21. Dig – Adam Again

DIG

Adam Again

This decision was not unlike the decision required for choosing which album by The Choir to represent. Nearly every album by Adam Again would merit consideration and I even reached out to handful of like-minded friends to help work through this decision. But when all was said and done I firmly believe that “Dig” is ultimately the finest work by Adam Again and one the greatest alternative releases in Christian Music history.

When working for Frontline and Diamante Music in the 1980’s and 90’s I would occasionally visit friends as they would be recording in the infamous and fabulous Green Room. Many of the greatest releases in Christian fringe music history were recorded there; Jacob’s Trouble (who missed this list by inches), Daniel Amos, Common Bond, Lost Dogs and a list too long to continue.

The Green Room was the property of Gene Eugene; the founder, leader and vocalist for Adam Again, member of the Lost Dogs, “Prickly Disco” of Swirling Eddies fame and one of the most genuine and dry witted people I have ever met. The Green Room was pretty much Gene’s house converted into a recording playground. I remember being there when someone was recording a demo and the drums were set up in a bathroom or something akin to it. But the music that came out of that converted home changed the face of Christian alternative music and his presence has been clearly felt.

The Green Room was also the place he was found on March 20th, 2000 as he had died in his sleep.

Later that year at Cornerstone Festival 2000 a warm, funny and brilliant tribute to Gene was held as his closest friends, including Steve Hindalong and Derri Daugherty (the Choir), Mike Roe (77’s), Mike Knott, ex-wife Riki Michelle and other performed Adam Again classic. The evening was recorded and released on a double CD.

Adam released their first album in 1987 with a cover reminiscent of an early Talking Heads cover (same artist) and a sound that was not too far removed from Talking Heads and REM. The first albums utilized drum machines instead of a live drummer but that was corrected by the time Homeboys was released. This change created a fuller, more aggressive rock sound to accompany the wonderful world, funk, soul and blues rhythms that populated the music of Adam Again.

But it was with “Dig” that Eugene came into his own as a songwriter. He appeared to reach deep into his soul for lyrics more introspective and transparent. Though he was divorced from band mate and vocalist Riki Michelle a year or so later, you could begin to see the tension and pain associated with this trauma unfold through the music and lyrics of “Dig.” Though the follow-up album, “Perfecta,” would deal most directly with that drama and pain, it was “Dig” that most accurately portrayed the unknowing future in stark and muted terms.

Musically “Dig” is big. The production sounds larger than life at times with a wall of guitars, drums and bass exploding through the speakers. Listening to this record with headphones as I have done with most of these reviews has opened up a totally different perspective to what is going on musically. There are layers upon layers of rhythm. There are subtleties and bombastic explosions of passion. There is the heart of an artist placed firmly on his sleeve. We are all the better for it.

Eugene is also to be commended for surrounding himself with an amazing cast of musicians. Along with Michelle, band members included Greg Lawless, Paul Valdez, Jon Knox and others. They were an amazing group both in the studio and live, playing with passion, raw emotion and uncanny precision.

The album starts off with “Deep” with a light electric guitar strumming and additional drums and bass as the song builds through the first verse. Then at the chorus the music transitions into a serious rock song with a killer soul-like groove as Eugene sings in double time.

So here’s a nickel for your time and a dollar for your dime
Just another night of laying low
I see a shovel in the hand of a wild-eyed man
With a mission and a goal below
But I don’t want to, you don’t want to, we don’t want to know
And forgotten are the cross, and the naked and the lost,
And the lover of the tired and cold

The artist here struggles with the facades placed upon many from their fear of not living up to their religious convictions and so are driven to a phony existence and no real contact with one another is made. He yearns to dig deeper into soul and find the real person.

Useless and empty, is it?
World stupid, loveless limits
Immune, deficient fathers
Sick sons and dying daughters
Deep will I dig, I. . .

“It Is What It Is (What It Is)” follows with a slower verse structure and limited instrumentation during the verses before a musical release in the chorus. The guitar riff is one of blues-induced hard rock, the drum pounding with large fills and progressive changes, while all the while maintaining a soulful vibe throughout. This musical tension is equaled by lyrical tension.

Thirty years old, naked and cold
A child without a mission
There always is a deadline and that’s fine
I’ll follow the tradition
The audience is bated
I’ve got it by the throat
That monumental big decision
It is what it is what it is

The title track starts off slowly with just Eugene’s voice accompanied by an electric keyboard with a very lonely, melancholy emotion throughout. Michelle’s voice is added to the to the second verse before drums, bass and guitar join after the chorus. The song stays relatively the same. This is not a hard rock song by any stretch and yet maintains the Eugene passion, sounding the most like Michael Stipe here than on any other song on Dig.

Feel it coming in
Feel it going out
Water covers sand
Blood covers doubt
So I begin again
Again, the healing bow
There was a time when I might have surrendered, but not now

Consult the cards to measure mine
The earth is hard, but the treasure fine
To the sea, I’ll crawl on my knees
At the sea, I’ll wait on my knees

“Hopeless, Etc.” is quite possibly the darkest and heaviest song on the record, both musically and lyrically. The guitars are whining and grinding. Eugene’s vocals are strained and hurting. The lyrics are from that of one who sees things from a perspective of futility, all the while realizing that the writer bares the blame for his own situation, isolation and emotional response.

I’m useless
I’m useless
Useless without you
It’s my fault
It’s my fault
I am withered, I am weak
And about to find out why I’m so into
Being useless
Useless

The instrumental midway through is the perfect marriage of contextual execution. The guitar solo is both raucous and disjointed.While “Songwork” continues in the same vein musically and lyrically with the theme of self-doubt and the inner struggle of the human condition, it is “Worldwide” that follows that really shocks the listener.

“Worldwide” is a beautiful, simply, lovingly performed acoustic song. Here the poet turns his attention outward projecting his inner sense of a need for a Savior to a lost world. There are billions of people in the world and we only know a few. As a result, do we truly have the love for the lost world that the Gospel demands? Do we hurt when a child goes to bed starving…again? Are we removed emotionally and spiritually from the hurting masses?

It is much too short of  song!

But we all love that desert thunder
We put some sticker on our bumper
Three billion nothings in the world
Why should anybody bother?
Worldwide
Worldwide

What about Headman Shabalala?
Does anybody care about justice?
Three billion people in the world
And his spirit weeps for all of us
Worldwide
Worldwide
Worldwide

“Walk Between the Raindrops” keeps a soulful funky groove while “Hidden, Hidden” is heavier but both continue to explore the doubts. But here again it should be noted that Eugene does not leave the listener with no sense of hope, but rather that effort is involved in “seeking.”

Without trying to read too much into the inspiration for each song, as many are attributable to the common struggles of man, it appears that “River On Fire” appears more than the others to be a personal expression of a personal loss of relationship, most notably, the dissolution of his marriage.

What can you say, the impossible happens
What can you settle for?
What can you live without?
I remember the night I first darkened your door
And I swore that I loved you
My heart was pure

And you could be happy, and I could be miserable
I’ll grab a metaphor out of the air
The Cuyahoga river on fire

The Cuyahoga is said to have sparked the environmental movement as it was so polluted it actually caught on fire some 15 occasions.  As we continue to heap the litter of our depravity upon the ones we love it will eventually come to destroy us or be destroyed.

The album closes with “So Long,” a groove driven rocker that describes how we will cut others down in order to make ourselves appear higher. This is a tiring and unproductive way to live. The brass ring that we stepped over others to pursue is mud and clay.

I climbed that hill
I climbed that hill
I wanted to be on the top
I wanted to see the top
Big deal
I’m so tired
That hill that I climbed
Big deal

Finally we reach the point of our own selfishness that we can dismiss relationships without the lingering effects that should be attached to them. this revelation is haunting and it is how we are left as a listener.

I’m so wrong
And I don’t know the meaning of this song
But I know how to say
I know how to say
“So long”
“So long”
I’m so tender
The way that I say
“So long”

The pure honesty and authenticity behind every single song just makes “Dig” an amazing record of note. It is a crime that Adam Again never realized the success they so richly deserved. Timeless music, timeless truths.

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9 responses to this post.

  1. Dig is the kind of album a band works a lifetime to achieve. Gene, Paul, Riki, Greg and Jon hit that mark with just about every release, culminating in one of the most stark and honest discs ever to come out of music (let alone CCM,) Perfecta. Still, all the songs we immediately flash upon when the name Adam Again is read reside here.

    And sadly, so long after Gene’s passing, so much of this world of ours is still a grand scam.

    Reply

  2. I remember the first time I heard “Dig”… I was awestruck. Even at 13 I knew I was hearing something that went beyond simple “music.” Another great record!

    – Adam

    Reply

  3. Posted by Shawn McLaughlin on February 19, 2010 at 3:30 am

    Dave, I agree about 100 million percent with everything you say here. I bought their albums from the beginning and Homeboys REALLY brought home what a visionary Gene was. But Dig was a portrait of a band at the very top of their game. Their wasn’t a note out of place on the entire disc…..even the ones that were mistakes…..the breadth of Gene’s artistry on such disparate songs as “Dig”, “Hopeless”, “Walk Between the Raindrops” and “River On Fire” is staggering. A talent like Gene’s may never pass our way again.

    Reply

  4. Posted by Shawn McLaughlin on February 20, 2010 at 7:53 am

    Well, it was just a’ight and a lil’ pitchy fa me dawg!

    Reply

  5. I believe that Worldwide is the greatest song ever recorded. Christian or not. I’m a little surprised Dig isn’t in the top ten. It is for me.

    Reply

    • Posted by low5point on February 21, 2010 at 7:35 am

      Mike…as an explanation for the placement I actually believe Shawn articulated in a comment elsewhere exactly why my list is coming together as it is. I so wanted to create a list that combined artistic merit with industry impact. So my favorites and personal leanings had to be tempered. In fact, my all time favortie record will be number 17. I had it at number three to start but as I reworked the list I had to be true to my purpose here. I am considering several options when I finish this up. One is to be a Top 100 based solely on artist merit in which several releases from individual artists would be included.

      Reply

  6. Posted by Shawn McLaughlin on March 6, 2010 at 5:07 am

    Even with the “one album per artist” limitation, you managed to sneak TST in there 3 times in one form or another. As it should be!

    Reply

  7. Posted by Reid Davis on August 14, 2012 at 5:53 pm

    I have worked as a mainstream music writer and editor for years, have plumbed the catalogs of the greats (Dylan, Waits, Simon, etc.) and I have to say, this is one of my favorite albums of all time. Leave the “Christian” designation aside. It needs no qualifiers.

    Reply

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