Editor's note: Our posts are almost always written by committed Christians. This is something different. On his blog, music critic Andre Salles recently wrote an album review that was also a personal recounting of his faith journey, including the state of doubt he's come to accept. We asked him to condense his review here in hopes of opening an honest conversation among readers regarding spiritual doubt and how they've grappled with it.
I was always a spiritual kid, but from about 11 to about 15, I went through a hardcore Jesus phase.
I was all about it, all the time, and I think at the core of my full-bore dive into faith was a desperate need to belong, to believe, to be part of something. Because I would question it all the time. Have I prayed the right prayer? Am I really going to heaven?
But I never once, not even at my most fervent, heard the voice of God talking to me. Others in my church would say they did. And I truly, truly wanted to hear that voice. So I prayed and waited and prayed some more and listened and held on for years. Nothing.
And eventually I grew so disillusioned with the church that I drifted away completely. Now, at 37, I feel like I’m more honestly spiritual than I’ve ever been, though I’m still unsure how to answer questions about my own faith.
But I’ve really come to an undeniable conclusion about that time in my life: everyone who told me they heard the voice of God was lying. No one actually hears it. We take signs and metaphors and feelings and find God in them. I didn’t realize that then - I thought there was something wrong with me, something deficient, something unworthy. And the moment I realized that wasn’t true still counts among the happiest of my life.
And that’s the moment, right there, that Taylor Muse so deftly and beautifully captures on Quiet Company’s third album, "We Are All Where We Belong." Whenever I listen to it, I relive that sense of relief. This album is angry and petulant in parts, but it is mostly joy through tears. It’s an album not simply about leaving something behind, but about finding something better to replace it.
This is not the work of a questioning soul still finding his peace. This is an album that comes to a conclusion. And that conclusion is this: everything you were taught about God is wrong, there is no heaven waiting for you when you die, we are all on our own, and all we have is each other. And it’s a triumphant, gloriously happy thing - not in spite of that conclusion, but because of it.
I suppose if you weren’t raised with religion, that may not be surprising to you. But it is to me. All those ideas that used to scare me to death - What if there is no God? What if there’s nothing after this? - all of those ideas are explored as unqualified good things here.
This is also an album of astonishingly good songs, a huge leap forward in craft for Muse, already one of the best songwriters around. This is also the album on which Quiet Company, the band, fully gels and makes its mark.
I’m particularly fond of the way the two parts of “Preaching to the Choir Invisible” - sequenced third and 12th, respectively - counterpoint one another. The first part is your first indication that this is not going to be like other QuietCo records. It’s elaborate, and makes the first cut: “Open up the pit, he swallows or spits, and I swallowed that *&@! for so long…”
The second part is darker, and takes sharper aim. “We filled a book with what Jesus said, so we can all disagree on what he really meant.” “I’ll make a deal with Jesus Christ, just speak one word I can hear, prove you’re alive, and I’ll believe you’re here.” Both songs end with the album’s title phrase, and while it almost comes too early in the album on Part One, it’s the perfect conclusion to Part Two.
Between those two poles, Muse picks at his past, and revels in his present. In “The Black Sheep and the Shepherd,” he addresses God directly: “Hey God, now I got a baby girl, what am I supposed to tell her about you? Because her life shouldn’t have to be like mine, she shouldn’t have to waste her time on waiting on you, because you never do come through…” This is undeniably the statement of someone who once believed with all his heart, and just can’t anymore.
“The Black Sheep and the Shepherd” is the song that delves into Muse’s past, in often chilling ways. It contains the record’s most harrowing passage: “The only times I ever thought of suicide, I was waiting on the Lord to direct my life, saying, ‘Give me one word and I’ll put down the knife and never pick it up again…’”
There is nothing wrong with us, Muse concludes. We’re not broken and defective because we don’t hear God’s voice. He’s not speaking. Nothing is waiting for us after death, and we shouldn’t fear it. We should take every day that’s given to us, and enjoy it, since it’s all we have. The lives we make are all that matter. We are all where we belong.
Whether or not you agree with his conclusions - and I don’t, not completely - this album is nearly flawless, and almost jaw-droppingly brave. In a lot of ways, this album gives a voice to that 15-year-old kid I was, questioning and drifting and finally breaking away.
It took me several listens to truly absorb this piece, but I think it’s 2011’s finest. It is certainly its most powerful. I’m awed by it, frightened of it, and in love with it. It is the best record of Quiet Company’s career, and the best thing I’ve heard this year.
Andre Salles has been a professional journalist since 1996, and has been writing his weekly music column, Tuesday Morning 3 A.M., online since 2000. He spends more money than he has on music, and more time than he should thinking about it. He lives and works in Montgomery, Ill.