The year after Steve Taylor released his debut Christian music ep, he released his first full length project MELTDOWN (1984, Sparrow Records). That year during his performance at Cornerstone Festival he fractured his ankle jumping off the stage. More importantly, he won a Grammy nomination for ‘Best Male Gospel Performance’ and a Dove nomination for ‘Best Contemporary Album.’ MELTDOWN was produced and engineered by Jonathan David Brown.
‘Guilty by Association’ is a pop song with touches of jazz. It takes on critics of Christian rock: “I have found a new utensil in the devil’s toolbox/And the heads are gonna roll if Jesus rocks/It’s a worldly design/God’s music should be divine/Try buying records like mine/Avoid temptation, guilty by association.../If the Bible doesn’t back it/Then it seems quite clear/Perhaps it was the devil/Who whispered in your ear.” ‘Hero’ is a memorable rock ballad. It points to God as bigger and better than all superheroes. He never lets us down: “When the house fell asleep/From a book I was led to a Light that I never knew/I wanna be your Hero/And He spoke to my heart from the moment I prayed/Here’s a pattern I made for you/I wanna be your Hero.”
‘Jenny’ is about a small town girl who falls for the wrong guy and abandons her faith. She thinks she can’t return. She meets a tragic end: “On a train, stowaway/Jesus loves you still and your mama wants you home/But oh, bridges burn/When you carry your shame and you think you can’t return.../When they finally found her body on a cold dog day/It was in a cattle car, buried in the hay.../In her right hand, Jenny held the Bible of her mother/Jenny had a pistol in the other.” ‘Baby Doe’ is sparse musically. It is about a couple whose baby is born with a defect. The courts allow them to let their child starve to death. Steve issues a call to action: “I bear the blame, believers are few/And what am I to do?/I share the shame, the cradle’s below/And where is Baby Doe?”
‘Meltdown (At Madame Tussaud’s)’ is a fun, party sounding, pop/dance tune. It is one of Steve’s hits. The video even made it onto MTV! The song is as relevant today as it was when it was written. It is an indictment of celebrity: “Celebrity status only got in the way/Had my hands in my pockets on the Judgment Day/You can’t take it with you-there’s a fire in the hole/Had the world by the tail, but I lost my soul/Meltdown at Madame Tussaud’s/The queen is losing face/Meltdown at Madame Tussaud’s/A national disgrace.” ‘We Don’t Need No Color Code’ is a dancefest using gang vocals and saxophone. It is a criticism of Bob Jones University’s anti-interracial dating policy: “Whose translation do you read?/True believers won’t be snowed (2X)/We don’t need no color code!”
‘Am I in Sync?’ is cutting edge musically. It may just be the best track on the album. Singing in a lower register on this one, Steve speaks of the foolishness of chasing after fame: “Am I in sync?/Paint a picture on a subway train/Carve my name in a video game/Am I in sync?/Out looking for the camera crews/Sell my soul for a second on the evening news/Am I in sync?/Live ‘til the bubble pops/Hold my breath when the big one drops/Am I in sync?/Immortality is what I’m buying/But I’d rather be immortal by not dying.” ‘Meat the Press’ has a punch to it. It takes aim at mainstream media: “A Christian can’t get equal time/Unless he’s a looney committing a crime/Listen up if you’ve got ears/I’m tired of condescending sneers/I’ve got a dog who smells a fight/He still believes in wrong and right.”
‘Over my Dead Body’ uses electric guitar to good effect. On it, Steve gets political: “After the Nazis we were baited by the Russian bear/Our liberators wanted Poland for a thoroughfare/Rise up my brothers, don’t despair the Iron Curtain rod/Someday we’ll draw the strings assisted by the hand of God/I was a victim of December 1981/I took a final beating from the blunt end of a Russian gun/You made a memory, the memory will multiply/You may kill the body but the spirit it will never die.” ‘Sin for a Season’ has a dark, plodding feel to it. This song reminds us our sins will always find us out despite our excuses: “But he reaps his harvest as his heart grows hard/No man’s gonna make a mockery of God/I’m only human, got no other reason/Sin for a season.”
Admittedly, MELTDOWN does have some songs that sound like B-sides. That being said, there are also several songs here that helped secure Steve Taylor’s place as a leading pioneer in Christian alternative music. Today’s Christian rock is missing some of the directness of message that Steve brought to the table. I’m rating MELTDOWN 86%.