Christian Pop Gets Metaphysical — and Tuneful

Sam Phillips

In an earlier incarnation, Sam Phillips made vaguely metaphysical, disarmingly tuneful Christian pop. hide caption

itoggle caption

Talk About 'Shadow Classics'

Pop singer/songwriters often discuss spirituality without involving a deity. Contemporary Christian songwriters don't go far without invoking one. What explains this tactical difference? Were the abstract, opaque songs of The Turning caught in a no-man's-land between two approaches?

Phillips art
  • Recording: The Turning
  • Artist: Leslie (nee Sam) Phillips
  • Genre: Christian Pop
  • Label: Myrrh/Word (1987)
  • Playlist
  • Embed
    Embed <iframe src="http://www.npr.org/player/embed/6551361/6551580" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no">
  • Playlist
  • Embed
    Embed <iframe src="http://www.npr.org/player/embed/6551361/6551582" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no">
  • Playlist
  • Embed
    Embed <iframe src="http://www.npr.org/player/embed/6551361/6551584" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no">

Before Sam Phillips made noir-pop records like Fan Dance, she made impeccably attired, slightly high-strung art-pop (see Martinis and Bikinis) that happily walked in the shadow of The Beatles. And before that, she was Leslie Phillips, purveyor of compelling Christian pop.

The Turning, produced by her future (and now ex-) husband T-Bone Burnett, is the best of Phillips' several albums in that genre. Establishing a pattern that's been repeated through much of her career, it generated fawning reviews but had little impact commercially, and after its release, Phillips changed her name and turned her full attention toward secular record-making.

The Turning addresses transitions of all kinds. Phillips already has her head in pop: The serene cascades of multi-tracked vocals and the kicky, Cyndi Lauper-ish backbeats — see "Love Is Not Lost" (audio) — indicate that. So do the lyrics: On "The Turning" (audio), she worries about becoming jaded by unforeseen events, repeating the refrain "And when it turns on me, don't let it turn me" until it becomes a type of modern nondenominational mantra. The lyrics aren't Amy Grant-style "God is love" declarations; Phillips instead aims for the general territory of Peter Gabriel's "keep the faith" anthems, writing odes of actualization and uplift that illuminate those moments when a true believer's resolve is tested.

Not all of The Turning sparkles. Several lighthearted pop songs are marred by towering arena-rock drums and other touches that scream "Made in 1987." But in the album's quieter moments, like "Carry You" (audio), Phillips hits something timeless — music that encompasses brooding questions and deep reassurances, guided by the devotion of one who seeks without necessarily expecting to find.

Listen to last week's 'Shadow Classic.'

Purchase Featured Music

The Turning

Purchase Music

Purchase Featured Music

Album
The Turning
Artist
Sam Phillips

Your purchase helps support NPR Programming. How?

 

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.