Reviewed by Paddy Hudspith
Arguably the most consistent and well respected of CCM's recent megastars - they unofficially represented Christian rock at the Live 8 gig in Philadelphia, for example - Jars Of Clay have without doubt earned a greatest hits collection by now. I'm sure however that their loyal fan base will debate whether this 14-track offering from Essential Records does justice to Dan, Charlie, Stephen and Matt's phenomenal success. There are undoubted classics on offer here ("Flood", "Love Song For A Savior", "Crazy Times", "Show You Love", "Dead Man (Carry Me)") and 'Greatest Hits' works fine as a sampler for the curious bystander. For anyone with more than just a passing interest in this talented group however, it's a shallow, half-hearted effort exemplified by the ultra-sparse liner notes. There's nothing "wrong" here but Jars deserve much better. That said, this brief overview, with its strictly chronological layout, does effectively illuminate an unlikely "regression" during the Jars' album career. Four tracks from the genuinely innovative 1995 debut remind us of its stunning - and now much-imitated - retro-modern approach, fusing acoustic guitars and strings with programmed rhythms and samples on the likes of fan favourite "Like A Child". 'Jars Of Clay' certainly benefitted from the production savvy of sometime-Bowie collaborator Adrian Belew, earning the band immediate sales success and mainstream credibility; support slots with the likes of Sting quickly followed. However, since taking responsibility for production duties themselves from 2002's 'The Eleventh Hour' onwards, Jars have favoured a less-is-more approach and gradually headed in a more traditional rock direction, with Dan Haseltine's lyrics simultaneously becoming simpler but sharper. Obligatory "fans-will-buy-this-for-the" new track "Love Is The Protest" continues the trend with echoes of The Clash and The Jam in its punchy rallying call to action in the faith. Fans will know their Jars history well enough however and are likely to feel short-changed if they shell out for this CD; their favourite hit might well be absent and what's more, there's no evidence of the many and varied contributions which Jars Of Clay regularly make to other albums. They were key players in the excellent 'City On A Hill' worship collections, for example. Having heard 'Greatest Hits' my wish list now includes the two-disc 'The Essential Jars Of Clay', another recent but much more comprehensive overview of the band's career to date.
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