Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Third Album Kind of Life

I want a third album kind of life.

For some of you (probably more of you than I really want to know), this term is a bit anachronistic. Archaic, even. But, for many of my friends - those who worked with me in college radio or even later in Christian broadcasting - you get it. You remember what it was like to have physical copies of new CDs in your hands. This hearkens back to the days when we tracked units sold and rotations on airplay, not digital downloads. Now the analogy might be better phrased "I want a third single kind of life," since 90% of people you hear online or on the radio now are best described as one hit wonders (neither being Idols or anyone with Talent, despite what "reality TV" might want us to believe).

But I digress.

For me, the music scene during college was nothing shy of epic. It was all about the discovery of a new artist or band. Not so much in that we kept moving from one performer to the next like ADD monkeys with a radio dial; instead, we sampled from a buffet of styles and musicians to enrich our musical palates. And once you discovered a new band that spoke to you, you latched on. You latched on with a drive, loyalty and fervor that is only experienced in your late teens and early 20s.

I remember during my later years in high school and on into college when I would discover a new artist. Their first album would typically be nothing but passionate. There is a mentality and drive that grips them: "I have to get this out there. It may be my one and only shot. Not at fame, but at just getting my foot in the door and my voice in people's ears. I have something I HAVE to share, and I will give of my all to do so." And it shows in the quality of the music and lyrics they share.

Then comes the second album. More often than not, the second album is categorized by something called "the sophomore slump." What causes this slump is that the studio, the executives or the performer decided it was best (and/or financially lucrative) to try and capture lightning in a bottle for a second time, mimicking the stylings of what made them loved as a performer in the first place. And more often than not, it falls flat: the songs either too closely resemble the music from the first album, they are too different for the general public to enjoy ("Yeah, this is okay, but I liked your earlier stuff better.") or it's "too commercial" for the fans, the ones who supported with heart and soul the first album.

But then...then comes the third album. Usually, some time passes between the bombing of the second album and the arrival of the third. During this off time, the artist tries to rediscover who they are and what they believe in. Wounds, received from critics, fans, and self-inflicted, need to be healed. In a number of ways, a rebuilding of a sense of purpose and personal meaning has to come through. And in this healing comes maturity. Clarity of vision about what you want to sing about and why. The third album has much of the same passion and drive as first, but it's free from mistakes of second album. This one is different; it's deeper, and you can feel where the growth has come from. Typically it is a critical success; not popular among the masses by any means ("Again, I liked your earlier stuff better."), but it resonates with fans. And it is something that the artist tends to stand by and say they are proud of. And when they talk about the pride they have in their third album, it's not the same pride they have from the first ("I'm just honored to be here.") or their second album ("Yeah, I'm a star, and I know you guys like my music."). This is a piece of their soul. Sales don't matter as much as they did before. Now it about beauty and the artistry.

I want a third album kind of life.

I want to live a life where I have learned where I have made mistakes - not just admitting to them and learning from them so as to not repeat them, but learning where they came into my life and why. I want to sing a new song, one that is more me than what others believe I am expected to sound like (second album) but still carries the heart of who I am (first album). A life where I am comfortable in being free to be the me I am supposed to be. Arrogance, pride, and self-centeredness - along with doubt, insecurities, false modesty and fear - have been left on the cutting room floor. This is a life which is new yet familiar, soaring yet grounded, and honest. Truthful. Without reason to live under a shadow of doubt, deception or destruction.

Spiritually, the idea of a new song resonates with Psalm 144:9, Psalm 96:1, Psalm 33:3, and Isaiah 42:10 (plus "40" from U2), but ultimately, it's all about embracing the ability and willingness to sing that new song and not go back and keep humming the same few bars over and over again.

I want a third album kind of life.

One you will never find in the bargain bins.

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