“They is just puttin’ on a show. There is no Christian there, I don’t think, in alot of it. It ain’t sung right. They are puttin’ stuff in there that don’t belong in it. It ain’t right! And they don’t need to be hollerin’ and screamin’. They just need to do it nature.”—Bill Monroe, on Christian rock music
Bill Monroe died in 1995, the same year Johnny Q. Public released its seminal Christian punk/rock sonic attack Extra-Ordinary (Gotee). If Bill could have heard the band’s driving renditions of “Why” or “Scream,” perhaps he would have changed his opinion of Christian rock music. He could easily have covered both of those tunes with his fiery mandolin and his Blue Grass Boys. Extra-Ordinary was a primer on aggressive Christian music, being a primal expression of agitation and ecstasy over adhering to faith in a post-Christian world. It should not only be required listening for all aspiring Christian rockers, but for all punk/metal practitioners in general…
Why am I opening with these thoughts? To avoid as long as possible having to comment on the first non-indie release from Squad Five-O, entitled Bombs Over Broadway. This quartet from nowhere is led by Jeff and John Fortson who, according their press release, dropped out of military school “...(with near 4.0 GPAs) when they gave it up for The Rock.” Huh? They were joined for this album by another pair of brothers, Adam and Justin Garbinski. As this youthful band (ages 17 to 24) “...played out and toured and recorded for a while, they’ve fallen in love with practitioners of The Rock, such as The Alice Cooper Band, the MC5, T-Rex, Sweet, and David Bowie.”
Help me out here. Is this saying that all those artists moonlight with Prudential? For certain, it’s not the “Rock of Ages.” If Squad Five-O is trying to associate with some musical form, it is wantonly misrepresenting itself. The group’s mimicry is directed more towards Quiet Riot, Warrant, and Poison. Bands to really emulate.
Musically, the Squad’s bomber explodes before it ever gets off the runway. Let’s listen to the flight voice recorder to find out what went wrong: “For the most part Jeff writes all the lyrics and most of the parts, but John and I ended up writing songs for this album, too,” says 19 year old guitarist Adam Garbinski. “We write all our parts individually—most of them start with just the changes and a chorus, and then we all add our parts.” Well, there you go—it’s just that simple. If ever the sum of the parts hasn’t equaled a whole, it’s here. To call this music “sophomoric” would be too kind. The chord structures are completely devoid of any imagination. The leads are repetitive and predictable. Actually, Quiet Riot sounds terrific by comparison.
And what about those lyrics? Thematically this is supposed to be some apocalyptic vision where youthful believers who “rule the night”:
“babylon’s falling on the beast from the east
in the arabian sand
bombs are exploding, but we’re the squad
that’s still rockin’ the land”
Well, if you want to get technical about it, according to Revelation 18 the Beast destroys Babylon, not the other way around. And take a look at these lowlights from “Rock & Roll Bandit”:
“an outlaw, above the law
a regulator riding with the wind and a cause
all for one and one for all
just four desperados and I like those odds…”
These guys had 4.0s? My initial reaction was “somebody needs to jerk a knot in these boys.” I am sympathetic to the need to exult in the excitement of youth. But it’s difficult to feature young Timothy, the apostle Paul’s protege, strutting about in a Joey Ramone look-alike costume, yelping about burning down the stage.
Which brings us to the fundamental problem with Squad Five-O: they don’t “do it nature” when it comes to their supposed message. They sing, “salvation’s found in what is true,” but without any specific reference point the statement means next to nothing. It’s a half-cocked message clad in glam-punk Halloween suits. It might be celebratory, but it’s rudder-less, without any real gospel to speak of. Other so-called Christian bands like P.O.D., MxPx, King’s X, etc., have shrugged off the label and, like Demas, “departed, having loved this present world.” At least they’ve been honest. The Squad needs to make up its mind. Johnny Q. Public demonstrated forcefully what can happen with properly focused passion—the essence of true art.
It is distressing that a label like Tooth & Nail, whose alumni include(d) such challenging artists as Velour 100, Sal Paradise, Starflyer 59, Pedro the Lion, Danielson, et. al., should sign an act like Squad Five-O. As for this disc, I am considering donating it to the local skeet shooting range. At least there it will get airborne for a few seconds.