Ronnie Martin is one of the most recognizable and intriguing personalities in the alternative Christian music scene. An indefatigable worker, Martin produces a myriad of bands, has formed his own record label (Plastiq Musiq), and is a contributing editor to HM magazine, a monthly periodical devoted to heavy Christian rock. He also possesses infinite patience: this reviewer has watched Martin after live gigs, spending tireless amounts of time conversing with individual audience members at their leisure. His soft voice and peculiar stage presence make him a veritable gadfly within a largely conservative realm, but he remains unusually accessible. His band, Joy Electric (which is essentially Martin with occasional assistance from Starflyer 59 bassist/keyboardist Jeff Cloud), has single-handedly defined pop electronica from a Christian angle.
Unelectric had all the promise of being an extraordinary offering: Joy Electric’s mechanical, synthesized sound reworked and metamorphasized into acoustic vibrations. As I examined the warm cover art before placing this disc into my CD player, I anticipated hearing Martin’s fingers slide and squeak across the frets of a six-string, perhaps singing in a lower, more intimate voice. To my shock and disappointment, this album opens to the swell of a polyphonic synthesizer and—curses!—a drum machine, backing some anguished banging on a grand piano, Martin’s vocals as thin and distant as ever. Is this the proverbial “bate and switch?” I pushed the advance button, hoping to find Ronnie Martin performing with hushed intensity in the corner of a quaint coffee shop. But at every turn, there he was, like an angst-ridden music major, standing on top of the community college library, threatening to jump if the world (or at least the professor who flunked him) didn’t appreciate and embrace his semester composition.
How laughable to set the track “Monosynth” (originally on The Land of Misfits EP) to a polyphonic synthesizer and piano. Martin’s signature “The Cobbler”, a bubbly and upbeat example of electronica, is slowed to a morbid dirge on this record. Martin himself said of this collection, “I tended to favor the sadder-oriented songs, because I think they show where my true heart lies in regards to pure songwriting.” But the mental image evoked by most of these tracks consists of black-clad mourners standing listlessly on a foggy graveyard hilltop.
Ronnie Martin remains a versatile and talented musician and songwriter. Unelectric is well beneath his abilities, an unfortunate but forgivable gaffe. Hopefully the next, soon-to-be-released Joy Electric album will find him returning to his creative prowess.