Digging through my dusty CD vaults last week, I unearthed another gem of an album that I hadn’t played in far too many years: Jesus Wept by P.M. Dawn. Released in 1995, this was one of the better, yet most underrated, albums of the 90s, no matter what genre you are talking about.
If you are as suspicious of “Born Again” musicians, as I am, don’t let the album’s title dissuade you from listening. These guys are certainly not stereotypical Jesus freaks. Although the songs on this album are not love letters to the Christian Messiah, there is a definite spiritual, or perhaps mystical, theme to many of the songs. Lyrical content aside, P.M. Dawn created a definite musical hybrid for this album, mixing soul, hip-hop, pop, and rock to create songs full of danceable grooves and hummable harmony, all wrapped in a sweet pop-woven blanket. Although they use samples on occasion, these guys are real singers, and they sing very well.
P.M. Dawn is basically a duo, Attrell and Jarrett Cordes, more commonly known to their fans as Prince Be the Nocturnal and J.C. the Eternal. But their music is so good I can forgive them for the goofy nicknames and religious references in the titles. Why Jesus Wept album never made a bigger splash is another one of those inexplicable musical mysteries. Perhaps the title of the album was a turn-off for many potential listeners. They did garner one minor hit from the album with “Downtown Venus,” but the rest of the material was equally strong; gorgeous songs that crossed stylistic bridges with gleeful abandon. The album’s closing medley is worth a listen alone; as P.M. Dawn recreates “1999” by Prince, segues into “Once in a Lifetime” by Talking Heads”, and closes with “Coconut” by Harry Nilsson. How cool is that? And they managed to do it all seamlessly and soulfully, bringing a brilliant album to a brilliant finish.
P.M. Dawn made their first big musical splash in 1991 with “Set Adrift on Memory Bliss”, a song which sampled “True” by Spandau Ballet. That single became a number one hit in the US and a top five smash in the UK. It was included on their debut album, Of the Heart, Of the Soul, and Of the Cross, a very solid collection of songs, but to my ears not nearly as magical as Jesus Wept. The last album that P.M. Dawn released was way back in 1998. Since that time, the health problems of one of the brothers in the group (he had a stroke and later a leg was amputated) has curtailed further recordings, and any live performances are now done with only the one brother. It’s a shame such a talented duo has not released any more new music in the past decade. Many of their fans are waiting to be “Set Adrift on Memory Bliss” once again.