This Sunday I got asked to play guitar at Church. The usual players were away or doing other roles in the service. We were doing the usual mix of Hillsong type songs. I'm sure that they might not all be all songs that have come out of the Hillsong church but to me they sound like they do. That is, they all have that ubiquitous contemporary soft anthem rock sound which, it's fair to say, the vast majority of the congregation really seem to like.
Anyway, Saturday night and I started listening to and learning the songs. All well and good, but then I tried to emulate the sound of the guitar. I've got an idea how to get the contemporary worship sound, compression distortion a bit of chorus. It's all very controlled, very understated, very clean. The guitar will never surprise you like a Jack White guitar riff, knock you off you feet like an ACDC guitar riff or make discordant noises you're not sure are supposed to be part of the song like a Sonic Youth guitar riff. No, the sound is predictable, controlled and anything but wild. And for me this is the rub. For me, the guitar gives so much emotional potency to a song that more often than not I feel like I know what a song is exactly about without understanding the lyrics. Niravna's Smells Like Teen Spirit is just one great example of this.
The guitar is the source of all those wild raw emotions we posses that we would want to unleash but it's just too impolite to do so. In contemporary worship it's these emotions that must be subservient to the harmonious singing, the constant solid bass line and the triumphant drums (that sound like they are from the last song in a movie where everything works out fine). The problem is sometimes things in life are not harmonious, they are not constant and things definitely don't work out fine. That's when the guitar needs to scream and wail. It needs to scream and wail when we cannot and this is why I don't like contemporary worship music. It's not the lyrics (as obnoxious as they can be) it's the guitars. It's the suppression of those wild raw emotions that I cannot suppress, especially if I'm being honest before God.
In the end I found a sound that was half way between Jack White and the contemporary worship sound. Apparently, according to one person, reminiscent of early Radiohead.