My 13-year-old, a little over a month ago: Hey Dad, whatcha doing?
Me: I’m doing my album review for the Presbyterian Outlook. They’ve asked me to review an album of interest once a month.
13-year-old: Ah. Well, I got an album you out to review for them.
Me: Yeah, what’s that?
13-year-old: twenty one pilots’ “Blurryface.” It’s pretty good.
Me: OK. I’ll do it.
And that’s how I wound up reviewing this album.
Thing is, when I started listening to it, I was pretty impressed with it, in both musicality and message. As my teenager would later point out, twenty one pilots – the Columbus, Ohio, duo of Tyler Joseph and Josh Dun – have made mentioned in interviews that their faith is very important to them, even though they in no way classify themselves as a “Christian band.”
As Tyler Joseph put it: “What I believe is very important to me, and absolutely is going to always be present whenever I create something, whenever I’m working through something. I think what someone believes can define them, even if it’s that they don’t believe anything, and for me and my faith, it will always be a big part of my music, whether it’s directly or indirectly.”
“Blurryface” is the perfect example of Joseph’s philosophy – rich and multi-layered, but not obvious. The album’s second track, “Stressed Out,” laments the loss of innocence growing up in a world that no longer has need for a sense of awe and wonder:
We used to play pretend, give each other different names,
We would build a rocket ship and then we’d fly it far away,
Used to dream of outer space but now they’re laughing at our face,
Saying, “wake up, you need to make money.”
The point? Perhaps it’s simply stating the obvious. The album fluctuates between confession and lament, almost in a psalmic sort of way (more on that later).
What’s brought to light? The constant weight of anxiety and the sense that things are not the way they should be. It’s perhaps best captured in the recurring character called Blurryface. More than the album’s title, Blurryface essentially acts as a metaphor for all that gets in the way of us seeing ourselves for who we were created to be. Think a distorted Imago Dei. “My name’s Blurryface,” Joseph sings repetitively, “and I care what you think.” Self-identity and self-awareness fashioned solely by how others perceive us – that picture can never be a clear one.
As I delved into the lyrics of “Blurryface,” I was struck by their almost psalmic quality – pleas of a sort to a higher power. “Don’t forget about me, Even when I doubt you, I’m no good without you,” Joseph sings on “Doubt.” And, “Can you save my heavydirtysoul?” on the album’s lead track. There’s a deep level of authenticity to these songs that can be elusive when conveyed through twenty one pilots’ unique musical vehicle.
Speaking of the music, twenty one pilots arguably have a sound all their own. Think Primus meets Eminem meets Ben Folds Five. I know… it takes some getting used to. Google these guys for videos of them playing live and you’ll see a stationary drummer (as are most drummers) with Joseph running around between at least two keyboard units. Certainly a lot of what you hear is programmed, and the absence of guitars is odd initially (save the occasional ukulele song), but the longer you listen the more I think you will be impressed with what these two guys do together. Sonically diverse and rich.
It’s the music that takes you out of your comfort zone, which perhaps better enables you to hear the message it seeks to convey. All of which builds naturally to the album’s final track, “Goner.” Having been through confession and lament, the journey concludes with petition:
I’m a goner
Somebody catch my breath
I wanna be known by you
I wanna be known by you.
“Goner” also marks the departure of the Blurryface character: “I’ve got two faces,” Joseph sings, “and Blurry’s the one I’m not.” In being known who he is, he knows who he is not. Imago Dei, rediscovered.
This album is a wild ride both musically and lyrically that will push the listener through an amazing journey of self-discovery and renewal. Stay the course, twenty one pilots encourages us. We may be pretty pleased with what we find in the end.
When STEVE LINDSLEY is not being a pastor, or sermonizing, or songwriting/giggling, or keynoting/leading music for various retreats and conferences, or teaching Old and New Testament at his local community college, or blogging, or running and swimming and practicing yoga, or playing pick-up basketball with his two sons and letting them win, or watching music competition reality TV shows with his love wife, it probably means he’s sleeping. Follow him on Twitter at @slindsley. Visit his blog.