Anybody that knows me well knows that I'm a pretty huge Americophile.  I've only been there once but the country as it is today has such an interesting history and culture despite only really being an established nation for a couple of hundred years or so.  This relative 'youth' is probably the thing I find most interesting; everything's so new compared to other developed parts of the world, and people are usually more forward-thinking and less attached to tradition, which is not always a bad thing.  For instance, even in the tiny details, the idea of free drinks refills at restaurants for instance - I know it's a fairly inconsequential tradition, but why does it happen in the US and not in the UK?  Because they've thought about the way things are and have actually stopped to question normality and see if they can't make it better, and God love 'em, they have done.

One thing I noticed on my short time in the States was the prevalence of the Christian church.  Everyone's really open about their faith, and it doesn't seem to be quite as big a deal over there if you say you're a Christian.  They have these huge mega-churches that make Sunday morning service look like the SuperBowl, it's truly an amazing thing.  I often wonder, though, how sincere everyone is.  I returned to the UK a little disheartened about the state of our supposedly 'Christian' country, with church attendance on the decline etc... But when going to church is the 'done thing' (like it was here in the UK at one time), do people attend because they truly believe or because everybody else is doing it?  I guess that's one advantage of living in a Godless nation; the only people left in the pews are the ones who really get it.

This worry translates to another thing Americans have which we don't.  Contemporary Christian Music, or 'CCM' for short, is a genre of music which is lyrically focused on matters concerned with the Christian faith.  It's popular with Christians and non-Christians alike, and as likely to appear in the record shops as Shakira or Slipknot.  Also called 'inspirational music', it seems to be comprised of the sort of worship songs you'd sing in a more charismatic church service but adapted for the wider population, call it 'mass for the masses', if you will.  As London is home to the British pop industry, the CCM industry seems to live in Nashville, TN, right in the buckle of the Bible belt.  They have their own chart, their own version of the Grammys.  It's thought to have been born out of the 'Jesus music' of the 1960s and 70s - the west coast of America was rife with the youth-revolt of the hippie movement, and within that movement was a committed Christian contingent.  Christians plus Rock & Roll plus radical thinking and social re-invention equalled 'the Jesus Movement', which in turn birthed this new genre of faith-music.  Currently in the US, Christian music sales exceed those for classical, jazz, Latin, New Age, and soundtrack music.  

There are those who find the concept of Christian pop/rock music to be an unusual phenomenon, since rock music has historically been associated with themes such as sexual promiscuity, rebellion, drug and alcohol use, and other topics normally considered antithetical to the teachings of the Bible.  Others find that the rock & roll style of music simply isn't conducive to a 'worship' environment, i.e. you can't rock up devil horns whilst praising God.  I've sometimes found myself in that spot - I'm usually much more comfortable singing olde hymnals in church, rather than modern worship songs that could easily appear on a Saturday night talent programme if only they'd replace the word 'Jesus' with the word 'baby'.  But I do enjoy listening to music, bands and artists whose subjects focus on issues of faith, or come from a place of personal salvation with which I can relate.  This leads to another issue within the industry.

There is usually some contention within the CCM market as to what constitutes a 'Christian artist/band'.  Most of the 'Christian bands' I listen to prefer not to be classified with regards to their faith, and I have no problem with that; most of the time I'm just glad that people are making great music about stuff to which  I can relate.  But time and time again you'll hear interviews with bands, usually American, who prefer not to be described as 'Christian', usually because they feel it limits their creative reach or generates the wrong impression.  This isn't to downplay their faith at all, I believe, or avoid admitting it in an effort to garner increased record sales, but more to be judged on the merits of their music rather than on the content of their character.  Which is fair enough.  There is an idea floating around that having a CCM chart is like free advertising for a very specific yet abundantly popular genre of music.  You throw together an album of 'inspirational' music, publish it to a specific chart and get it pushed out to an audience who will buy up anything that namechecks their God.  It's a slick and streamlined business. 

But we don't have to worry about any of that.  We don't have CCM in the UK; for one reason or another it's never really caught on here.  Perhaps there are less Christians.  Perhaps we're just too obsessed with Lady Ga Ga.  I know I am... but is it really such a bad thing?  Let's do a check:

CCM Pros:
  • Inspirational, motivational tunes for the gullible masses.
  • The Gospel spread via music
  • A bit of light in the otherwise generally dark pop chart world of girls wanting boys to look at their asses, or rappers popping caps in other rapper's asses, or...just generally, ass mania.
  • The chance of hearing some reasonably bangin' tunes about Jesus and stuff.

CCM Cons:
  • CCM has a tendency to be a should I put this....eyes closed and hand wavey....
  • It also has a tendency to be a should I put this....generally rubbish......musically....
  • I don't really want the kids at the back of the bus blasting 'Shine Jesus Shine' out of their mobiles.

I don't think there's ever been a good 'Christian' rock band from the UK.  Okay, there are a few 'worship bands', and a few bands whose songs feature Christian-inspired lyrics, but I can't think of any full-on Christian rock bands who have made it big.  Even Athlete, who are apparently Christians, have had limited success at best.  The UK's most famous worship band Delirious have always been massive in the States but ask people on the streets here and they'll probably respond with blank faces.   Despite having had a few UK chart hits, they struggled to receive radio airplay - possibly influenced by their Christian label.  Are we not forward-thinking enough?  Should we be more like our American brothers across the sea?  Or are we in a better state here than they are over there, where 'Christian' music (if it exists) is more about getting a message across than getting records into charts?

If I'm being completely honest, from a selfish self-serving point of view, I kinda like having a complete starvation of CCM in this country as a canvas on which to create my own faith-based music.  If I sing songs about God and creation and my salvation, people would probably listen for a minute or two out of surprise before drifting off.  But if I make music referencing all that stuff and the beats are a-rockin, it might actually stay in their heads long enough to make them think.  Which is pretty much all I wanna do.


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