The long overdue Part Two of my look back at the music and legacy of Larry Norman.
Larry Norman - Only Visiting This Planet / this is the first in a trilogy of albums that are undoubtedly the creative high point in Larry’s career. This record is often heralded as the best Christian Rock album ever recorded. Such praise is warranted because this album both lyrically & musically is a masterpiece! Is it Larry’s best?... it just might be... but then again I’d argue any of the Trilogy albums could hold that spot. It is an impressively articulate & intelligent record. Uncompromising, confrontational & controversial; it had the perfect blend of socio-political commentary & spiritual truth. Larry himself commented “The album was about political errancy, racist theology, musical idolatry and corrupted values. I felt like I was on top of my game and could figure out a compelling way to say anything I thought about.” He certainly was on top of his game & as good if not better than the best of the best in 1972! ‘Planet’ is up there with anything by the Stones, Dylan or Neil Young in that era. Songs like ‘Righteous Rocker’ revealed Larry’s lyrical genius, only Dylan could come close to writing a track like that & he did when almost a decade later he wrote ‘Gotta Serve Somebody’ ...he came close but he didn’t eclipse it. Yes, the word ‘classic’ is often overused but here is a record that truly deserves it.
Larry Norman - So Long Ago The Garden / released in 1973 this was the second album in Larry Norman’s trilogy of albums (which began with 1972’s Only Visiting This Planet and concluded with In Another Land in 1976).
Conceptually ‘Only Visiting This Planet’ focused on the present. ‘In Another Land’ looked to the future. ‘So Long Ago the Garden’ looked to the past & the effects of the Fall. It had the same impeccable production & musicianship as ‘Planet’. The songs on ‘Garden’ examined the human condition, & the cosmic loneliness that haunts humanity. Many of them are from the perspective of broken people. In many ways ‘Garden’ was Larry’s most abstract & sophisticated record. He had this to say about it: “It is my favourite album, and one of the most banned and misunderstood albums that I've recorded. Christians don't seem to be as aware of, or as sensitive to, the dire state of humanity as they are about the pleasant growth of their Christian walk. So Long Ago The Garden was as definitive a statement as I could make about the emptiness of our lives without Christ, just how lonely and wretched we truly are. It was all a very premeditated and carefully written album.” It just might be my favourite Larry Norman record.
Larry Norman - In Another Land / Released in 1976 this record is the third part of the Trilogy. It was his most successful record commercially but like the other two albums of the trilogy it suffered from record company meddling & censorship... they just didn’t get the grand musical & lyrical statement Larry was attempting to make & his complete vision for the record was not fully realised at the time. Nevertheless it is still a masterpiece.
In production terms In Another Land might be his most ambitious project with lush orchestral parts, layers & textures. Larry was clearly at the height of his creative powers in the mid 70s. My favourite thing on this record are those snarling guitars from Jon Linn... what a guitar genius that man was! Eschatological themes abound on In Another Land. Larry had this to say about the album: “It's about the future, and rather than speculate about what the future might hold, I tried to stick closely to what the Bible says it will hold. I think because the future orientated album was so directly tied to the scriptures, people felt this is Larry's best album, or this is the most Christian album. I think that Only Visiting This Planet or So Long Ago The Garden were much better conceptional statements...” I do agree with Larry but In Another Land still deserves to be regarded as one of his very best albums. It is a fan favourite containing some of his most memorable songs & some of his finest vocal performances. The trilogy is quite simply essential listening & three of the best albums to come out of the 70s!
“Come to reason, face the day,
Now's the season, old things pass away.
Stand beside us, take His hand,
He will guide us, in another land.”
- Hymn to the Last Generation
Larry Norman - Something New Under The Son / Something New is a gritty & raw rock album and should have followed the Trilogy back in ‘77 but squabbles with the record company meant it didn’t see the light of day until ‘81. Those were a turbulent few years for Larry that saw the break up of Solid Rock Records as well a lot of interpersonal pain. Larry said this about the record: “This is a blues album. A storyline is woven through the songs. Sure these songs are about my life, just like they're about your life. I wrote these songs to express how I feel about passing feelings I have about emotions like loneliness, despair, romantic rejection. If you find yourself unable to identify with these songs, then congratulations... you've led a very privileged existence." It was music for people on the margins, real music for real people & as far away from the “sanitized & respectable” christian subculture as you could get. What do I love about this album? It is a stunning set of songs & then there is Larry’s voice... he never sounded better than on this album. And Jon Linn’s guitar work... Gregory Alan Thornburry states “Linn’s virtuosity is so striking, it’s hard to think of a better guitar album from the era.” He’s right!
Something New... was influential too; The Pixies first EP was titled ‘Come On Pilgrim’ after a lyric from one of the albums standout tracks ‘Watch What You’re Doing.'
Larry Norman - Stop This Flight / This one dates from 1985, and along with Rehearsal 4 Reality it was my introduction to Larry's music. Back in 1978 Larry suffered a head injury when the plane he was on experienced a hard landing and the middle section of the ceiling collapsed on his head. The damage to his brain wasn’t apparent or obvious immediately but throughout the 80’s it did effect his memory & his ability to record in the studio & actually complete a record. So Larry had the idea of recording a live album of mostly new songs & it became Stop This Flight. It captures Larry and the Young Lions on the third world tour & was recorded on 15th June 1984 at the Dallas Brooks Hall in Melbourne, Australia. It is one of his very best live albums, & his best album during that 12yr period when he struggled to make a proper studio album. Larry described that period as ‘helpless and dazed’. He certainly isn’t helpless or dazed on this album; The Young Lions sound fantastic & Larry is in top flight. In spite of whatever else was going on the genius shines through & demonstrates what he still was capable of as a songwriter and performer. Stop This Flight remains one of my favourite Larry Norman records.