May 1, 2000

New FIF album is more about hope than hype

by Josh Renaud
staff editor

Reese Roper (left) is the lead singer for ska band Five Iron Frenzy.

Don't let the photo of lead singer Reese Roper soaring through the air toward a basketball hoop while sporting a giant afro and "Golden Chunks" basketball jersey fool you. Five Iron Frenzy's latest album "All the Hype Money Can Buy" is a complex work of art.

Five Iron Frenzy is perhaps best known for two things: their wild, energetic concerts and antics, and Reese Roper's lyrics. Their last album "Proof that the Youth are Revolting," a live album recorded from shows last summer, demonstrated the latter very well. "Hype" takes the other to former heights.

First, the music. For FIF fans, "Hype" might seem to be an eclectic mix of sounds. The punk core of the music has been bolstered by new guitarist Sonnie Johnston, but FIF has managed to move in some new directions with songs that take cues from rap, Latin, reggae, and circus music of all things.

And the lyrics? Roper has really reached for the sky here. On "Hype" Roper seems to be on the attack, and mostly he chastises the complacent within the Christian community. On "Four-Fifty-One" he lashes out at the Christian music industry. Not content to accuse them of moving away from the purpose of ministry, he instead alleges that was never their intent in the first place. "The radio is preaching the candy-coated goo / the record companies and the TV too. / No one rocks the boat terrified of trouble / can't tamper with the walls of their sterile Christian bubble. / It was never your point to get people saved / you pad yourself with fluff just because you're afraid." FIF follows up on this theme in the title track, focusing on the fluff and hype manMay 1, 2000d by the money-making nature of the music business. This song is far less confrontational and Roper injects it with his trademark quirky humor.

In "Giants," Roper condemns the greedy monolithic corporations created by capitalism. The musical mood of this song with thick bass, clanking and rattling machinery noise, and monotone choral salutations sticks out from the rest of this album. The contrast of a very young girl reading a paragraph about the death of innocence in the middle of this dark song sent chills down my spine.

Not content to stop there, Roper also tackles the subject of homosexuality in "Fahrenheit," recalling how he turned his back on the lead singer of his childhood favorite band, Freddie Mercury of Queen, when he found out he was gay. "Love the sinner, hate the sin" is the message of the song.

The album isn't completely negative, though. FIF manages to include a generous helping of "silly" songs about such things as a star "Veggie Tales" character, their home state of Colorado, and the death of 80's "hair bands,." Also included is their infamous cover of "It's Not Unusual."

Not surprisingly, Roper also managed to pen some heart-wrenching songs. "Ugly Day" was written about the breakup of his marriage engagement last year. Lines like "I would lie down on the street / to keep the dust off of your feet / I would kneel each time I kiss you / Anything, Christie I miss you" really are tragic. It also makes one wonder how much the tone of this album was shaped by that event.

The best song on the entire album, though, is the closing song "World Without End." The opening shredding guitar riffs are certainly no indication that this is a beautiful worship song. Roper comes as close any human can to expressing the boundless awe and wonder God inspires in us, but as he says in the song, "words fall short to hope again."

And it's good the album closes on that note. For all its emotional highs and lows, "All the Hype Money Can Buy" is about not about hype, but hope. Even though nobody is perfect and we all screw up so much, God is there waiting for us -- "the very spark that burns the stars" -- wanting to draw near to us.

This article was reprinted with permission from The Current.

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