A Pale Blue Dot
Independent release, 2010
REVIEW BY: Jedediah Pressgrove
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 05/07/2010
It’s important to know what you’re getting up front. This is a review of a Christian rock album by someone raised in a Southern Baptist environment. In other words, I’m well-versed in Christian words and music, so it would take a lot to impress me in this regard. Some would even question my appreciation of Christianity, and I understand that. I apparently find Christ an admirable person for reasons that differ from the mainstream. For instance, I’m much more interested in the radicalism of Christ as a means to shape a better society. Confessions and declarations have their place, but when you tackle Christianity musically in such a way, you’re competing with old-school hymns, and you’re not going to top them the majority of the time.
This disposition is why my review of Jon Hainstock’s A Pale Blue Dot might be somewhat harsh, but really, the album isn’t terrible. I simply don’t find its overall message compelling, and I don’t like some of Hainstock’s lyrical decisions.
Hainstock obviously cares about his work. In addition to handling vocals, songwriting, and instrumentation (guitars and keyboards), Hainstock produces here, and while there is nothing overly impressive about the production style, the album is crisp and has plenty of space. I can also appreciate Hainstock’s variety of guitar styles. If not distinctive, the guitar playing is appropriate in many places, and I like the jazziness during the bridge in “Empty Glass” and the slide guitar in “Holding Love.”
But the substantive elements of the album are questionable. Perhaps the following point is a petty observation on my part, but my problem with the album starts with its title, A Pale Blue Dot. Taken by itself, it’s a modest title, nothing objectionable. But Hainstock details the story behind the title in the liner notes. Basically, the title refers to what Earth looks like from a great distance in space, as shown by photographs taken from Voyager 1. Hainstock says, “That’s when I realized how small I really am in the grand scheme of things and how big God is.” From my standpoint, there’s nothing inspiring about that sentiment in the least. I’ve heard that kind of talk since I was a kid, again and again and again. And while there is some value in the viewpoint, the message comes across as a cliché on this album. Hainstock says he wants to make a difference, but he seems to stop at the “I’m a pale blue dot” statement and doesn’t give us any insight in enacting positive change.
Again, I am jaded because I’ve seen this message for much of my life in a variety of forms, but Hainstock’s lyrics tend to get in the way of me enjoying the album for what it is. “Record Machine,” for instance, has noble anti-materialism intentions and a catchy chorus, but lines like “I don’t need more material things, no” are a bit too obvious, and their blunt seriousness might even elicit a chuckle rather than a nod. The first track, “I’d Do Anything,” is also potentially laughable in that Hainstock can come across as a teenager with a crush rather than a Christian with lines like “I want you to notice me when I’m around.”
I mean, perhaps these lyrics can help someone new to Christianity, but I believe good actions that result from self-empowerment via the teachings of Christ are a better starting point than the personal relationship approach, where everything that happens to you is important and somehow relates to God. I must clarify that it is indeed important to analyze one’s life in a spiritual context, but conceptually, the idea is uninspiring unless one has better lyrics and more powerful vocals to make it matter for both non-Christians and listeners like me.
On the other hand, when Hainstock takes it easy and comes back home from outer space, you get a pleasant and uplifting song like “Looking For Redemption,” which benefits from roots music influences. It’s not that Hainstock isn’t talented or dedicated to his mission. It’s that often the words and theme behind his mission don’t make me want to take the stand with him.