It’s not exactly new but I think
Beautiful Lumps of Coal by Plumb is overlooked, and not necessarily given a fair shake when it is noticed, so, by George, I’m going to review it. It’s my website and I’ll review six-month-old stuff if I want to.
In the words of the immortal Elvis–Costello, that is: When in doubt, go to track 4. It’s usually the one you want. On this album, that advice unearths “Boys Don’t Cry,” a somber, hard-rocking attempt at cheering up someone who seems to be beyond it. But who’s talking? Supposedly the song was inspired by her husband trying to counsel a boy whose parents didn’t care about him. Certainly it sounds like an attempt to display Christian love to someone who isn’t used to it.

Track 7 is another gem: “Taken.” Essentially it’s a thank-you letter to an ex-girlfriend of her husband’s who died tragically. Again, there are certainly Christian overtones. It’s a driven acoustic piece–a nice pop song. I seem to recall one of Third Eye Blind’s recent hits was a hard-driving pop song that was mostly acoustic that sounded a little like this song. Like Track 4, no mention of God. There’s implication that the departed person is still living and in heaven, as it mentions her in present tense. Well, and then there’s the whole idea of someone being grateful to a romantic predecessor.

Last and best, there’s track 10: “Real.” I won’t do it justice by describing it but I’ll try. Great artists spend their entire careers trying to make a song as powerful as this one and a lot of them never do it. It’s got a spunky guitar line, it’s got something in the background that just inspires good feeling (something about the general tone of the instruments, as well as the notes they’re playing), and it’s got lyrics that say a lot. “Aren’t I lovely and/ Do you want me ‘cos/ I am hungry for something that will make me real./ Can you see me and/ Do you love me ‘cos/I am desperately searching for something real.”

The first time I heard it, I thought it was a song about someone seeking either a guy or God. Mishearing “Aren’t I lovely” as “I’ve been lonely” certainly contributed to that. Obviously the emptiness she’s singing about is something only God can properly fill. But the song is really just talking about the empty life of a manufactured pop star. It would have been an ideal soundtrack for Madonna’s publicity stunt with Brittney Spears and Christina Aguilera at the MTV Video Music Awards. But explicit mention of God? None here.

The rest of the album is mostly love songs. Up until now, the only love song I’ve ever heard that I would agree to have played at my wedding without protest is “I’ll Stand By You” by The Pretenders. There’s one reason for that. That song isn’t about Hollywood romance, or sex, or anything else along those lines. It’s just simple, unconditional love. I remember hearing that song as I pulled into the parking lot at work, and I stopped and listened to it, and thought at the end, “I want a girl like that. I’d give anything for a girl like that.”

It’s precisely because I haven’t yet, to my knowledge, met a girl like that–but don’t get me wrong, there are some suspects–that I don’t like to dwell on Plumb’s love songs. But like that Pretenders song, they’re sincere. Like that Pretenders song, they don’t describe Hollywood romance. They describe honest, sincere love. Unlike that Pretenders song, there are several of them. And like that Pretenders song, they don’t mention God either.

Plumb gets a bad rap for not mentioning God explicitly anywhere but in the liner notes of this record, and, therefore, the thinking goes, how dare she get billed as a Christian artist? Let me tell you why that sentiment is unfair.

First, look at the love songs. They describe what a relationship between two committed Christians should look like. There are songs here about breaking up and getting back together–asking for forgiveness, expressing regret. Regretting bitterness and fixing it. Songs that admit that love between two humans isn’t always perfect. That’s a message that people need to hear, and, frankly, Carmen doesn’t seem to be the one to deliver it. I don’t blame secular artists for not knowing much about that kind of love. In their world they’re not generally exposed to it. Christian artists are supposed to know about it. And finally one had the guts to sing about it.

The other songs that aren’t about love don’t need to mention God. God’s influence is all over them. Mostly they dance around needs that only God can fill. They do speak of the inadequacy of the world to fill them.

This is a record that not only sounds really, really good, but you can use it in situations where a secular record might seem more appropriate. You can throw this on as background music when you’re having people over, and it won’t make people nervous with what it’s saying because it’s thumping them over the head with Jesus. There are times when people need to be thumped over the head with Jesus. This is a great record for those other times. And if you’re in a relationship, you can play a song like “Sink’n’Swim” and make both of you feel good, but the song’s not going to encourage you to take it too far if you’re not married. That’s a good thing; hormones usually don’t need much encouragement. After a fight, “Without You” is a lovely way to say you’re sorry that will, once again, not encourage you to take things too far.

Personally, I’ve marked “Sink’n’Swim” down for future reference. I’d very much like that song in my wedding. And I think that’s saying an awful lot, because that’s something I’ve never been one to give much thought to.

Yes, admittedly if you play this record in between “Evergreen” and “What Are You Going to Do With Your Life?” by Echo and the Bunnymen and ask someone to pick out the Christian record, 9 people out of 10 will guess wrong. It’s a Christian album that’ll slip under the radar, and in a genre where the current trend seems to be for everyone to re-record the songs that make you feel good in church for the hundredth time, frankly, that’s welcome. I don’t need 99 versions of “Did You Feel the Mountains Tremble?” in my collection, and neither do you.