Album length: 5 tracks: 21 minutes, 6 seconds Street Date: July 29, 2008 (digital) / August 19, 2008 (CD)
If there's one plus to this whole digital age of distributing and acquiring music, it's the fact that bands can get new music to their fans quicker, more often, and with a whole lot less overhead than ever before. Just a couple of weeks ago, Jars Of Clay debuted a brand new single on iTunes, entitled "Closer," not too long after venturing into the studio to work on a new studio record. But now fans don't have to wait quite as long for new music, and with Jars working on their first non-seasonal project since going independent, it's allowed for some interesting material to surface from the alt pop foursome.
The Closer EP debuts two brand new songs to tide fans over until the release of their next full-length album sometime early next year. In addition, Jars offers two brand new renditions of cuts from their trend-setting 1995 debut ("Love Song For A Savior" and "Flood") and rounds out the EP with "Prisoner of Hope," a song the band recorded for the end credits of a documentary entitled Sons of Lwala. The EP begins with the heavily 80's influenced "Closer," a delightful pop love song that is quirky but catchy. The title track as well as its predecessor, "Safe To Land," are heavy on the imagery as front man Dan Haseltine injects these songs with an array of emotions. While "Closer" is a decidedly more upbeat anthem, "Safe To Land" is a beautiful and emotional pop ballad about forgiveness, painting a metaphorical picture using an airplane landing to approach a theme of repairing a relationship. The urgency in Haseltine's voice insisting to work things out no matter what it might take makes the song an emotional experience that anyone who knows what it's like to hurt a loved one and ask for forgiveness can relate to, "Is it safe to land? Cuz the long fall back to Earth is the hardest part... / I'm coming home / I'm waking you up in the middle of the night / I'm not giving up / I'm going to stay til we make it work / We're not going down even if it gets worse / We'll work it out." From there, the EP takes a horizontal focus vertical with the worshipful "Love Song For A Savior." This new version, some thirteen years after the original, safely retains the elements and heart that fans have come to hold dear about the 1995 version. The biggest changes here come by way of the song's percussion, with the drum loops replaced by a sort of pounding bass beat and hand claps that surprisingly work for keeping an intimate feel. Jars smartly keeps the wonderful harmonies that permeate much of the debut album as well as the acoustic guitars that were the band's signature when they began. While it isn't quite an improvement on the original, it's a fun update and alternate version, and a nice addition to the EP.
Surprisingly enough, the only downside to the Closer EP is a greatly altered take on "Flood." Aptly retitled as "Flood (New Rain)," the song is given a slightly darker tone, nearly dropping the original acoustic thread and adding a new electric riff that is the driving force of this rendition. The new riff gets a bit monotonous after a while, and added electronic effects feel more loosely integrated than neatly woven through (for example, the synths on "Closer" play a big part in the makeup of the song while the effects on "New Rain" don't). The biggest problem is not that this song is even a bad one, but that longtime fans (like this particular reviewer) have grown so used to and attached to the original version of the hit song that to hear such a different take - that doesn't improve upon what remains a fantastic song - just seems unnatural. For newer Jars fans who may find the 1995 version a bit dated or even uncharacteristic of who Jars Of Clay have matured into as musicians, this song may feel more like a new track than anything. But when any band retouches a fan favorite, there is guaranteed to be mixed feelings from their listeners. Finally, the still rather solid EP closes on a high note with a social justice anthem, much in the same vein as "Light Gives Heat" from Good Monsters. "Prisoner of Hope" fits perfectly musically among the diverse collection of songs on this EP as a bonus.
If the Closer EP is any indication of what's to come from Jars Of Clay in the near future, things are looking bright. Even if Jars thematically focuses more on romantic relationships as evidenced with the EP's first two new songs, the band is giving plenty of depth and artistic lyrical substance to digest. They once again keep things musically interesting and fun, taking their sound in yet another new direction for them as they explore more of a euro synth flavored pop taste that seems to be where a lot of pop music is headed. So as we wait for the next full-length chapter to be written in Jars Of Clay's wonderfully intriguing career, their new Closer EP is well worth checking into.
Used by permission, www.jesusfreakhideout.com - Review date: 7/30/08, written by John DiBiase