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.
Back To The Rock (1983, StarSong)
Lineup: Greg X. Volz (lead vocals), Bob Hartman (guitars), Mark Kelly (bass), John Lawry (keyboards), Louie Weaver (drums)
OK. I realize that by including this album I am kind of cheating on this list. After all, this is technically “Classic Petra,” and over 80% of it is “greatest hits” material that has been re-recorded. But there are two new tracks, and it’s my list and so that is my justification for including this album on the list. After almost twenty-five years Greg X. Volz reunited with Bob Hartman, John Lawry, Mark Kelly, and even Louie Weaver(!).
I think the optimal way of describing the merits or demerits of an album like this, at least with regard to re-recorded material, is comparing the new with the old. Things get going with the new version of “Bema Seat.” The sound is crisp and Hartman’s guitar is the star, at least instrumentally. The song is, of course, a challenge for the listener to examine his or her own life. Will the fruit of our lives survive the “fiery heat when we see our lives at the Bema Seat?” Overall, I prefer the crisper sound of the new version to the old.
But I’ll take the original “Clean” from Beat the System, by a hair, over the new one. The older version just seems a bit more energy than the Classic version. Volz’s vocals shine a little more on the earlier offering, although the quality of the latter musically is nothing to complain about.
“Angel of Light” is one of my favorite songs from the Never Say Die album, but the new version tops it. The original, of course, is a product of it’s time – and there is nothing wrong with that in the least – but in the Classic offering there’s a bit more rock influence of some of Petra’s later years that give the song new, and to me, better life.
Although I think taking away the “Showers of Blessings” intro to the original “Rose Colored Stained Glass Windows” takes a little something away from the song at large, I’ll go with the Classic version of the song over the original. Part of this is just do the quality of the instrumentation, but Volz’s voice is mellow, yet full of meaning in this stirring call to a living church: “You think you have no lack when you’re really destitute” sounds like it comes right out of the letters to the churches of Revelation.
Give me my choice of renditions of “Godpleaser” and I’m always going to choose the live “Captured In Time and Space” version because the increase of rock adds to the urgency of the declaration. That said, I’ll call the Classic and original offerings of this song, one of my Petra favorites, a wash.
I wouldn’t have pegged “Second Wind” for a remake, but I’m glad they did because the new version breathes new life into a song that used to not do much for me. That said, you cannot top the original “More Power To Ya,” although the new version is also excellent.
The song that fails to live up to its original the most is, in my opinion, “Let Everything That Hath Breath.” In the original Hartman’s guitars just scream. In the new they are still prevalent, but a little more subdued. I’ll say the same about Volz’s vocals as well. On it’s own the new version of the song is just fine, but the original is superior by a clear margin.
“Graverobber” is another song where I’d call it a wash between the original and the new. Same with “Adonai,” but I’ll speak to it because there’s a bigger difference instrumentally. Guitars replace keyboards on that familiar opening portion of the song.
Ironically, for an album that is to a great degree a rehashing of things past, one of the great strengths of this album is the two new tracks tacked on at the end. The title track, “Back To The Rock,” is a modern rock sounding a song we easily could’ve heard on an early 80s Petra album. The lyrics are a nod to Petra past, of course, but more importantly they are drawn straight from the word of God, which is the ultimate strength of all Petra’s music. “Everyone who hears the voice of Jesus and obeys / is like the man who built his house upon the rock that stands. / It was the Son of Man who gave us this command, ‘Love the LORD your God with all your heart, your mind, your strength.'”
The crown jewel, though, is the last song, “Too Big To Fail,” with a title playing off the financial crisis in this country that is still going on. This is a song pointing us quite simply to the greatness of God, who “reigns from His throne on high. He reigns over you and I.” He’s too big to fail. All of the instruments shine in this one, and if it had been released in the 80s it would be considered a Petra classic today.
Overall, Back To the Rock harkens back to some of Petra’s glory days, putting new clothes on some old classics, largely with great results. The addition of the two great new songs alongside so many legendary tracks make this an easy choice for the top ten. Word is Classic Petra is going to release a second album with more new tracks. I hope so.