Time to review Beautiful Lumps of Coal

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.

4 thoughts on “Time to review Beautiful Lumps of Coal

  • September 11, 2003 at 8:44 am
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    Nice review, Dave. Good enough that I’ll buy the cd at lunch time today. I did get to hear “Real” and agree with your comments. The guitar work is great. Not flashy but melodic. That cut for sure should be in rotation on at least the adult comtemporary stations.

    Is the rest of their catalog as good?

  • September 11, 2003 at 8:56 am
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    Hey Dave,

    I suspect you mean play these songs at your wedding reception. Church weddings are a religious service, which you’ll most likely conform to at the request of your Lutheran Pastor.

    It is incredible the number of songs actually breaking into the Top-40, which are Christian. Somewhat recently I heard Josh Kelly’s “I can only imagine” on a morning show that was recommended by the primary DJ. One of the producers slammed it as a Christian song and they claimed they had many upset callers and would not play it again. Despite that, it has become part of their Top-40. There are also others like this.

    Regarding the other side of Christians performing secular music, a moral message will usually come through. With your awareness of current culture, you can surely name many in the popular categories of music.

    Thanks for introducing me to Plumb. I’ll check them out.

  • October 15, 2003 at 6:21 pm
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    My daughter was watching a recent episode of Tarzan on the WB and Plumb’s “Go” was featured during the episode.
    She’s now a Plumb convert.

  • October 19, 2003 at 11:30 pm
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    Regarding: Christian music and Top 40. Who cares what genre the music is? I’ll never understand people who close doors due to stereotypes. There is some incredible Christian music out there, and there’s some incredible rock music out there. Folks at one end of the spectrum might be offended by music found at the other end.

    When the day is done and we’re sitting at home, exhausted emotionally and physically, and we’re looking for that meaning — whatever that meaning — I find that most of us lay somewhere in the middle of that spectrum. Classification only serves to destroy. Yes, you might not like some music in other categories but how much are you missing by completely ignoring it? Books are the same; what inspiration could you find by exploring areas you’ve never went into? These statements apply to those who insist on listening only to pop music as well as those who insist on only listening to Christian music. (My sister in law was very avid about an artist being Christian before she’d listen to them. I asked her why? Who makes that designation? A chump in a suit? Does she want that unknown man to control her life at all? Word of mouth, radio stations, they’re real opinion.)

    Dave: I’ve never told you this but for years I have been awed by your religious devotion. I wish that I could find a foundation for my life as you have for yours. When times get hard you never waver; you stand strong. You might voice discontent, you might think, for but a moment, of just giving up, but.. you don’t. You draw strength from your family, God, friends, church.

    I do not mean to belittle your beliefs and I hope you understand that. In my world, my twisted, sick, demented mind, I can never believe anything but what I lay hands on. I so desperately want to believe, but cannot. If I were to pay lip service at Church while within me a core of disbelief exists.. that to me would be worse than not attending at all. For now I live my life knowing that my father had a smile on his lips when he died. He hadn’t smiled for months prior to that. sigh, sorry, this is not the forum for this.

    /me goes back to sticking his head in a computer.

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