There is something dark inside each of us, something broken, something waiting to be let out and shown the light. There is a light inside each of us too, waiting to explode upon the world, to beam and shine forth. We are paradoxes, all of us. How we reconcile these inner contradictions is a profound and important question, and is one singer/songwriter Matthew Perryman Jones asks in his newest album “Throwing Punches In the Dark.”
Here Jones explores faith, love, and the indecision and failure which tend to arise from any sort of personal attempt to live with either in one’s life. The songs are honest and candid and they are full of emotion without being sentimental.
Jones’ blend of folk/pop songs and spiritually driven lyrics remind listeners that despite the fact that we are surrounded by suffering and hatred, and though we are sometimes filled with anger and rage, though we are often broken and often fail, we are creatures made in the Imago Dei complete with beating heart, creative impulses, and somewhere, though perhaps deeply, passion squirming about in our souls, grasping the bars which keep it hidden away. “Throwing Punches In the Dark” is an album about breaking down those bars, about bursting out, warts and all.
Jones recognizes, however, that actually doing the breaking out is not easy. He doesn’t offer easy answers or solutuons and he certainly never pretends such action is anything other than what it is: a difficult road, sometimes dangerous, always long, always narrow. What he does offer is hope:
No matter what’s inside
There is nothing you can say
to cause me to hide
You know I’m broken too
I’ve fallen far, I lost my faith
been found and made new
“Throwing Punches” is an album about being re-born (again and again) through active and engaged search for truth and beauty. It is about seeking something greater than ourselves and Jones unabashedly sings about the mystical qualities of the spiritual life. Each song is full of rich, poetic imagery — “trees will bend with sacred grace,” and “I know he whispers still in places deep
with flaming words of light” — that cement firmly Jones’ status as one of the best spiritually minded songwriters performing today (or songwriters at all, for that matter). He creates wonderful pictures in his lyrics that emanante brilliantly in his tender and clear vocals. For this he has been compared to the likes of Leonard Cohen and John Lennon.
The album begins with a quiet little love song called “Meghan’s Song” about sweet dreams, dancing in the sky, and eternal love (in more than one form). The final verse goes:
And Baby, let’s go far away
See this world that God has made
And know our hearts are in his hand
This lovely one who counts the sands
The next two songs “Breaking Out the Windows,” and “Waiting on the Light to Change” are glorious, pop, guitar-driven songs about hope, love, forgiveness, open-ness, and second chances in the face of failure. “Oh love won’t let you go/it bends and reaches low/just let go.”
“Sinking Wishes” is about “taking a chance to find out what’s real inside” and evokes memories and emotions of childhood and growing up, of learing what faith is and what it entails. “All the King’s Horses” is a meloncholy, even sad, break up kind of song about regret and failure and the kind of memories that seem to arise most profoundly in the dark. It is a reminder that time passes as time will.
The album’s best song is “Refuge,” a prayer for help, strength, and perseverence in the face of overpowering doubt and overwhelming failure. It is about mystery that transcends darkness and heals “the broken soul”, about a place home to truth and love. Instrumentally it is the album’s most intense song and thus the form mirrors well the tone and subject of the song. “One Thing More” is about the weight of expectations and failure.
On the third to the last track Jones interprets Stephen Collins Foster’s 150 year old folk song “Hard Times.” It is a beautiful, though mournful, rendition of the oft-covered song and is a needed reminder that “While we seek mirth and beauty and music light and gay/ there are frail forms fainting at the door/ though their voices are silent, their pleading looks will say/ Oh! Hard Times, come again no more.”
“Echoes of Eden” is a near-seven-minute, near epic, explosion of hope, joy, and worship reminiscent of a U2 song, that tells, joyously, of change “calling out” and fears “falling down to their death/ oh, may they rest,” and of a glorious and wondrous eternity, one day to come. The album’s finale is a beautiful, acoustic ballad-of-sorts Jones wrote about his father entitled “Beneath the Silver Moon.” It is rich with imagery and spiritual metaphor and is overtly about the life giving quality of the spiritual mysteries and the spiritual nature of experience. Jones writes here to his father:
“And you would find a resting place
Where stars would light the room
And trees would bend with sacred grace
Beneath the silver moon.”
It is about rest.
And thus the album ends: time stopped momentarily- a passionate soul at rest, engaged in worship, engaged in experience, partaking in the full measure of spiritual mystery: forgiveness, love, and peace.
Matthew Perryman Jones has been compared to many artists such as Bono, Daniel Lanois, and Jeff Buckley, not to mention the aforementioned Cohen and Lennon, and while the similarities abound, Jones is a brilliant artist in his own right. “Throwing Punches in the Dark” is a miraculous album and is one of the best of 2007. Should you let them, you might find that this collection of songs has changed you and that, appropriately, they have brought you rest and peace.