Jars of Clay's newest offering, "The Eleventh Hour," arrives just in the nick of time. In a year when record sales have slumped, the Christian alterna-folk band's latest disc is solid from the alpha to the omega, seamlessly straddling the line between old-school folk and jovial, stand-up rock.
The album opens with the melodic, U2-esque "Disappear." Singer Dan Haseltine admires a woman he envisions standing on a stage as he sings, "I'd really love to know, I'd really love to climb my way into your heart and see what I could find."
Tracks such as "Something Beautiful," "The Edge of Water" and "Silence" are explosive in their understated, plaintive cries for guidance and grace from above. On "Silence," Haseltine sings, "I got a question, where are you? Did you leave me unbreakable? Leave me frozen?"
The straight-up rock anthem "Revolution" rips off a guitar riff at the start that evokes Rage Against the Machine. "'Cause you don't have to fight or make yourself belong to be a revolution," Haseltine sings in distorted voice.
"The Eleventh Hour" does not contain a weak track, musically or lyrically. Jars' style remains predominantly acoustic, a tribute to where the band has been. Lyrics are simple yet overpowering in their meanings.
The record's first single, "I Need You," is already a No. 1 multi-format hit. The song offers up a self-defining message of reliance on a power much mightier than the self.
"Fly" is a soaring portrait of devotion that again brings to mind U2. Inspired by true events, a man and his bride spend their entire marriage in a hospital after her seemingly latent cancer returns to eat her body: "Be still, let your hand melt into mine. The part of me that breathes when you breathe is losing time."
On the flipside, "Whatever She Wants" is Jars' most confrontational song to date. Haseltine describes a manipulative woman to be "like a vampire, parasite."
The record ends with a trio of introspective songs - the title track, "These Ordinary Days" and "The Edge of Water." On "Days," the singer says, "I don't know where, I don't know how, I don't know why, but your love can make these things better."
"The Edge of Water" is the closing track, and begins with the lyrical question, "Have you ever been haunted the way I've been by you?" Banjo on this track supplements the words for great effect.
"The Eleventh Hour" is Jars of Clay's best since the double-platinum, self-titled debut that spawned all this with the breakout hit, "Flood."
Simply put, this is the record that fans of Jars of Clay - or great pop music in general - have been craving for quite some time.