Friday, July 9, 2010

Pat Boone, B.J. Thomas: Proving Their Mettle (1997)

(As published in WORLD ... )

The uproar caused by Pat Boone's promotion of his In a Metal Mood: No More Mr. Nice Guy (Hip-O) album should cause Christians to ask themselves a sobering question: Why should the world take seriously our outrage over matters like abortion and euthanasia when we, by crying wolf over nothing more than Pat Boone's sudden fondness for dog collars and Led Zeppelin, prove ourselves incapable of distinguishing between the important and the trivial?

At worst, Boone's appearance on the American Music Awards last January in a heavy-metal get-up was a miscalculation. He thought people would find the idea of him in leather and tattoos funny, and he was wrong. But miscalculating and sinning are two different things, and mature believers do not confuse them as easily as the supporters of the Trinity Broadcasting Network did when, in response to the "metallized" Boone, they demanded and got his TV program handed to them on a platter.

Lost in the brouhaha is the album at the heart of it. Ludicrous on its surface, In a Metal Mood actually delivers a musical thrill or two. The big-band arrangements come courtesy of some of the genre's best arrangers and transform such notoriously noisy numbers as Metallica's "Enter Sandman" and Guns N' Roses "Paradise City" into crisply swinging jump tunes. What keeps more of the songs from making the transformation is the singing. Never in a league with Tony Bennett or Frank Sinatra, Boone at sixty-two neither croons nor mugs with the elan necessary to wrest art from novelty.

The same, however, cannot be said for B.J. Thomas, who even in middle age sings with as much youthful pop finesse as he did when he sang "Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head" to the top of the charts over twenty-five years ago. I Believe (Warner Resound), the second installment in his carefully planned return to gospel music, consists mostly of gospel standards ("Love Lifted Me," "Sweet Hour of Prayer"), with new versions of "Happy Man" and "You Gave Me Love"--Christian-radio hits from his first gospel period--included for good measure.

The reason his first gospel period came to an end should sound familiar to Pat Boone: Scandalized by Thomas's continuing to perform his secular hits, the Christian-music audience of the early '80s eventually hounded him from the genre.

"It was a very hurtful time for my wife Gloria and me," Thomas told WORLD, "and I must admit that I did have my heart broken. I experienced a lot of bitterness, and I regret to say that I didn't really handle it very well. It shook me to the core."

I Believe and its predecessor, 1995's Precious Memories, are Thomas's way of re-extending the right hand of fellowship to this same audience.

"I almost feel that this is a divine appointment that I'm keeping, with this music and with my Heavenly Father. I think [the controversy] was just a way for him to help me see what real love is, to really find my faith and not have it be a superficial thing that depended on my being successful, liked or appreciated."

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