The third album from Christopher the Conquered finds songwriter Chris Ford not only singing and playing piano, but also using his role as bandleader for the first time in his recorded history. Ford assembled his crew to perform the music of his sophomore effort, You’re Gonna Glow in the Dark, and the band rehearsed the material for the new album before hitting the studio, playing largely live, which has added the great energy you get from their performances to this record. The resulting effect is immediately noticeable – where before there were horns, now there are arranged horn sections, playing along with a whip-crack rhythm section and really bringing out the power in the songs.
One of the best things about Christopher the Conquered songs is their duality – how they can go from being serious or on the verge of darkness to making you laugh, sometimes even within the same verse. That quality is very much intact here, right from the beginning. Opening track “Free to Try” kicks off with the sounds of the street and traffic, and the greeting, “Welcome to America, home of the brave and free,” and ends with the narrator drinking a glass of water slowly and having it go to his ass.
Though not a concept album, the record does have a lot of common themes, the main one seeming to be that yeah, things suck sometimes, but if we can all just get along and treat each other better, you know, it’s really not that bad after all. This is perhaps most evident in the song “Life is not Always Easy,” which is an acknowledgment made clear in its title, but when you throw in a nice bass groove, some hand claps, and some sax solos with some sweet delay on them, you kind of tap your foot and forget for a bit.
The first single, “Let Us Not Confuse Our Thoughts with Our Beliefs,” has a gospel-by-way-of-Motown feeling, and the excellent advice, “So how about we shut our goddamn mouths? No one needs to hear us preach.” It would be incredible to hear this song on national radio – it has a ton of soul to it, and a cinematic bridge that’s like watching the sun rise in New York City.
“10,000 People” is an exercise in appreciation, how things could always be worse than they are, but it also has a swing beat and a piano solo that feels like it’s going to fall apart at any moment because it’s so fragile. It also has some of the best lyrics on the album, including, “If it’s in the Bible, it must be true – you see, I read about it on the internet,” and, “How can you save a soul, when its body is full of holes? You know, those holy, holy holes.”
We also get some rockers. “This Vulture has Been Shocked” has a great rock vocal performance by Ford, and “The Truth is on its Way” kicks off with a horn section riff that wouldn’t be out of place on an Earth, Wind & Fire album. And right when the song gets boiling, the narrator’s preacher-voiced sales pitch complete, the horns rise with what sounds like a slide guitar in the middle, until the whole thing sort of disintegrates for a bit, before it resolves and fades away.
So what is the fate of a good man? At the risk of entering spoiler territory, we get the answer in the final song: “There’s shit on the floor, and there’s shit on my skin/But the shit that smells worse is the shit you are in/Ain’t that the fate of a good man?” We all have our shit we have to deal with, because that’s how life goes, and some of us have more of it than others, but what’s more important is what we do with that, and how we deal with it, and how we let it define us, or not – which is ultimately good news. We all have a chance to be a “good man,” and we all get to choose our own fate. And whichever way you decide, in Christopher the Conquered’s world, you may as well dance and party a little bit along the way.