Monday, October 03, 2005

3 October 2005: Selah

Last autumn it was Florida rather than Louisiana that got pounded by the hurricanes. Four hurricanes, one after another, pounded into the Sunshine State, three of them criss-crossing such that they all hit the Orlando area.

Regular readers will know I am a keen listener to Z88.3, a Christian music station based in Orlando but available worldwide over the web. During the hurricane onslaught, I found the Z to be quite compelling listening, particularly as they doubled-up the on-air presenter line-up and hunkered down in their reinforced building as the storms passed directly overhead and their generators just about kept the station on-air. And as the broadcasts continued, an oft-repeating song on the playlist was a hope-filled number called "You Raise Me Up". Written and originally recorded by Norwegian/Irish band 'Secret Garden', and most famously covered by Josh Groban, this version was recorded by Christian vocalists Selah. (Video available on Yahoo here.) The song combines the flavour of a negro spiritual with the feel of an Irish hymn, and it crescendos in a manner a little reminiscent of Bette Midler's version of 'Wind Beneath My Wings'. The lyrics are spiritual without being overtly agenda-pushing and as I listened again and again, I understood what this song would be meaning to those hidden away in hurricane shelters, listening to their transistor radios.

You raise me up so I can stand on mountains,
You raise me up to walk on stormy seas.
I am strong when I am on your shoulders,
You raise me up to more than I can be.

When you don't know if your home, family and entire life is about to be literally blown away in the wind, those words of supernatural oversight brought hope to many, regardless of their religious affiliations. So it's fair to say I became a fan of the song.

Then Rob told me about 'The X Factor'. I don't watch the show, but it seems to be Pop Idol by a different production company. Last week some kid was on there and auditioned by singing "You raise me up by Josh Groban". Not only did the judges (even Simon Cowell) say they all liked the song, but they even played Groban's version a little bit. This week, they did the same and played even more of the song. Rob began to get a little suspicious and launched on to Google to see what the judges were trying to do by pushing this song into the public eye. Did one of them perhaps have a hidden agenda?

Step forward Louis Walsh. Producer of some of the more bland bands on the marketing-rigged teenage pop scene, Walsh has a great deal to do with Boyzone spin-offs Westlife. And guess what their next big single release is going to be? That's right. You can here a clip of it on Westlife's official website and listen to how they can't - or don't seem to be interested in - hitting any of the high notes. No wonder The X Factor is giving the song a good plug right now. How much free advertising does Louis want?

And the funny thing is, when Rob told me about this last night, my reaction was silence, followed by the words: "I really don't know what to think about that." And I still don't. I think it's a good song, with a good message, and I'd like it to be in the public eye. But there's part of me that thinks, "not Westlife, please." And there's another part of me that says, "but that's my song from the hurricanes last year." And yes, that's selfishness, but without the element of hope-in-the-midst-of-hopelessness, this song just becomes another overly sentimental power-ballad. Selah's original recording was in part to raise money for African medical and hospital projects, and it became a beacon of hope in the hurricane strikes of last autumn. That was what made it a good song, as much as the song itself. Context provided the strength, and that brought the song meaning for me.

If it turns into the Christmas number one for Westlife I'll be happy for them, and for Secret Garden. But the whole thing seems a little too cheap and plastic for my liking, even by the standards of the British music industry today. I may be biased, but even without the hope context, Selah's vocal performance makes Westlife's sound like my dad after four shots of Laphroaig. They should just release Selah's version with Westlife miming.

Now, what are the odds on the Liberty X covering 'Voice Of Truth'?

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