I’m really happy to see new material from some of my favorite musicians, but I know that I’m not the same person I was when I started going to rock shows in church basements. I no longer put band stickers on my car or wear their buttons on my jacket. I no longer listen to Christian radio or buy my music from Bible bookstores. But these are some of the people who taught me what I know about faith, hope and love—and I’ll be forking over some cash this year to hear them do it again.
The 1990s saw an unprecedented explosion of Christian rock. Jars of Clay, Sixpence None the Richer, P.O.D., and Switchfoot were hot on Christian radio and on MTV. Christian rock festivals multiplied and expanded. CCM labels sold millions of records. It was a pretty great time to be a Christian rock fan.
A generation has passed since most of our favorite ’90s Christian bands formed. Kids who were born the year Jars of Clay and Jesus Freak came out (1995, if you’re keeping score) will be graduating from high school next year.
This means two things. First: We’re getting old.
And second: We’re old enough that our favorite bands are now reuniting. It’s hard to think of a ’90s Christian band that hasn’t rejuvenated itself in some way this year: PFR is touring; Sixpence has a new original full-length for the first time in ten years (coming next week); all three of the major Christian ska bands—the Supertones, the Insyderz, and Five Iron Frenzy—have reformed; rumors about Audio Adrenaline, Poor Old Lu, and the Prayer Chain have circulated online. Need I go on? (And dc Talk, are you listening?)
On one level, this is great news: our favorite bands, whose records in part formed our identities and got us through our teenage years, whose music still evokes some of our most powerful feelings and beliefs, are back. And we’ve got the disposable income to support them.
But there are three things we must confront when our favorite Christian bands of the 1990s reunite.
1. The Christian music industry is not the same.
It’s only been about 15 years since the beginning of one of the most prolific periods of Christian rock history, but almost everything about how we experience Christian rock has changed. Take Five Iron Frenzy as an example: In 1995, they signed to a small, Christian indie label (Five Minute Walk Records), were featured in magazines like 7 Ball, CCM, and True Tunes News, had albums for sale in Christian bookstores, and toured relentlessly—they were a fan favorite at the Cornerstone Festival. In 2012, Five Minute Walk and those publications no longer exist, and July’s Cornerstone was the last. And the few surviving Christian bookstores in my area that still sell music have such small CD inventories that they don’t have room to spare for edgier bands.