Whoa. Where do you start with this record, the classic Lifesavers Underground album that yielded a handful of Mike Knott’s iconic songs. We’re talking Die Baby Die, Plague of Flies and Shaded Pain. The record bleeds with punk-rock honesty, with haunting lyrics and vocals. It’s also raw and full of angst, a moody, brooding rock record that doesn’t disappoint.
And while the three aforementioned songs are absolutely outstanding, Tether To Tassel has always been a favorite of mine, and Lonely Boy is oh so good. And the record would not be complete without More to Life, which features a great guitar riff and Knott’s voice alternating between high-pitched wailing and the near-whispered chorus line of “there’s something more to life.” In a word, brilliant. The song sets the stage beautifully for the showstopper Shaded Pain, which is stripped down to piano and accompanies Knott’s anguished singing.
Yup, Shaded Pain is definitely a don’t-miss record from Knott’s catalogue and the best of the Lifesavers/Lifesavors/L.S.Underground bunch. It has a garage-band feel to it, the kind of rough-around-the-edges punk flavour that adds to the record’s appeal. And it has Knott painting beautiful soundscapes with gritty lyrics and superb song structures. This is also definitely a record that only gets better with age.
The man, the myth, the legend. Michael Knott is the envelope-pushing, iconic Christian rock one-man wrecking crew. He’s had his hand in many bands and various projects, most of which have turned out to be better than good. And it’s never hurt that Knott is both a great songwriter and singer, oh, and the ultimate showman to boot. One of the best concerts I have ever seen was a solo acoustic show by Knott (although he did take the stage with the opening band Dumb As Sheep for a song or two). With a KISS-like painted face, he spent the whole night talking about how awesome his new acoustic guitar was – only to smash it to bits at the end of the evening. It was what theatrical rock performances are made of.
That’s also where the similarities between Knott and Pete Townsend end. Did Townsend ever take the stage in a Cookie Monster costume? Nope. Maybe Peter Gabriel came close with that get-up he was sporting on the cover of Genesis’s first live record. (BTW, if you haven’t heard that record you’re missing out.) Alright, so we’ve already established that Knott was the ultimate showman. But it’s the ferociousness of his music that completes the deal. If Knott’s records aren’t out-and-out rocking (think Aunt Bettys), they’re often dripping with emotion – and Life of David oozes the stuff out of every pore. It comes across as a very personal heart-on-the-sleeve recording, in which he drudges the depth of his soul and pulls out the gold – and a bunch of other muck that’s not so pretty to look at. The fact that Knott is very much human comes through in his songs, perhaps most vividly on Life of David.
In that sense, it isn’t the most easy album to digest. I mean, take a listen to Chameleon. Listening to it is like being pulled through an emotional ripsaw. It’s gritty stuff. At the same time there’s a beauty to Life of David, perhaps in the refreshing honesty of a seemingly fragile man, but also in the delicate choice of words and gentle chords. In that regard, Halo is simple outstanding, while Hospital is gripping and unforgettable with the ominous soul-battered words, “I think I need forgiveness, I think I need more than the rest.”
Wow. And although you have to wade through some emotional goo, it’s not the kind of emotional tripe they spoon feed you on the Silver Screen. It’s real. It’s raw. And it’s strangely captivating. I mean, c’mon. How can a guy sing “I love all God’s children, all but one, this chameleon” and not bring you to your knees? The mood is definitely melancholy on Life of David, but it’s sprinkled with hope, kind of like that uncomfortable relationship shared by faith and doubt.
Musically, it’s a mix of hard and soft. On the opener Cast Me Away, Knott strums gently on an acoustic guitar, which is followed by Shoe Gazer, a song begins with a guitar riff with tremolo effect and a cool bass line before it kicks down. It’s about as hard rockin’, though, as Knott gets on the record. Sorry and The Bitterness also reach that level, while the bulk of the rest of the songs are primarily acoustic in nature. (One of the record’s coolest songs has to be Deception, which has a vocal delivery that reminds me of something the Red Hot Chili Peppers would do.)
There really isn’t a weak track on Life of David, and the more I hear it the more I realize just how good of an album it really is. And that’s saying something about an artist who has an incredibly extensive catalogue. He’s maybe the Christian equivalent of Robert Pollard, if not for the fact that Knott has been in the game a lot longer. I don’t think you can overstate just how important and prolific Knott has been to the Christian rock scene, albeit as an artist who has lived on the fringes. Life of David, while not as hard rocking and fun as some of his other releases, is an incredible, delicate and deliberate soul-spilling masterpiece.
1 Cast Me Away
2 Shoe Gazer
4 Into Your Heaven
7 The Bitterness
8 Candle Killing Light