Introductory Note: In appreciation of Petra’s fortieth year in music and ministry, I am ranking their albums from least best to greatest. You can read my opening post here.
Never Say Die (1981, StarSong)
Lineup: Greg X. Volz (lead vocals), Bob Hartman (guitars), Mark Kelly (bass), John Slick (keyboards
This fourth album from Petra is really the first to capture what we know as the Greg X. Volz era Petra sound, with new producer in Jonathan David Brown. It’s also the first of Petra’s albums to feature a song to reach number one on the Christian charts. It is a transitional album of sorts, as Petra was departing the soft sound we’d heard on Washes Whiter Than for a little more rock, but not as much rock as we’d later hear.
“The Coloring Song” is that number one single and to this day endures as one of Petra’s best known songs. The lyrics paint a rainbow of the gospel, pointing to the listener to the substitutionary death of Christ on the cross (“Red is the color of the blood that flowed”), the sinner’s hardness to the gospel (“Blue is the color of a heart so cold”). Gold is used in word play to point us to the love of the Son, and brown to introduce a verse about the natural course of death and life in creation and to show that God transcends that cycle in the human heart.
“Chameleon” is probably my favorite song on this album, a true rocker with a heavy emphasis on Bob Hartman’s guitar. It’s the lyrics, though, that really catch the ear for how bold, blunt, convicting, and challenging they are — calling the listener to not be a so-called Christian who blends in with his surrounding, looking like the church one minute and like the world the next. “Come out! Come out! Come out from among them!” shouts Volz, echoing the words of Paul in 2 Corinthians 6. And consider the closing verse, “There is no gray, no neutral ground / There’s only black and white / And nothing in between the two / To turn a wrong into right / There is no time for your charade / You’ve got to make your stand / When salt has lost its savor / The world becomes so bland.”
“Angel of Light” is another solid rocker, again echoing the apostle Paul. The song’s lyrics are directed at the devil, who masquerades to the world as an angel of light, “but only bring[s] darkness to [your] soul.” The last verse talks about the effect Satan has had on the world and the church. “Killing My Old Man” doesn’t do much for me musically but the lyrics talk about the necessity of the Christian, as a new creature, to put off the old self. “Without Him We Can Do Nothing” mixes messages from John and Paul to point to the simple truth that it’s impossible to not sin apart from Christ. Really good message.
The title track, “Never Say Die,” encourages the listener to press on in tough times because in Christ we’ve come too far. “I Can Be Friends With You” is a slow one that points to the inestimable value of friendship with Christ compared to other potential relationships. You get the feeling that “For Annie” was written specifically for youth groups. It’s fine. “Father of Lights” is kind of just there on the album. The closing track is one of Petra’s best combinations of rock and praise, the aptly titled “Praise Ye the Lord.” A very solid track.
You get the feeling that Bob Hartman, in particular, had been reading a lot of Paul’s letters in penning the songs on this album, and of course that’s always a good thing. Never Say Die was certainly a welcomed change from Washes Whiter Than, at least in my view, and it really signaled the beginning of the first of the two “golden ages” for Petra. Better times were ahead, but you shouldn’t miss this one either.