Petra’s albums: #8 – Beat the System

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.

Beat the System (1984, StarSong)

Lineup: John Schlitt (lead vocals), Bob Hartman (guitar), Mark Kelly (bass), John Lawry (keyboards), Louie Weaver (drums)

And now we have reached the upper echelon, the pantheon if you will (and I think you will) of Petra albums. Beat the System is memorable because it is the third in a trilogy of albums which marked and culminated Petra’s first golden era. But it’s also memorable because it was the last studio release with Greg X. Volz as lead singer (that is, until Classic Petra).

John Lawry joined Petra, replacing John Slick on keyboards, and his influence would be immediately felt, as Beat the System is more electronic, utilizing more keyboards, than any other Petra album. While hearing that might cause one to pause before listening, however, the results are fantastic. Continue reading “Petra’s albums: #8 – Beat the System”

Petra’s albums: #9 – Wake-Up Call

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.

Wake-Up Call (1993, Word)

Lineup: John Schlitt (lead vocals), Bob Hartman (guitar), John Lawry (keyboards), Ronny Cates (bass), Louie Weaver (drums)

As Def Leppard and Bon Jovi in the secular rock world were giving way to Nirvana, Petra was approaching an era of change after yet another successful album in Unseen Power. John and Dino Elefante had left their stamp on each album of the John Schlitt era as producers, but a change was coming in the person of Brown Bannister, who had produced successful albums for many CCM artists.

The result was ten tracks gathered together to make a great, but underappreciated album (yet one that won Petra a Grammy). There is a mixture of fantastic rock tunes, “Midnight Oil,” “Praying Man,” and “Sleeping Giant,” and wonderful ballads like “He’s Been In My Shoes,” “Marks of the Cross,” and “Just Reach Out.”

Overall, the sound represents a continued slight softening, something seen in each album since On Fire! But there is still plenty of rock to go around, and the result is a delight to the ears and the soul. Continue reading “Petra’s albums: #9 – Wake-Up Call”

Petra’s albums: #10 – Jekyll & Hyde

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.

Jekyll & Hyde (2003, Inpop)

Lineup: John Schlitt (lead vocals), Bob Hartman (guitar), Greg Bailey (bass)

Petra seemed dead. Louie Weaver left the band and/or was fired in early 2003. There just seemed to be a negative feeling about where Petra was at the time. Revival had mixed reviews at best, this coming after the majority of fans panned Double Take. A revolving door of band members had been going on since the mid-90s, and now all that was left was Schlitt and Bailey.

But then Bob Hartman returned to active duty. Newsboys’ Peter Furler, running Inpop, agreed to produce and even play drums. A mysterious song by an unnamed band appeared on the Inpop web site. It was a rocker, to say to the least, and the unmistakable voice of John Schlitt pierced through my computer speakers. Needless to say, after hearing the song “Jekyll & Hyde” for the first time I was amped for the album, because it promised to be a true rocker. Continue reading “Petra’s albums: #10 – Jekyll & Hyde”

Petra’s albums: #11 – Back to the Street

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 Street (1986, StarSong)

Lineup: John Schlitt (lead vocals), Bob Hartman (guitar), Mark Kelly (bass), John Lawry (keyboards), Louie Weaver (drums)

There are two schools of thought when it comes to this album. One says that it is yet another in the long list of solid Petra albums with some solid tunes, the other says it is a transitional album breaking in the John Schlitt era. Both schools of thought are, in my mind, correct when it comes to Back to the Street.

When Schlitt joined the band, replacing Greg X. Volz, the vocals were a stylistic change (Schlitt has more of a rock-pop voice to Volz’s pop-rock voice, if that makes any sense), and the music began to change as well, but not so much on this album (although it is the first Elefante album) as in the next album and the one after that. So while there are some under-appreciated gems on this ten track offering, it would not quite reach the level of the last three Volz albums or most of the next few Schlitt albums. Continue reading “Petra’s albums: #11 – Back to the Street”

Petra’s albums: #12 – No Doubt

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.

No Doubt (1995, Word)

Lineup: John Schlitt (lead vocals), David Lichens (guitar), Ronny Cates (bass), Jim Cooper (keyboards), Louie Weaver (drums)

This was the beginning of a new era for Petra, one which began, in my opinion, with promise, but was very short lived. Bob Hartman stopped touring and his work with Petra was behind the scenes, and legendary keyboardist John Lawry left the band after over a decade with them. By the time their preceding album – Wake-Up Call – was released and had its run, the music scene had changed dramatically. The arena rock sound that had permeated their successful run of previous albums had given way in the culture to a more alternative sound. In this album we see signs of that, with lower mixed drums and a sometimes grungy guitar. The Elefante brothers were back producing after Brown Bannister produced the previous album. The result in the end is a mixed bag. Continue reading “Petra’s albums: #12 – No Doubt”

Petra’s albums: #13 – Never Say Die

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.