The Phantom Tollbooth
May 1999 Pick of the Month

CHRISTIANsongs
Artist:  Joy Electric
Label:  BEC Recordings
Length: 11 songs / 39:46

Ronnie Martin has finally grown up.

That's not to say Joy Electric's previous albums weren't enjoyable--quite the contrary. Their delightful, "smiley"synth-pop was always good when you are in the mood for something non-aggressive. Seemingly infatuated with fairy tales, Martin sang off-kilter songs about gumdrops, trolls, and castles.

CHRISTIANsongs is not like that. Although it is still basically synth-pop, there aren't any conventional instruments, only synthesizers (Martin prefers to say "synth-pop" rather than techno). Of course, Martin still sings beautiful melodies in an English accent. Lyrically, however, CHRISTIANsongs is as far from "The Cobbler" as one can get. Martin has been quoted as saying this is Joy Electric's most important album ever--believe it. The lyrics all center around Christ, yet manage to stay away from cheesy clichés. Here is a good example excerpted from "Lift Up Your Hearts:"

   The lackluster play hide and seek
   The faithful share the truth of Christianity
   Why don't you see?
   Are they ashamed to bear the name?
   When all the while they fool themselves
   With fake acclaim they never get.

As you can see, Martin has traded in the sunshine for brutal, yet truthful, attacks against hypocrisy in the church. His knowledge of Christian music history is also evident in the liner notes acknowledgment section, where he thanks such pioneers as Larry Norman, Daniel Amos, and Resurrection Band--he even covers Keith Green's "Make My Life a Prayer to You."

In case you're not familiar with the delightful style of music known as "synth-pop," here's a brief description. It's completely synthetic. There are no guitars, pianos, drums--nothing but synthesizers. People are usually quick to call it "techno" or "electronica," but Martin has been vehement in his objections to these terms.

CHRISTIANsongs is still not an album that should make up the majority of one's musical diet, nevertheless you'll find that there's still quite a bit of nourishment in the sugary music.

Michial Farmer (4/23/99)

Joy Electric's frontman and founder Ronnie Martin struck gold when he teamed up with Jeff Cloud. Now the Joy Electric sound is greater than ever, and CHRISTIANsongs is by far their best album to date.

Although Martin picked "aggravated" as the one word to describe the album's theme, I suggest "depth." This time these masters of the electro-zen have spent more energy on the feeling of songs than the sounds. The result is a total package of sound and sense, keyboard wizardry, lyrical truths, and catchy melodies that sets a new standard for synth-pop.

CHRISTIANsongs is a full analogue album with just a tinge of a dark, sarcastic theme. There are a few songs, like "Children of the LORD" and "True Harmony," which are faster than a speeding train, catchier than a cold, and more like "Happy Hardcore" than anything. All the percussion is played on the keyboards, and even the slower songs
are more up-tempo while also showing greater musical depth. Like good classical movements, every song takes you somewhere, rather than just repeating a few cords over and over again.

The lyrics are blatantly Christian and every song is a "stand for the LORD." Though most prior albums fixated on fantasy, childhood, and trolls, this one focuses on reality, maturity, and God. On "Lift Up Your Hearts" they make a stand for the truth and question the faith of other groups. "Children of the Lord" serves as a statement of faith, and being born again is likened to being synthesized on "Synthesized I Want You Synthesized." Martin's voice is the perfect match--both excited and intentionally over-acted.

Joy Electric have truly created something entirely new while also staying true to their unique sound. Quite contrary to the song Joy Electric made years ago, "Five Stars for Failure," CHRISTIANsongs earns "Five Stars for Success."

Justin W. Jones   (5/18/99)

Do you need a pick-me-up in your day? You could do a lot worst than picking up Ronnie Martin's wonderful synth-pop release. While Martin has aimed these songs at alienated youth, we can all find a message here. The songs are all Christian anthems or calls to action with a crisp and fresh sound. No Nashville cheese here. Christiansongs is sure to bring a smile
to your face and hopful joy to your heart.

Shari Lloyd 9/12/99