On the surface, Skillet is just a four-piece rock 'n' roll band with a raspy-voiced lead singer.
But the Memphis quartet has done what a lot of raspy rock quartets would love to do: rise to the top of Christian rock and deliver yet another killer, accomplished album.
That's because Skillet has grown as musicians and songwriters. As very teen-targeted act, the group has seen a lot of its original core audience move on to college or careers — this is part of why The Older I Get, a hit off the 2006 album, Comatose, is such a big sing-along at shows.
Awake again gives original and new Skillet fans a lot to listen to, as frontman John Cooper recognizes that songwriting is an abstract art. The band that once sang Jesus was "the best-kept secret of my generation" and recorded an album called Alien Youth (in 2001) now writes with less specificity, but the music is as interesting and compelling as ever.
It's Not Me, It's You returns to the theme of a teen trapped in an abusive family — well, that's how you might read it in the context of past hits, including the anti-suicide anthem The Last Night. Lyrically, It's Not Me is far less specific but no less riveting: "Let's get the story straight; You were a poison, You flooded through my veins."
Lucy, the closer on the physical album — digital versions come with some extras — is more oblique and compelling, a graveside conversation to a ... a girlfriend? Wife? Child? The key is promise of a heavenly reunion, but like many other tracks here, it can move around the demographics.
Skillet is maturing, but it's certainly not running too far from its bread and butter, hard-rock anthems Hero and Monster, which were being previewed for fans on tour this summer.
It's not as if there aren't new dimensions to the music. Skillet's guitars usually grind and drone, but Ben Kasica takes a few sterling solos here, and on her first album, drummer Jen Ledger shows off some vocal chops.
Awake confirms that Skillet isn't just some old rock quartet. It's a great rock quartet.
Rich Copley | firstname.lastname@example.org