3AM Eternal: Smoking Popes “I Know You Love Me” (1997)

smoking popes

Deuteronomy 31:6

Be strong and of a good courage, fear not, nor be affrighted at them: for the LORD thy God, he it is that doth go with thee; he will not fail thee, nor forsake thee.

In 1997, Chicago rockers Smoking Popes released one of the most original, unique concept records in rock history. Having signed to Capitol Records in the early 1990s, the band had some moderate success with their single, “Need You Around,” and a reissue of their second album, Born to Quit. As was the case with most bands of the era, they soon discovered that their label was putting great pressure on them to write a hit. This, tempered with substance abuse problems, sent Smoking Popes frontman Josh Caterer on a downward self-destructive path, until he was born again in 1996.

The resulting album, Destination Failure, documents this era. First and foremost, the album is a concept record about a band struggling with success and what it means to be a band, and how being a musician plays with the world around it. You’ll hear such topics as label expectations, the relationship fans have with songs and bands, and the struggles of being a musician on the road and being away from the ones they love. It’s a pretty and pretty compelling listen, and is a solid album that holds up to repeated listens.

Scratch the surface, though, and the album’s about Caterer’s relationship with God, his religious conversion, and being a Christian in a secular world. Knowing that the album is a song cycle about his faith and his beliefs is the Rosetta Stone, and listening to the record through that frame of reference causes the entire experience to blossom to another level of appreciation.

No song fits this description better than single “I Know You Love Me.” What one hears on the surface is the sound of a lonely guy on the road, missing his girl back home. Listen to it again, and one realizes he’s singing about Christ.

(The rest of the story; Capitol released the record, barely promoted it, and dropped the band. Unsurprisingly, the band split shortly thereafter; they reformed a decade later and are still performing today.)

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