The headline for this article is misleading. There is no way that I could pretend this is a bias-free, completely objective analysis of the 30th anniversary edition of Electric Eye, the second album from Ohio’s Prodigal from 1984. I wrote the essay in the CD’s packaging, after all. That is a poor recommendation to impartiality.
However, when the band’s guitarist Rick Fields contacted me to ask me if I would do it, there was no doubt in my mind. Prodigal had the unenviable lot of being a great band in not so great times, in a genre that often rejected “greatness” for safety and conformity. Thankfully, many of the barriers that separated music that fell under the Contemporary Christian Music banner from open-minded listeners have broken down over the years. People could experience the music as music, and art was allowed to stand or fall on that merit. A lot of records from that time do not stand up. The fear has been that, because of it’s absence of availability leading to an impression of unworthiness, the music of Prodigal would be lumped in with them. This set rectifies that false analysis.
Okay, that’s all well and good, but why is the music worth your time? In the hands of Loyd Boldman (vocals, keys), Fields (vocals, guitars), Dave Workman (vocals, drums) and Mike Wilson (bass), the object was never about preaching, in the way so many of their peers did, rightly or otherwise. The songs were about life in modern times, about being in the midst of it all, and about coping with its indifference. They never relied upon cliches or easy bumper-sticker anthems. They never pandered to pop-music girl/world shortcuts.
And even more importantly, they were a rock band. A real band, that played with passion and skill, with an occasional prog rock feel but a capacity to play to an arena. That all came together on Electric Eye.
I told you I was not capable of being unbiased.
This 30th anniversary edition of the album does something that is unique, at least that I know of. Since the band only released three records, 1982’s self-titled debut, Electric Eye, and 1985’s Just Like Real Life, all are included here. I don’t recall at any time previously a special edition of a single record being bundled with the entire discography. Yet it makes sense as all the albums seem to work together as a whole piece.
This set features a major remastering effort. Normally I find such claims utterly dubious, or just as plain outright lies. Modern remastering techniques often take the form of making the music louder, clipping the highs, and running the sound through a de-hissing algorithm that also introduces digital artifacts. As “in the tank” as I am about these albums I half-expected to find “louder, compressed.” To my surprise, the transfers sound gorgeous, big, roomy, and clear. They sound like a lot of care (and probably a lot of money) was lavished on them. I would rank the discs as being pretty close to the top if I were to have a stereo system demo disc in mind and if I had the kind of stereo rig that warranted such demonstrations.
Having all the records together provides the full spectrum of what Prodigal could do, from the arena-sized tracks like “Fast Forward”, “Invisible Man”, “Answering Machine”, or “Next Big Thing”; to the more contemplative folk-infused tracks like “Fire With Fire” or the hypnotic and heartfelt “Boxes”; to the Afro-beat of “Shout It Out” and down to the spoken word elegance of “Neon.” I know they were probably too good for their times, and sadly Boldman would not see the reissue of these albums as he passed away in early-2014 due to longstanding medical conditions. Yet he, and all the members of the band, understood one thing: you make good work. You don’t make propaganda. You don’t approach things from any place less than honesty, on the ground, as a human being. If you do that, you deserve to have your voice heard.
Prodigal did that many years ago. I’m thrilled that they have a chance to do it again.
The Electric Eye 30th Anniversary collection is available from http://prodigalnow.com/store