Michael Tait (dc Talk and Tait)
Mark Stuart (Audio Adrenaline)
Rebecca St. James
John Cooper (Skillet)
Matt Hammit (Sanctus Real)
!HERO: THE ROCK OPERA (2003)
One of the greatest virtues of the Bible is that its stories can be adapted to serve as a testament to the faith of countless generations of Christians. The soundtrack of the rock opera !Hero attests to this quality, combining rock music and pop culture to grant new flavor to a timeless story. The stage is set in an urban world ruled by ICON (the International Confederacy of Nations). This global political force has ultimate authority, akin to Roman rule in Biblical times. The Jewish church lives but is weakened by power-hungry leaders and unable to mend the state of decay society has fallen into. The music follows the story of Hero, born in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, who strives to make a difference. Hero speaks out against the hatred and corruption that rule New York, eventually dying for his message of love and justice.
Michael Tait (of DC Talk and Tait) portrays the modern-day Messiah with conviction and finesse, and the soundtrack serves as a showcase for the balance of talent and genuine passion that has made him a successful artist. Rebecca St. James deviates from her normal musical style in her portrayal of a Magdalene-esque "Maggie" and is equally impressive. Admittedly, I have never been overly interested in Rebecca St. James as an artist, but I developed great respect for her after seeing her innovative performance in !Hero. I hope she will continue to pursue rock opportunities because she really shines in this role. Skillet fans will also recognize John Cooper as Kai, the chief rabbi, whose familiar raspy voice does a good job of bringing out the sinister side of his character.
The soundtrack of this nationally touring rock opera boasts a few other Christian Rock headliners, including Audio Adrenaline's Mark Stuart and Sanctus Real's Matt Hammit. Rapper T-Bone is featured in only one track but gives a knock-out performance with his rendition of "Raised in Harlem," a rap about a drive-by shooting paralleling Jesus' resurrection of a Jewish official's daughter. Also notable is up-and-coming solo artist Paul Wright as Agent Hunter, who narrates the story with skillful rapping.
The genius in !Hero lies hidden in the depth and interaction of its characters. Thirty-one tracks on two CDs enable the development of a whole cast, bringing rise to a few rarely seen sides of the Christ story. Through the music, we follow Maggie hard life and reformation, and we experience the grief and reluctance on the part of Jesus' mother to let him follow his destiny. Perhaps the most intriguing story is that of the tormented Jude (Judas), whose transformation from disciple to betrayer is tracked closely throughout the play with several soul-searching songs. His suicidal reprise of the greed-saturated "Intentions" reflects the political vise that changed a weak man to an evil man, evoking a little pity for this misguided villain. Unfortunately, these subtle nuances may pass unnoticed on !Hero's first or second cycle through your stereo, especially for those who didn't experience the depth of the live production. !Hero is definitely a CD to be enjoyed many times, with each new encounter bringing a new level of understanding.
From a musical standpoint, !Hero has a few flaws. The natural charisma that makes up for Mark Stuart's less-than-perfect voice in the live performance is lost in the CD version, leaving listeners with a few throaty lines that are difficult to understand. A half-developed love story between Maggie and Agent Hunter is both confusing and unnecessary. A chorus of what sounds like children's voices pervades "Leave Here," seemingly out of place in a song about New York's prostitutes and gang members. This robs conviction from an otherwise fantastic song, and doesn't give justice to the wonderful performances by both Tait and Ms. St. James. Also, Michael Quinlan's vocals were a bit lacking in quality, and his nasal, whining voice becomes annoying by the second of his two solo songs. However, his shortcomings can almost be overlooked as part of his persona. As the Judas-character in the play, Quinlan's weasely voice only emphasizes his equally cowardly and devious role leading up to the crucifixion. This part of the CD is especially strong and is brought to a tense peak by the vengeful song "Kill the Hero." Sadly, Hero's actual death and resurrection come across as a bit abrupt, bringing the album to a conclusion that's a little hasty and much less monumental than it might have been.
Nevertheless, !Hero is an excellent CD. Each track is new and different, ranging from hard rock to hip-hop to pop. It's a great retelling of the gospel that's pure fun for all ages. And, running at an hour and 49 minutes, it's sure to provide you with plenty to enjoy. The only thing better is to see the show live—a truly awesome experience.
A flashy site with info on the !Hero disc, comic books, tour, and so much more.