Steve Taylor's Sarcasm Deserves Serious Scrutiny

July 1984 Volume 9 Issue 12
© 1984 Strang Communications
Pages 123-124

Meltdown, Steve Taylor, Sparrow records, is reviewed by Richard Nakamoto.

Is there a place for sarcasm and satire in Christian ministry? Kenneth Copeland uses sharp sarcasm in his ministry. The popular Isaac Air Freight comedy group employs satire to drive in strong, valid teachings.

But then there are Christian groups like Daniel Amos whose cynicism eclipses any message.

Steve Taylor's sarcasm is delivered in a vocal delivery that seems to echo with a childhood taunt, a tongue-extended "Nyah-nyah-nyah-NYAH-nyah!"

The lyrics of every song seemed to provoke a lot of discussion at our house--and my understanding of those dark lyrics was greatly aided by the news release in which Taylor explained the songs. But the average listener gets no such news release. So what good does it do except give me insights that no listener can possibly get without reading the sheet? Putting the paper aside, I am baffled by phraseology that often approaches eccentricity. Only by glancing back at Taylor's crib sheet do I figure out what he was trying to say.

His musical effort demonstrates what approaches genius. If teenagers are his main target, he hits dead-center musically. But after trying the album on several more astute Christian kids, I found that the lyrics went right over their heads.

But Taylor has been a force in Christian music for some time, producing some extraordinary artists' albums. We can't just discard his punkish attempt at allegory. So let's call upon Charisma's more open-minded critic, Chris Maxwell, to offer his thoughts.

"Steve Taylor raced down the aisle of the Christian music scene in 1982 with a unique extended-play album entitled I Want to Be a Clone. To follow up his bizarre debut, Taylor and his band (called Some Band) have served Meltdown, a more diverse, but equally crazy collection. These pop/new-wave sermonettes are often rude, at times compassionate, but always imaginative and thought-provoking.

"The title cut is the highlight of the album. 'Meltdown (At Madame Trassaud's)' focuses our attention on the effects of rising temperatures at the famous London wax museum while also asking the cmcial question, 'What shall it profit a man who shall gain the whole world, but lose his soul?" says Maxwell.

Rude? This is good? Chris, the guy is completely off-base in most of his attempts at Christian protest. He needs to go back and listen to U2--those Ulster lads have seen Christian intolerance and know what they're knocking. His voice is obnoxiously and inappropriately mocking in "We Don't Need No Colour Code." Just who is his intended audience for this anti-racism song? Does Taylor expect the Ku Klux Klan to buy the album and shape up? Maybe the apartheid heads-in-the-sand rulers of South Africa? Or the Bob Jones University administrators at whom it is aimed? Does he really think this song will have any effect on BJU? Within his audience, who's really affected by institutionalized bigotry these days? Taylor is 20 years late for this to be a pertinent social statement.

On the track "Am I in Sync," reviewer Maxwell and I find something to agree upon. In my opinion, the song rescues the album from the silly-pop pile. Its message: I may be in tune with the latest fads, but so what? What will a pink Mohawk or public acclaim or vast knowledge get me if I'm not synchronized with the will of the Lord of the universe? Says Maxwell: "The fun tune exposes the ambitious crowd that will do anything to obtain popularity."

But we part company in "Meat the Press," which Maxwell hails and at which I can only shake my head. "The intense song sees the secular news world as a watchdog that is 'barking up the wrong tree,'" says Maxwell.

The song careens the album downward in a salute to ignorance, in my opinion--blasting the free world's news media, the only voice of truth in a regulated regimented, new-think world. In Taylor's attack, unfair, unthought-out generalities are flaunted that serve only to widen mostly-imagined gulf between Church and the press.

"Taylor becomes more solemn to end side one," continues Maxwell, "by remembering a Polish youth killed in communist persecution." The song is great, I agree, a moody tribute to the martyred Grzegroz Prezmyk, killed by government police in Warsaw in May 1983. Incidentally, internal and international protest--as in songs such as this one-- resulted in May in the Polish government indicting three officials in youth's beating death.

When Taylor wrote and recorded the song, the Polish communists were still ignoring the death, the silent graveside vigils, the flood of mail from the free world and the 20,000 who showed up at the funeral.

Despite the song, the album careens off again like Crusader Rabbit thereafter blasting infant euthanasia, then Christian Yellow Pages, but delivering some worthy lessons about holiness, true heroes, and returning home. Repeatedly the ear catches on some incredibly irresponsible lyrics:

"...these Bible Belt folks think living is a sin, so they all start dying the time they're born...." Yes, the words are couched in a strong teaching and even a touch of Messianic symbolism. But we need to be wary of cynical, even heretical lyrics that stand out louder than the underlying message. One can scream "Fire!" in a theater as part of the play but if someone is killed in the audience's stampede out the door, the dramatic attempt is nonetheless criminal.

After studying the songs "Meltdown," "Am I in Sync?" and "Jenny," I was perplexed with the omission of any viable Christian solution to the problems related. Since these songs are aimed kids, this lack made the album sadly incomplete in my opinion.

For example, "Jenny" deals with teenage isolation and suicide, but it ends offering no Jesus, no hope, no love. By comparison, "For Annie," by redeemed rockers Petra, deals with the same but gives encouragement.

One nice thing about this album is that it may provide an opportunity for adult and youth to discuss problems and issues and to aid one another. But any insight into solutions will have to have an external source.