42. Jugular – Vigilantes of Love

JUGULAR

Vigilantes of Love

Wow, if ever a title of an album matched the contents it holds it is VoL’s “Jugular.” That is where the project aims and it is where it hits and does not let go until you are spent! I remember the first time I heard this project I was sitting in the office of Frontline Records as the management was trying to decide whether to ink a distribution deal for this project into the Christian Bookstore market. It was probably prudent for the long-term success of the fledgling distribution company that they decided to pass. Despite being the most consistently controversial record label for the time, Jugular was too much for even them.

Fortunately for me I received a copy of the record that day and it has remained a favorite ever since!

Choosing an album to spotlight from Bill Mallonee and Vigilantes of Love was no easy task as the overused term prolific is about as accurate a description as you can get for Mallonee. He has managed to release over 30 records containing hundreds of songs in just a 20 year span without losing anything in terms of quality and integrity. He is simply a songwriting machine. I had also been considering Driving Nails and Welcome to Struggleville before finally settling on Jugular. As it was the first release it also contains some of the most poignant and controversial content of any of Mallonee’s projects.

This should serve as a warning that many people may be offended by some of the content contained on the project, both subject wise and particular language used. Mallonee is a fearless songwriter and his content is as wide as the universe and as honest as can be found, but his use of profanity has caused many to shrink from his work. That is a shame. I have long gotten past the issue of the usage of certain words and whether a Christian is free to use them within context. Here I believe Mallonee is well within his rights and the contextual usage is dead on and actually not that far removed from similar language used in the Bible, if not sanitized over the years. The Apostle Paul was not one to mince words and felt quite free to use words and phrases that many today would be both surprised by and, I’m sure, offended.

Throughout this review we will highlight several songs that stand out and the reason they make this record such an important one in christian music history. I do also want to highly recommend that the reader also try and track down a copy of Driving Nails as it contains some of the best content in Mallonee’s career as well.

One of the real beauties of Jugular is its pure simplicity. Guitar, limited drum, harmonica and accordion pretty much consume the entire project…send pretty hip and edgy already, doesn’t it? Recorded feverishly over a three day period it really is a wonderful work of art.

The album kicks off with “Songs on the Radio,” a blistering critique on the mediocrity of what passes for music on the radio and art within the confines of modern culture. He does so, like Bruce Cockburn, by forcing more words into the lyric than actually fit the song.

They were arguing the merits of Freud and Darwin on MTV
Oh, the things they foist upon men’s minds in the blessed name of free inquiry
Buy stock in psychiatric hospitals
Soon there’ll be no vacancy
If they see no one’s at home out there, then someone else has got to fill that need

The songs on the radio still suck, I’m afraid
It is my turn to drive, and I can barely stay awake

The real victim of Mallonee’s venom is the American culture and buying, selling and pimping…quality content is the victim of commercialism’s dominance.

Now when a need is nonexistent you’ve got to create desire
Eastern Europe is the most likely buyer
They’ve been dying for it, crying for it ever since the wall
For syringes, porn, designer drugs, orgasms and shopping malls

Won’t you pardon my imposition and my lack of tact and flair?
I was looking for salvation
I was hoping you might tell me where
I can smell it on your breath, smell it on your hair
I can almost reach and grasp it, but my vision is so impaired

‘Cos there’s dung on the airwaves as far as I can see

The following song is “Something to Hold On To.” In the poet yearns for something that’s worthy og grabbing hold, whether it be love, truth or peace, but is continually struggling with the nagging questions and pictures the lengths he is willing to go in order to discover this thing worthy of being held on to.

Nicodemus had his questions
Thomas had his doubts
We have not been left in the dark to work the whole thing out
This clinical environment
To believe is just to fake
I would thrust my hands inside the wound if it will bring you all to faith

But Mallonee is not without hope and the listener begins to catch a glimpse of where his trust is found and it is clear it does not reside within himself.

I will boast in my brokenness
Revel in my defeat
I will let you kick my ass if it’s what you need from me
See, pilgrims without weapons sometimes get nailed to a tree
They use no anesthetics, but the surgery’s guaranteed

“As Big as Christ” bemoans the reality that very few of us ever ask the really important questions. We are relatively content with mediocrity and are afraid to deal with the greater realities.

See, I have no motivation
I have not any drive
I’ve got no hunger
Fascination with the higher things in life
Friends say they’re so happy
Friends say they’re well-fed
They’re well-drugged and laid and entertained
So beautiful and deadly boring…

…Pardon me if I interpose a question
Big as Christ
Smaller than your life

“Love Cocoon” is one of the two most controversial songs on the entire despite that fact it does not contain any words that any would find offensive. But rather, with this song, it is all about the content. Using imagery not far from the Bible’s own Song of Solomon, Mallonee explores the world of physical, sexual intimacy. Many listeners are unable to get past the first two verses to really realize just what Mallonee is expressing here and what a powerful and glorious gift intimacy expressed within the marriage covenant is. Mallonee starts with a picture of the passion of intimacy when he sings:

Honey, I wanna attack your flesh with abandon
I wanna look for your fruits
I wanna put my hands on them
Pump up the thermostat beneath your skin
I wanna uncover your swimming hole and dive right in

I’m a moth when I fly to the light of my doom
You wrap me up in your love
Love cocoon

But soon the listener understands the direction Mallonee is going as he struggles with the presence of this passion and its origins.

There’s an explosion of grace dripping in my bed
Is it somewhere else?
Is it in my head?
Is it weak and tender?
Is it rough and ready?
Is it fragile and delicate?
Is it rock-hard and steady?

Mallonee also wants to clearly differentiate his expression from how the world pictures the same act.

Now the world keeps on banging, and they come and go
It’s just a part of their scenery
A part of their show
But I got this wedding band wrapped around my finger
Honey, I’ll be your poet
Darlin’ I’ll be your singer

Mallonee finishes with a true testament to a holy and Biblical form of intimacy to leave no sense of confusion.

Some call it freedom
Some call it shackle
Honey, let’s get together and build a tabernacle of holy flesh and holy mirth
We’ll confute the enemy and enjoy the worth

You wrap me up in your love cocoon…

Where Love Cocoon caused an uproar over the content it was “Drunk On the Tears” that many found objectionable because of the use of a vulgarity. It is a shame that so many missed this powerful song – a song I believe is the very best Mallonee has ever written – because of not understanding the use of words within particular content and even the Bible’s own use of profane language when needed.

“Drunk on the Tears” starts with Mallonee bemoaning the many different sins of society. From the business and political elite, to the casual drugging of society and the depths at which a woman will go to make ends meet. This is dark and sad set against the back drop of acoustic guitar and harmonica. But it is when Mallonee turns his attention toward religious hypocrisy that songs begins its lyrical tension.

Jim and Tammy and Reverend Swaggart
They don’t look like Jesus, and they’re a whole lot fatter
Don’t miss the truth for a stupid sideshow
Don’t confuse the cup with the contents it holds

Mallonee then turns the finger back at himself and the struggles he faces and his current state of depravity and his need for the kind of “drink” that God provides.

God, I need a drink, and I need one fast
Make it a strong one
One that’ll last
Have You got anything that’s been selling brisk
For a soul diagnosed at a terminal risk?

At this point the song changes bot musically and lyrically. Instrumentation all but vanishes and the listeners is left Mallonee nearly whispering in his ear about the only truth that bring this peace man so feverishly desires…

Jesus, lover of my soul
Let me to Thy bosom fly
I’m so weak, and I’m so cold
And the lambs in the West so speedily die

Alibis roll off my tongue
I’m looking for ruins to hide among
I got a soul piled high to excess
With the wonderfully useless and the frivolous

The praise due Your name evades my lips
There’s no helping hand on my fingertips
I used to be someone
Now I’m not worth a shit
I got a truckload of things I’m trying to forget

Then in some real way the Gospel invades the hopelessness and Mallonee traces man’s frailty back to the garden and recognizes the promise of hope that was given even in that dark moment that doomed mankind.

Since back in the garden on the first page
Something about the cradle to the grave
The promise is broken
More promises made
All in the image I’ve so defaced

Played out on the pages of history
Dripping in blood that flows from a tree
Where the Father and Son part company
Come back together for you and me

Finally Mallonee reaches the climax of the reality that it was all paid for at the cross. The cursed man hanging from a tree actually was presenting Himself as divine and kingly.

I don’t know why You did it
What was Your motivation?
Crucifixion’s not a cool sensation
You had something to say, and You started to speak
The cross is the place for Your coronation speech

Other amazing stand outs on this incredible album include America, Losin’ It and Weak One Now. Biblical imagery abounds along side earthy, dark and uncomfortable pictures. That is why this album is deserving of inclusion in everyone’s collection if the reader cares at all about the art of writing songs and expressing truth in authentic and lasting ways.

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4 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Alex on February 18, 2010 at 9:11 pm

    I must say, I’m a bit surprised that an album like “Killing Floor” or “Audible Sigh” was not used to showcase Bill’s talent but I’m actually glad you went with “Jugular”. To me, Mark Heard’s final three albums are masterpieces but from “Jugular” to the WPAs, Bill Mallonee has been more consistent. I think that the first three VoL albums have an almost…frenetic energy that disappeared on “Welcome to Struggleville” and later albums. “Drunk on the Tears” is definately one of the best songs in Bill’s catalogue and I think it’s the “star” of the album. It’s too bad so many Christians are too timid to get past the “coarse language”. It makes me shake by head in dismay when Derek Webb can still cause an uproar over “What Matter’s More” on his newest album because of the language.

    Reply

    • Posted by low5point on February 18, 2010 at 9:21 pm

      It really was “Drunk on the Tears” that clinched this for me. But without giving too much away I think it’s a slam dunk that the final three Mark heard records were amazing, but there is one previous one that just has too much going for it thematically, musically and culturally not to be given the nod…but that is way up on the chart…

      Reply

  2. Posted by Bernard on April 19, 2010 at 5:41 am

    “Audible Sigh” was Bill’s best album. It is a journey into the depths of grief like no other artist has explored (save perhaps Mozart’s Requiem). “Locust Years” really connects.

    The Audible Sigh version of Love Cocoon is better as well due in part to the updated lyrics:

    “Honey, let’s get together and build a tabernacle of holy flesh and holy mirth
    Let’s take what’s coming and enjoy every inch worth”

    Reply

    • Posted by Bernard on April 20, 2010 at 1:37 am

      CORRECTION – I meant “Slow Dark Train” instead of “Audible Sigh” twice in the above post.

      Reply

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