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Handels Messiah Rocks

Peter McGuire

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Handel's Messiah Rocks - A Joyful Noise, "a contemporary oratorio in three parts", combines the power of the two hundred-year-old creation with classic rock. Driven by director and lyricist Dani Davis and conductor Keith Lockhart (of the Boston Pops fame), this edgy version of a Christmas classic is designed to be relevant to today's musical culture, while still maintaining the vibrance of the original piece. Clocking in at a little over ninety minutes with an all-star cast of organizers and performers, Handel's Messiah Rocks was aired on PBS during the latter half of this year, and is scheduled to perform live tours in all fifty states starting in November 2010.

Right away, it's clear that this is not your grandmother's Messiah. In fact, it's more like your father's-- essentially, think what would happen if Survivor and Van Halen hijacked a Christmas orchestra arrangement. The ever-popular "Overture" has become a driving mix of live drums, classic rock guitar, and fast-paced strings. The next track, "Comfort Me," isn't much different, except actual singing is added to the formula. From that point on, Handel's Messiah Rocks is a blur of this strange 80's-meets-classical combination. Occasionally, the listener might think they've been treated to a throwback to everyone's favorite Christmas oratorio ("He'll Come In Glory," "Rejoice," and "He Trusted You"), but rest assured, the obnoxious guitars and over-emphatic rock vocals (featured in "He Is Fire" and "King Of Glory," especially) are only a few minutes away.

Handel's Messiah Rocks is not without its upsides, but these are limited to the scarce moments of female vocals mixed with peaceful, classical, music. To the credit of the show, this Messiah does include some quite talented musicians and vocalists. For the most part, though, the album is somewhat disastrous. The real dealbreaker is the fact that these screeching sounds used to be called "Handel's Messiah," and were performed with dedicated and somber orchestras. It's a shame to see that the distinguished composition has been transformed into something resembling a big-haired heavy metal rock opera. That music had its place and its time, but honestly, why try to forcefully meld it with the prestige of Handel? Furthermore, why broadcast it on national television and perform it on live stages? It was truly painful listening to a few of these tracks, and it would be difficult to imagine paying to sit and watch the real thing.

If, by some coincidence, your niche is classical Christmas music performed by Stryper, Handel's Messiah Rocks may just be your bag. If you're at all in touch with reality, though, you should stay as far from this recording as possible. It was a worthy effort, but the end result simply does not warrant the consideration of purchasing the album, let alone tickets to the live show. One can only hope that someone comes to the same conclusion between now and the launch of the tour in November 2010.

- Review date: 11/6/09, written by Garrett DeRossett of Jesusfreakhideout.com

Record Label: Integrity Music / Sony Classical

Album length: 13 tracks: 55 minutes, 42 seconds

Street Date: October 6, 2009

Buy It: iTunes

Buy It: Amazon.com

Overture (3:11)

Comfort Ye (4:56)

He'll Come In Glory (3:44)

He Is Fire (4:22)

Rejoice (8:05)

Behold The Lamb Of God (1:51)

He Was Despised (5:20)

He Trusted You (4:13)

King Of Glory (3:27)

He Is My Son (5:08)

How Beautiful (3:29)

Hallelujah (4:26)

A Child Is Born (3:36)

Edited by Peter McGuire
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