A completely biased review of Sixpence None the Richer

Am I objective about Sixpence None the Richer? Probably not.

About 20 years ago the band’s founder, guitarist and then-chief songwriter, Matt Slocum, sent me four songs he had just recorded with a young singer named Leigh Bingham (now Nash). I had known Matt from another band called Love Coma. So, when Matt sent me demos, I listened. I liked what I heard and played the songs for a friend who then signed them. Now, considering how sideways that situation got I don’t know if I deserve credit or blame, but I mention it here to admit, right up front, that I have heard something special about Slocum’s songs and Nash’s voice since, literally, the beginning. Slocum’s highly literate songwriting perfectly reflected C.S. Lewis’ wish to have more great authors who were Christian as opposed to more “Christian authors.” 

Still convinced that Matt is one of the best songwriters on the planet, I signed him to a new songwriting deal with the publishing company I work for all day long. So, not only was I in their corner in the beginning, I am in it now. As you read this I am most likely trying to replicate a bit of the cultural chemical reaction that drove their 1997 hit “Kiss Me” to become the most-played song of 1998. I may be biased, but that is because I have always loved music that is good, true and beautiful. Sixpence None the Richer is all of those things and Lost In Transition, their sixth studio record - and first official full-length, non-seasonal album in 10 years - is a perfect case in point.

It seems there is no “easy way” for this group to make records. Legend has it that the breakthrough self-titled album in 1997 was secretly recorded in the midst of the death of their previous label. It took five years after its completion for the follow-up, Divine Discontent, to see the light of day. Lost In Transition took more than two years. Produced in Los Angeles by Jim Scott (Wilco, Crowded House, Tom Petty), the set is all ambience, melody, heartbreak and serene resignation. It’s a simpler take on Sixpence, stripped down to guitars, piano and some occasional Americana elements - the perfect backdrop for a batch of songs largely centered on the theme of personal failure and grace.

Fortunately, the fact that the band is releasing this album independently means there are no attempted “Kiss Me” repeats and no Brit-pop covers. But if you read a review anywhere that calls this a departure from form, you’re reading the words of someone who only ever heard Sixpence’s hits. The band’s stock-in-trade has been their ability to meditate on the most difficult aspects of life and love through a uniquely fractured and somewhat darkened lens of faith. Lost in Transition is no exception. Broken relationships, haunting memories, depression, fear and anxiety are explored against a backdrop of well-worn faith and grace. If a sad face is good for the heart, as Ecclesiastes 7:3 says, then Sixpence is as Biblical as anything. There are no easy answers here, just gentle words of encouragement coming from pilgrims with plenty of scars of their own.  

Though the record is thoroughly faith-formed and prayerful, it is far too vulnerable to work on Christian radio. It feels more like a long cup of tea with a friend than a mini-sermon or pep-talk, but in the end the message is clear: life is hard, people fail, but there’s a sun shining behind the clouds that dump their rain on our parades. A very subtle echo throughout songs like “Safety Line,” “Don’t Blame Yourself” and “Sooner or Later” is that people need community and faith to make it through this life. If you’re looking for another love song you can buy yogurt to at the grocery store, look elsewhere. But if you are inspired by soulful art that explores the heartbreak and strange hope born of personal failure, this may be your new favorite record.

What Do You Think?

  • Why do you think Sixpence None the Richer has had such a bumpy career path?
  • How does Lost in Transition compare to the band's previous work?
  • What does Ecclesiastes mean when it says a sad face can be good for the heart?

 

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