With a slew of uplifting singles and a band name like Blessid Union of Souls, it shouldn’t be a shock to discover that the chart-topping Cincinnati band's frontman Eliot Sloan puts a lot of stock in his spiritual beliefs. But the band — one of the most commercially successful acts to ever come out of Cincinnati — was rarely overt about religion in its slick, hook-laden Pop songs. Until now. This Tuesday sees the nationwide release of Blessid Union’s album The Mission Field, the most direct and explicit expression of Sloan’s Christian beliefs on a BUoS release by a long shot.
Blessid Union of Souls emerged out of Cincinnati in the mid-’90s seemingly built for Top 40 radio success. Completely separate from the local music scene that was drawing national attention at the time (thanks to the success of bands like The Afghan Whigs and The Ass Ponys), BUoS was an almost instant commercial hit and the group even weathered the corporate label restructuring that killed off a lot of other up-and-coming artists (BUoS was bounced around between labels like EMI, V2 and Capitol).
The band’s major-label release Home spawned the smash, “I Believe,” a “love conquers all” ballad with subtle spiritual undertones. The song hit No. 1 in the U.S., U.K. and Asia and kicked off a string of charting singles, including “Hey Leonardo (She Likes Me For Me)” and “Standing At The Edge Of The Earth,” a song reportedly slated for use as the main theme in the big-budget disaster flick, Armageddon, before it was bumped by Aerosmith’s “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing.”
Outside of sporadic live appearances in the area, a couple under-the-radar releases and a 2003 album all about the Cincinnati Reds, Blessid Union’s profile has been fairly low for the past decade. (Guitarist Jeff Pence, co-founder and, with Sloan, core of the band, left the group in the mid ’00s.)
Some popular “Christian” acts have gunned for crossover success with marketing and PR campaigns that purposefully fail to mention ties to the Contemporary Christian music industry, fearing the perceived stigma would turn off secular audiences and hinder chances for bigger exposure and sales. But Sloan goes the opposite direction with The Mission Field, which is being released through the Sony-backed Provident-Integrity Distribution, also the distributor for Contemporary Christian artists like Jars of Clay and Third Day. A press release states that the album will be pushed in both the “general and faith-based marketplace.”
But it’s not as if being a “Christian act” dooms an artist to obscurity. It is a genre with a large, heartily supportive fanbase — one that probably hasn’t been as hurt by the rise of illegal file-sharing (see: “Thou shalt not steal”) — and it can be lucrative. Cynics might suggest that a move like Sloan’s is just good business. But it’s hard to listen to the album’s neon-lit themes of redemption and salvation and not come away feeling like Sloan’s conviction and faith are genuine and deep-rooted. Lines like the “mission” statement in the title track run rampant throughout the album: “Oh Father fill my heart/Make me Your vessel true/Oh let me do my part/On the mission field.”
The album’s praiseful lyrics shouldn’t be much of a deterrent for longtime fans of Blessid Union (well, maybe the Satanic ones). The songs on The Mission Field still possess the same ear-grabbing Pop hooks that made the band such a huge commercial success. Even the biggest cynic on the planet would have to admit that if this was some sort of money-grab, Sloan would have had a better shot if he’d continued to write lyrics about love and relationships or sprinkled in pop culture references (a la “Hey Leonardo”) instead of hymn-worthy lines like “You are the melody, the words, You're the chorus/Cause You gladly laid Your life down for us/All the blessings that You bring/Lord of Lords, and King of Kings.”
To read more about Blessid Union of Souls, visit the official Web site (with samples from the new release) here.
UPDATE: The band performs March 18 at Hollywood Casino in Lawrenceburg, Ind. For tickets and venue info, click here.