Many albums have a definitive track. Derek Webb’s most recent release is no exception. The difference is that the definitive track of Stockholm Syndrome is not actually on the album. Well, at least not if you bought the album anywhere other than Webb’s website which released the uncensored version of Stockholm Syndrome after its release by the label INO Records. Censored by the label, “What Matters Most” was slotted to be the sixth track on the album. The song’s removal by INO and its subsequent “leak” to the public has made the mystery track the focal point of the album.
The censorship was sad news for Webb, who prides himself on being an album writer, not just a songwriter. The song belongs in the context of the fuller work he constructed, which has much to say about the state of Christianity in America. Webb said of “What Matters Most,”
[A]s a follower of Jesus…[I'm in] the restoration business. So when I look at words and I look at the tools I have as a writer I'm looking for ways to take things that are broken and use them constructively and redefine, reuse them for good... And I feel like in this instance this is an example of me trying to use my tools well.
Controversy surrounding his albums is nothing new to Webb. After leaving his commercially successful band, Caedmon’s Call, Webb has released five studio albums. The first solo album, She Must and Shall Go Free, was refused shelf space in many Christian retail stores because of its inclusion of “strong language.” With Stockholm Syndrome, Webb found his work not only too difficult for conservative retailers, but too much for his recording label as well.
Webb has gone from being a cash cow for the CCM industry to being their black sheep. Is this what happens when artists start writing about all of the things they are thinking, feeling and experiencing? It may well be.
“Stockholm syndrome” is a psychological term used to describe a paradoxical phenomenon wherein hostages become sympathetic to their captors, essentially mistaking a lack of abuse as an act of kindness. While Webb is clearly hoping his new album will awaken people to the places in which they are suffering from Stockholm syndrome via the consumer-driven empire we live in, it is also an artifact from Webb’s own journey toward release from his captors. Under the constraints of his previous band and industry, Webb could not write and sing the songs that he felt most passionate about. And while he would have continued to gain praise and awards for staying the course (Webb received 10 GMA Dove Award nominations, three Dove Award wins and six #1 Christian radio hits with Caedmon’s Call), Webb knows that being free is a better way to live.
As for those who simply believe that Webb used the controversy to gain PR for his album release, Webb has made it clear that there are easier, less damaging ways to boost record sales. “I was in a Christian band for over 10 years. I am very familiar with tools and the compromises that can be made to sell more records,” says Webb.
On Oct. 7, in Calvin College’s Chapel, we welcome to the sounds of the uncompromising Derek Webb.
- Eric Kuiper