Awake and Alive and Listening to something better.

I love the band Skillet. I had mixed feelings about the first two albums of theirs that I owned (which would be Invincible and Alien Youth), so it took me a while to buy Collide. Finally, after my friend David threated me with physical harm, I bought it. And, well, if you’ve listened to the album, you know how A) incredible it is and B) what a massive departure it was from the previous stuff we’ve seen from Skillet.

Collide was raw, passionate, and hard. It also included one of the most truly epic songs I’ve ever heard in the form of the titular track. This album threw Skillet into the list of my favorite musical artists. Their next album, Comatose, sealed it there forever. Comatose took everything that was great about the song Collide and made nearly an entire album’s worth of greatness from it, blending the hard, nearly-metal rock sound with the symphonic intros and backing, resulting in classics like Rebirthing, Comatose, and Whispers in the Dark. There are plenty of great solid rock tracks on here as well, including Better Than Drugs, Last Night, Falling Into Black, and Those Nights.

However, Comatose does have a downside to it. The album incorporates a couple of songs that can best be described (and in fact WERE described as such by John Cooper, Skillet’s Frontman, on Comatose Comes Alive) as 80s power ballads, namely Yours to Hold, The Older I Get, and Say Goodbye. These songs are absolutely lame. I’m sorry, they are. They’re boring compared to what this band is capable of and what they demonstrate on the rest of this album.

The problem is that, on their live abum, Comatose Comes Alive, John mentioned that he LOVES 1980s power ballads just before playing Yours to Hold. I wish I could say that set off some warning bells in my mind, but it didn’t.

So now we come to the recently released Awake. After Comatose, I think we all had incredibly high hopes for this album. Was it too much? I don’t think so, not really. The first single we heard off this album, “Hero”, certainly sounded like the Skillet we all know and love! There’s less symphonic backing, but lots of rock, and a passionate calling out to Jesus to help us make a stand in thie world. Plus it features vocals from their new drummer, and she ain’t bad, singing or drumming.

The second single, “Monster”….well lets just say this should have been the second warning sign. It’s not an overall bad track on it’s own. The first thought I had as I was listening to it was “Wow…these lyrics are really not as good as Skillet has done.” But I continued listening…and then we got to the bridge.

If you’ve heard this track, and not the radio version, you know what comes next. You get a dropoff of all instruments, and you’re expecting to hear John sing (or even scream) the words “feel like a monster”. Well, you get those words all right, but they’re uttered by this synthesized monster voice. I don’t know if they were going for creepy, or just scary, or what, but it is the cheesiest thing I think I’ve ever heard. I was in such shock and disgust at the sheer lameness of it, I had to stop the song. Seriously? You guys were gonna go with that??

I’ve listened to the song a few more times since then, and that stupid monster voice aside, it’s not a bad track at all, if you consider it on it’s own, apart from anything Skillet has done before. If you factor that in, then yes, it’s a bit disappointing. Monster’s a pretty rocking track, but Skillet has done way better.

So then we get the full deal. Awake debuts in stores, and I immediately grab that sucker off iTunes and get ready to rock.

Oh wow, is this album disappointing. Really really disappointing. Why? Because it’s about 50% lame 80s power ballads, and what few songs aren’t, well half of them are just plain terrible.

I’m not even going to talk about the power ballad tracks. I can’t. I can barely stand to listen to them through once. So let’s take a look at the rest of the offerings here. The title track, Awake and Alive, is not bad, really. It tries to capture the formula they used on Comatose: Blend good hard rock with their signature symphonic backing. For the most part it works, until you get to the chorus, specifically the lyrics “Now, it’s my time. I’ll do what I want, cause this is my life!”. I’m sorry, I thought I was listening to Skillet, not “Angry teen emo-rock band #357”. What happened, guys? You’re too smart to fall into the whole “cater-songs-to-the-teenage-youth-group-crowd” that gripped otherwise good bands. I’m looking at you, Superchic[k]. The song kind of just falls apart from there, getting less and less mature, which culiminates in having to hear John sing “Wa-king-up, Waking up!” over and over prior to the bridge and at the song’s close. I felt like I’d been bait-and-switched.

Next we get “One Day Too Late” which has…oh right. Power Ballad. *pushes skip button*. Sorry, now we come to “It’s Not Me It’s You”. And yet again, we have to check our CD to make sure we haven’t been hoodwinked. This is not a Skillet song. This is a terrible piece of crap that some girl-power chick band threw together after they broke up with their boyfriend. I’m really disgusted at this point, and begging the rest of the album to impove.

Sadly, our next track, Should’ve When You Could’ve? Yeah, ballad. Also, really annoying title. And the one after that? It’s called “Believe”, it’s gotta be good, right? Hey look another one! Ugh. “Believe” sounds like something a jerk guy would sing if he was trying to blame a girl for all his relationship issues. I’m not kidding, go listen to it if you don’t believe me (pardon the pun). I have no idea what has happened to this band by now. I’m looking for something, ANYTHING, to salvage this mess.

“Forgiven” tries to do that. It really does. Again, they try to capture the sound that made Comatose so good, and the song itself FINALLY comes back to something that actually sounds Spiritual, a heartfelt confession of wrong and God’s Forgiveness of it all. The problem is, there’s enough of the power ballad influence in here that it just makes the song average at best. It’s decent, but it’s hardly a standout hit.

Now we come to “Sometimes”. Okay, I think we’re getting somewhere here. This one gets it closer to the seriously hard rock we’ve heard on Collide. This is good stuff. Lyrics are a bit on the immature side, but at thsi point, i’m so sick of the power ballads I’m almost willing to overlook that. Do we have another classic hit here? I can’t bring it up that high. It’s good, but not great.

“Never Surrender” is like that last grasp at safety before falling off a cliff. It’s trying to stick to the good things that started being developed in the previous tracks, you can tell that in the opener and even during the chorus, but the rest of it? Yeah, back into the pit of powerballad. Sigh.

Finally there’s “Lucy”. A downer tear-jerker about a girl that’s died. Hey Skillet? No. Stop it. Just stop this. Please. No one likes you guys because of these kinds of songs. They love you for your epic, powerful, raw, uninhibitted anthems of the greatness of God and his love. That’s why Collide and Comatose did so well. That’s why Comatose Comes Alive is so great, because for the most part you stuck to those. With the exception of “Hero”, you don’t have anything close to that greatness on this CD. What happened here, guys??

If you picked up the Deluxe Edition (and I’ll go on another rant about why I hate these later), you got three bonus tracks. “Dead Inside” is, hilariously, better than almost all of the album. It sounds more like it was a song that couldn’t quite make it on to Comatose, honestly. It’s got a good solid rock feel, good lyrics, overall highly enjoyable. “Would it Matter” is a synth-backed power ballad. Lame.

Finally, we’re treated to “Monster (Alternate Radio Version)”. If you’re familiar with the practice of “Radio Versions” of songs, you know they’re usually highly lame, softened up versions of normally good songs, done to maximize their appeal on the radio to all those folks who love happy-slappy contemporary Christian stuff that utterly bores me. Monster’s “Radio Version” does not do that. All it changes is, yes you guessed it, the terrible monster voice during the bridge. Instead, we get the same dropoff, but the normal vocals continue to sing. It’s amazing how much more enjoyable the song is.

So, I have to ask, guys. Did you think “Oooh, that Monster voice is a little too extreme for the radio, we better just replace it with regular vocals”? Because, I hate to tell you this, but the Radio version is better. Like I said, that monster voice is cheesy and bad. This version would have been a far better choice.

Overall, Skillet it seems has finally taken a misstep. They’ve taken the power ballads way too far and regressed badly on lyrical maturity. There’s a few good songs worth listening to on this album, but the rest of it can just be marked as “Skillet’s experimental power ballad album” and never spoken of again.

I give it 2 out of 5 Stars, 3 if you bought the Deluxe version.

Going to Waco again this weekend. If you see me seperated from Karen for an extended length of time, something has gone horribly awry. See ya’ll then!!

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