I remember the day of the Tennessee Flood,
The sound of the scream
and the sight of the blood.
My son he saw as the animal died
in the jaws of the dog as the river ran by,
He said, "Come back soon."
It takes guts to start an album with lines like that. When I first heard them, I was surprised and intrigued. And right from the get-go, Andrew Peterson fans, both new and old, aren’t quite sure what to expect. Unlike his previous albums, Lost Boy is immediately dark and brooding, while at the same time deep and satisfying.
The instrumental backing, (and in particular, the addition of the epic drumming of Will Chapman—yes, son of Steven Curtis) is much broader than with earlier records. Gone are the folksy banjos and fiddles, enter drums and mournful electric guitar. While unusual at first, I quickly decided it was cool, and it certainly still had that Andrew Peterson vibe to it (references to thunder and mountains, and at least one song with hammered dulcimer).
Come Back Soon, the opening track, introduces the main theme of the album: loss of innocence. The album draws inspiration from both The Yearling and Peter Pan, and there is frequent imagery of a boy, lost in the woods. In some ways, starting the album with Come Back Soon feels like starting off right where his previous record, Counting Stars, left off. Counting Stars ends with the lines,
I know that I don’t know what I’m asking,But I long, Lord, I long to look you full in the face,I am ready for the Reckoning.
Come Back Soon is a heart-cry, a lament for the world and a longing for renewal. Like The Reckoning (which is, by the way, my all-time favorite song), it is asking How Long? It ends with a recognition that our world is broken, but that death is something that doesn’t belong. This was not the way it was meant to be.
If nature’s red in tooth and in claw,
It seems to me that she’s an outlaw,
’Cause every death is a question mark
At the end of the book of a beating heart,
And the answer's scrawled in the silent dark,
On the dome of the sky in a billion stars,
But we cannot read these angel tongues,
We cannot stare at the burning sun,
So we kick at the womb, we beg to be born.
Deliverance! Deliverance, O Lord!
The Cornerstone is Andrew at, as he says, his “rockiest.” It’s definitely got lots of electric guitars, but there’s that good ol’ Ben Shive piano in the background, keeping us grounded. And it’s not just shallow rock and roll one hears on the radio…because it has lyrics like:
You turned the tables over,
There in your Father's temple,
You cracked a whip and raised a shout.
My daughter asked me why,
I said "Love is never simple,
It draws 'em in, it drives 'em out."
The Ballad of Jody Baxter returns to the theme of the album, and draws heavily from The Yearling. I haven’t read the book, but I gather that the story is about a boy named Jody whose loss of innocence comes with the death of a fawn he had befriended. The song shows one response to loss of innocence: living in the past. Many people are so enchanted by “the good old days,” that they can never really move on. It’s a beautiful, nostalgic, heartrending song.
Day by Day is Peterson’s response to living in the past. The garden of Eden was good, but the gates are shut. If we want any real happiness, we have to start living with hope for the future, for the New Jerusalem.
And it hurt so bad,But it's so good to be young.And I don't want to go back,I just want to go on and on and on.So don't lose heart,Though your body's wasting away,Your soul is not, it's being remade,Day by day by day.
There could not have been a lovelier sight; but there was none to see it except a strange boy who was staring in at the window. He had ecstasies innumerable that other children can never know; but he was looking through the window at the one joy from which he must be for ever barred.-J.M. Barrie "Peter Pan"
True love only comes with knowledge, at the loss of innocence and ignorance. Peter could never love.
Shine Your Light on Me continues the theme of light in the darkness, but focuses on the light of fellowship between friends. Carry the Fire and You’ll Find Your Way are amazing, but they fall back in awe of the last song, and possibly the best of them all: Don’t You Want to Thank Someone. In it, Peterson comes to his amazing, unexpected conclusion about innocence. It feels like a terrible spoiler to reveal this amazing line, so if you're already sold, go ahead and buy the album, listen to it, then read this.
I don't like easy answers, because they're probably wrong, and they're ultimately empty, even if they feel good for a time. The whole album struggles with hard questions, and gives even harder answers, but ones that are painful, beautiful Truth.
Maybe it’s a better thingTo be more than merely innocent,But to be broken, then redeemed by love.Well, maybe this old world is bent,But it’s waking up,And I’m waking up.
It’s one of those albums that shouldn’t be listened to in bits. Whenever I flip to it on my iPod, I make sure I’m ready to listen to the whole thing, because it’s a story that begins in the first song and ends with the last.
One of my best friends has a motto about her writing. She told me she wants “To tear their heart in two, then put it back better than it was, and whole.” At the time, I wondered if it was possible. I rather pride myself on being levelheaded and not very emotional. (Which isn't true, but that’s why I use the word “pride”). Yet Andrew Peterson has managed to break my heart and put it back better than it was, with this latest album. I, who do not cry, have been reduced to a quivering, bawling mess at least four or five times listening to Light for the Lost Boy.
I still remember that time when I thought I could take on the world. That time when everything was black and white and politicians were the good guys. I was confident, happy, and heartless. But it was good. And then I had to leave Neverland, and Eden. The fawn is dead, but I’m still longing.
Maybe it’s a better thing,To be more than merely innocent,But to be broken, and then redeemed by love.
And when I’m finished weeping, I feel a golden hope inside that I didn’t have before, because I know the world will be "made new again." One day we'll be back in Eden, and it'll be all the sweeter for the journey. That's what Andrew showed me. There aren’t many albums I can say that about. Buy it.
I'm waking up,
Neo-Mayberry, Middle of Nowhere,