss You So Much (which makes good use of an Al B.Sure sample) could all be heard as songs about earthly love or heavenly love. Your choice.
Add in a couple of straight up folk tunes (Sonchyenne, A Lifetime) and a head-scratcher of an album-ending medley that combines Prince' 1999, Talking Heads' Once In A Lifetime, and Harry Nilsson's Coconut, and you have one of the strangest hip-hop albums ever released. It's a ultra-spiritual, non-Christian album called Jesus Wept by a rap group that doesn't drop a single verse on the whole album.
Is it any wonder that it still intrigues me?
Fave Song: Why God Loves You