This is how the Christian music industry works: A secular band comes out with a huge album. A lot of copy bands spring up and it becomes a trend. This happened with hair metal, grunge, and nu metal. When it becomes a trend, it may penetrate the sheltered world of the church and a Christian band will start an inferior copy. When the trend hits its peak, the Christian record labels will suddenly realise what's happening start looking for a Christian copy to cash in on. They will find one, sign them, and the band will go into the studio. By the time the album comes out, the trend is passed its peak, but the Christian industry is now in full swing, and carries on spitting out second- and third-rate bands in that style for a few years after it went out of fashion.
Guardian are one of the only exceptions to this rule. They emerged for the first time in 1981 as Fusion with a hard rock sound, which means they beat Stryper's groundbreaking Yellow & Black Attack by a clear three years. Enigma Records picked them up in 1985 (the more talented and forward thinking Christian bands often signed to Enigma, a fairly large and open minded secular independent label who also signed Poison), and they did alright with their debut, First Watch (produced by Stryper guitarist Oz Fox in 1989) before moving to Pakaderm Records and getting distribution from Epic for their second album, Fire & Love. They had a new singer in Jamie Rowe, a radio hit in "Power of Love", and a video getting all over Headbanger's Ball.Enough biography already…
The thing about Guardian which a lot of Christian rock bands don't have is that they knew what was going on in music and where it was going. It's important for a musician making an album to know where music is going, because an album takes about a year to make. What's in vogue when you start recording could be a forgotten fad by the time you put it out. Fire & Love in 1991 was an overtly slick pop metal record, and when you think how well Warrant and Firehouse (amongst others) did that year, you can see that it was well-timed. In 1992, Guns n' Roses were the biggest thing on the planet and Miracle Mile is a great response to that. It's far from a GnR copy; it doesn't sound anything like Guns. It is a gutsy hard rock record that should appeal to Guns fans though. Tony Palacios laid down Nuno-influenced ingenious guitar parts and bassist David Bach did a job of filling in the bottom end almost worthy of Billy Sheehan. Then came the stumbling block: grunge.
A thousand rock bands emerged in the '80s, and they were just about all blown apart by grunge. What could these bands do? Releasing an album of their traditional sound would result in zero airplay, mass critical derision, no exposure, and only their most hardcore fans buying the album. A number of bands tried embracing grunge, and the results were awful. There are a number of reasons for this. For a start, there's the huge musical gap. To the mullet wearing hangovers from the '80s, grunge is the antichrist and they just weren't going to accept it. Their non-fans remember them as stalwarts of the '80s too. Basically, the bands were damned if they did and damned if they didn't. Then there's the lyrical gap. Grunge is about angst. Hair metal is about partying your brains out. It simply didn't sound convincing when bands who had been singing about being up all night eating cherry pie (or whatever) to suddenly start musing on the fragility of human life. Hair band after glam band tried their grunge album, and they were universal flops.
Guardian were much cleverer. They put out Swing Swang Swung, an almost entirely acoustic album with the influences you'd expect of a rock band going acoustic: folk, blues, and The Beatles. Sure, there were accusations of wimping out, but basically they managed to make an album the old guard could stomach without looking ridiculous. The album had a sense of humour and sold well. A darker, more '90s-sounding album did slip out, Buzz, in 1995, but it was far from grunge, and with it's Zeppelin inspired modern rock, did really well by Christian standards. The album was produced by Steve Taylor, who helped with the lyrics. Steve Taylor is one of the most talented guys in Christian music. He signed Sixpence None the Richer, and had always been exceptionally creative. His lyrics were often laugh-out-loud funny, and always thought-provoking, clever, and with a healthy dollop of cynicism. Guardian were one of Christian rock's finest band; surely it was a match made in heaven. Then from this same partnership came the true stroke of brilliance… Bottle Rocket.
Guardian's masterpiece had been Miracle Mile, and it was the album all their fans wanted them to recreate. It was a brilliant album, but the only band who could get away with a big off hard rock album in 1997 was Aerosmith. Aware that they were not Aerosmith, not even the Christian equivalent, Guardian put out Bottle Rocket, a modern pop-rock record of the first order. It could scarcely have been further from the Tesla-fied rumblings of Miracle Mile, but of its style it was equally good. Unlike other bands who tried going modern with dark, angst-filled tortured wails that just weren't convincing, Bottle Rocket was upbeat, witty, and fun… In other words, absolutely current but accessible to the Miracle Mile fans who weren't stuck in the past.
Then, with a limited edition live album, Guardian were gone. Tony Palacios, guitarist extraordinaire, put out an instrumental guitar album, Epic Tales of Whoa. Drummer Karl Ney disappeared, and bassist David Bach went into A&R. Jamie Rowe was offered the job of Ratt vocalist when Stephen Pearcy bailed, but turned it down. The good news is that he now fronts Adrian Gale, a secular band who, in spite of their crap name, have been gaining rave reviews for their classic hair metal type sound.
Official Jamie Rowe website: www.jamierowe.com
Official Guardian MP3 page: www.mp3.com/guardian
More info on Adrian Gale: www.kivelrecords.com