Posted by: mlawrencekey | July 26, 2009

Derek Webb’s Stockholm Syndrome: A Review from a Guy Who Knows What He Likes to Listen To and Isn’t a Professional Music Critic

dwebbAfter reading over a dozen different articles on the web about Derek Webb’s controversial new album, “Stockholm Syndrome,” I figured I’d take a stab at writing what I think about it.

Now, by way of disclaimer: I’m not a professional music critic, nor do I play one on TV. I’m just an ordinary guy who happens to like music and knows what he likes when he hears it. That said, my tastes are fairly eclectic. Take a look at my iTunes music list: you can find both gangsta rap and classical music, with everything in between.

All that is to say, I like Derek Webb’s new album, Stockholm Syndrome a lot, and on a couple of different levels.

First and foremost, I’ve enjoyed Webb’s most recent work, such as Mockingbird and the Ringing Bell, for their protest slant. I guess it’s part of my makeup–I liked Steve Taylor in high school for the same reasons, for his willingness to boldly but lovingly criticize the church and especially American evangelicalism where it most needed it. I like Webb’s most recent work for similar reasons, and Stockholm Syndrome is no exception.

As far as the music goes, I find some of it catchy, while the rest is a bit difficult to listen to. I think part of that is that I’m not too fond of some types of electronic music. Plus, I’ve read elsewhere that the music is deliberately dissonant in parts, and is actually meant to be a somewhat uncomfortable listening experience–analogous to how the lyrics are supposed to convict and niggle at us, I suppose.

I don’t like all of the songs on the album equally well, though a few I didn’t like at first have grown on me after half a dozen listen-throughs. Here’s a few of my thoughts about a few of the songs I like:

Black Eye

Good beat and lyrics, both. The repeated phrase “black eye” sticks with me, somehow. Good message about how those of us in the church have gotten a “black eye” from peering in at our lover (the world) too much. Not only that, but we’ve developed “Stockholm Syndrome,” where we’ve identified strongly with our captors (again, the world and its systems).

Cobra Con

Love the music here and the lyrics. Sounds like a track from one of the Bourne Identity movies (a bit like Moby, I guess). Great message about those who protest but give in to violent means, and those Christians who so easily side with those who wage war. There must be a better way, somewhere past violent protest and past blessing the bombs as they fall. I love the lyric which states: “It’s harder to wait/It’s harder to outsuffer them.” Have we chosen the way of suffering, of waiting on the Lord’s justice to prevail?

The Spirit vs. the Kick Drum

Can’t say I like the music in this one too much, but I like the lyrics. Good reminder for those of us who want a “tame Christianity.” So many of us settle for so much less. We want a vending machine, not a loving Father; a jury of peers, not a Son who died for us; a kick drum, not a Spirit who fills and empowers us.

What Matters More

The most controversial song on the album, mainly because of its use of the word “shit” in its lyrics. Besides the fact that the Apostle Paul used similar language when trying to make a point in one of his letters, this song hits hard with an important point that we will miss if we get bent out of shape about the cussing. Where is the love, the care for those 50,000 who die daily from causes related to poverty? Where is the love that we say we’re about in relation to our treatment of homosexuals? This is not necessarily a new message, but it is still desperately needed, in my opinion. Oh, and the music for this one rocks, too.

Jena and Jimmy

Love both the music and the lyrics here. A little parable of an idealistic young woman into justice and social issues who gets seduced by an attractive man who’s only after one thing: getting her into his bed. This little story illustrates how the church, the bride of Christ, has allowed its ability to speak into social injustices to be seduced away by the world. Our much-needed message has been co-opted by the world’s–we have come to resemble our uncaring lover so much that our salt has become worthless. My favorite lyric, sung by “Jimmy”: “I’m gonna kiss your lips to shut you up.” Indeed.

There are other great songs on this album, but these are the ones that have stood out to me so far. This is a great album, and well worth a serious listen for anyone who cares about the direction American evangelical Christianity is heading and what it’s exporting out to the world.



  1. Great review. Keep it up.

  2. Good review, I really enjoy the new album as well, Jena and Jimmy is possibly the most catchy song I’ve heard in my life, it’s just infectious (in a good way). Keep sticking with the album, you might be surprised what continues to grow on you.

  3. Fantastic review. Left disappointed and wanting to read your review of the other songs. Absolutely the best insight into DW’s lyrics I’ve found thus far. completely blew away the review on Christianity Today. Please go back and do a short blurb on the other songs. Particularly can’t wait to read something about “The Proverbial Gun” and “American Flag Umbrella”!

    • I’m glad you enjoyed the review. I’ll definitely look at making a follow-up post soon with reviews of the other songs.

      • Great! can’t wait to read it!

        Some good debate on this album going on in the rabbit room:

  4. Derek Webb may be shocked to learn an ex-Christian atheist just bought a copy of his album. Last Christian-music album I bought was Jars of Clay’s debut, and that was when I was still in.

    I’m a classical musician and I love the music, by the way. My favorite so far is actually “The Spirit vs. the Kick Drum.” I was singing along on the second verse, heh.

    Now… about Black Eye… what a shock to read your take on the meaning. I was an abused wife, years ago. I was a Christian abused by the church and by the totally needless guilt and damage from the constant attacks of so-called Christians “just doing according to the Word.” I could have wrote the song about my experiences in the church and with fellow “Christians” who just didn’t live the love they preached. I took it all on myself, all the guilt and fear and pain, because I was told it was the righteous and pious thing to do. No, I wasn’t gay or an alcoholic, or a drug user, or a “sinner.” I was just a normal, intelligent girl who tried her hardest to understand why she was called “bad.”

    I think that whether or not he intended it, Derek had some strong things to say about abuse in the church and how it finally drives people like me to leave just to stop the abuse.

    • Thanks for your comments, speedwell. I totally understand where you’re coming from. I have friends who’ve been through similar experiences as yours, with similar results, so I understand. Abuse in the church is definitely a big issue, and it’s absolutely contrary to the spirit of Christ. I’m sorry you had to suffer through that, and I hope you can find healing someday. I like what you’ve taken away from that song, even if that wasn’t Webb’s intended meaning (I based my own interpretation at least partly on interviews that Webb has done on the album in general and its themes). In any case, I wish you peace.

  5. Very insightful review. I agree with those who wish you would give this album a full review.

    Stockholm Syndrome is my first Derek Webb album purchase. I was familiar with him, but Mockingbird and Ringing Bell didn’t strike a chord with me. This album is 5-stars, in my book!

    • Bill and Jim:

      I’ve posted a follow up review of the rest of the album here in my blog.

      Let me know what you think.

  6. Are you sure Jena and Jimmy is a parable? Taken on face value, it seems like a disturbing song about acquaintance rape. It’s a pretty hard song to stomach in my opinion.
    In either regard, I think it’s an important issue to address, disturbing nonetheless.

    • It’s true that the acquaintance rape is part of the narrative, but it’s only the topmost layer of parable, in my opinion. If you read/listen to the lyrics carefully, there is throughout an undertone of politics and the attempts of Jimmy to shut Jena up by using whatever means at his disposal, including seducing her so that she is effectively silenced. All that stuff is a little strange if this is just an acquaintance rape story.

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