in 1989, ll cool j released walking with a panther (yeah, that’s the kind of thing people named their albums in the 80s…), which had nominal commercial succes but was panned by many for being “too soft”.
at the tail end of the 80s, rap was rapidly changing. the collegial rap battles (between pioneers like ll cool j and kool moe dee, for example) that defined the early days of rap were swapped out for gangster rap, ushering in a much darker and harder musical landscape.
so, just a year after his 1989 release, ll cool j released, mama said knock you out, re-casting himself as a harder, more relevant rapper.
famously, the song opens with, don’t call it a comeback / i’ve been here for years.
sometimes an artist has to remind those who’ve forgotten about them (or just moved on) that they’re still around, just as relevant as they’ve ever been.
which, naturally, brings us to a little white folk singer named derek webb.
those who have followed this blog for any amount of time know that derek webb has certainly been here for years, requiring no announcement of his comeback.
but for many derek webb fans of yore, with his new album, i was wrong, i’m sorry & i love you, he’s offering that very announcement. (even in some of his marketing pieces—like a newsletter headline that reads, “derek webb is back” or an album bundle called the “welcome back package”—he explicitly invokes the idea of his return.)
long story short, 10 years ago, upon the release of his first solo album, she must and shall go free, a lot of fans carried over from caedmon’s call who belonged to a particular, um, theological tribe, shall we say. but by the time he released (studio) album 3, mockingbird, a lot of those fans bailed because of the progressive views they felt he was espousing.
so now, with i was wrong, i’m sorry & i love you, derek webb is revisiting the themes of his first album—the church—in a way that serves to reconnect old fans.
i had the good fortune to get my hands on the album a couple months ago, giving me quite a bit of time to live with the album. i can affirm that it’s truly a return to the roots of his first album and serves as a connector to fans he lost.
nowhere is that more prevalent than the track, closer than you think. webb wrote that the original meaning of the song is from the point-of-view of jesus, letting those who have drifted away from the church know that they’re closer than they think. but the other equal layer, he says (and what seemed most obvious to me, on first listen), is an introspective commentary on fans who felt pushed away over the years. listen to a snippet of the track.
other highlights of the album are eye of the hurricane, lover part 3 and your heart breaks in all the right places. my favorite track, though, is heavy, which is likely the most personal and introspective track on the album. take a listen.
here’s the thing: i was wrong, i’m sorry & i love you isn’t webb’s best album. sandwiched between this album and his first, derek webb has evolved and experimented in ways that have been refreshing and challenging and just plain good. quite frankly, he’ll have a hard time topping what he did with either mockingbird or stockholm syndrome. over the course of the past 10 years, derek webb has put out consistently great music.
but his latest offering is, no doubt, his most personal and revealing. and because of that, it presents an opportunity to widen the tent for fans that might’ve fallen away over the years.
but, don’t call it a comeback. he’s been here for years.
(and i suspect he’ll be here for more years to come.)