Nathan Larson: Jealous God

[20 August 2001]

By David Zahl

As the guitarist for Shudder to Think, Nathan Larson helped pioneer that group’s distinctly musical brand of intellectual indie-rock. On his first solo record though, Larson has ejected his former band’s complex excess and, along with producers Clive Langer and Alan Winstanley (Morrissey, Elvis Costello), fashioned a near perfect collection of blue-eyed soul songs.

Jealous God wastes no time trying to convince the listener. It takes the existence of God as its reference point and the relationship between man and God as its subject. As such, the record pulses with need and pain and love and death.

The gorgeous opening track “I Must Learn to Live Alone” finds him yearning for strength on his own terms, singing “though Lord I’m enough / Just a body in a room / Love do what you will / For I must learn to live alone”. Here, as elsewhere, he derives his spiritual confidence from an utter lack of confidence. “One Perfect Stranger” mixes hooks galore with a profound plea for grace. Larson continues his confession on “What if I Fade?”, the first in a series of warm ballads, by asking “What if I stay? / What if I go wrong? / What if I fade before the song is done / what if I stray / what if our gracious God is gone?”. He spends the rest of the record answering his questions, that is, insofar as they can be answered. “We Don’t Need Anybody” ventures the following consolation, “God loves the lonely / And God loves the lame / And lovers and losers / Are one and the same”. As the first two songs would suggest, Larson classifies himself as all of the above. “Hello, Flame”, another example of Larson’s sense of melody and class, offers further comfort, namely that “We know something of the Lord’s good grace / We know all good kids must die to stay awake”.

Jealous God contains a few lighter moments as well, such as “Just Because a Man Expects Me To”, a soaring duet with wife and Cardigans singer Nina Persson. “The Night I Broke Three Hearts” wears its Elvis Costello influence proudly on its sleeve, and the title track manages to switch personal pronouns on its subject without sounding cheap or provocative.

The rock/pop idiom contains very few articulate records about God; most of them are found in the soul arena. There are plenty of artists out there with spiritual leanings (Van Morrison), plenty who question the nature of death and the universe (John Lennon, etc.), but very few willing to deal with God—with a capital G—in any sort of eloquent way. U2’s Pop springs to mind, as does Dylan’s Time Out of Mind, but that’s about it. With Jealous God, Nathan Larson joins that elite group.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/larsonnathan-jealous/