The Pope has released an experimental rock album that mashes up prog, soul and Disney-style ballads. Granted, he’s not playing guitar or anything, because the record, Wake Up!, consists of his speeches – delivered in a variety of languages – set to tunes written by Italian musicians such as Tony Pagliuca from the ‘70s progs rock band Le Orme and helmed by a Priest named Don Giulio Neroni, who spoke to NME about the record.
But what will the Pope’s core audience make of his change in direction? We asked the very funny Canon Peter Newby, parish Priest at St Mary Moorfields church in the City of London, for a track-by-track review.
Comparing it to Enya and saying “it sounded a bit like the music you hear on those buses when you travel round Turkey or the Lebanon”, he wasn’t altogether complimentary about the album, though conceded it might be a good present for someone you know who’s a bit holy (with the caveat that they’ll “listen to it once and then never listen to it again”). Overall, Peter awarded Wake Up! the less-than-saintly score of 4/10.
Track 1. ‘Annuntio Vobis Gaudium Magnum!’
“These are the words spoken by the Pope on the opening night of the Papal elections in St. Peter’s Square [in 2013]. So, effectively, what you’re hearing is the sound of St. Peter’s Square and the Pope speaking, with the Latin set to with catchy tunes. I’m not sure it really works, though I can see they’re trying to appeal to a younger crowd.”
Track 2. ‘Salve Regina’
“He talks about the Virgin Mary wishing to protect us with her maternal gaze and so forth; there’s some really good stuff there. I found the music had a Turkish feel to it, which is pleasant enough, but I do find there’s a disjunction between the two. Why that particular music for “Salve Regina”? The choice of the music didn’t really bear much relationship with what was said.”
Track 3. ‘Cuidar El Planeta’
“This one is about saving the planet, and the Pope talks about markets and models of economics. It’s all a bit abstract, really, for a song.”
Track 4. Por Que’ Sufren Los Ninos’
“This is another one about the Virgin Mary and there’s a bit of Spanish dialogue and a chorus of singers. It’s got a pleasant tune. I can see people singing to this one, though I didn’t feel this particular track was very well mixed.”
Track 5. ‘Non Lasciatevi Rubare La Speranza!’
“There’s a singer with a backing group here. All the music is a bit – not all the same, but it’s all quite Europop. You hear that style everywhere; in supermarkets and all over Europe on the radio. It’s all a bit bland really. The thing is, there are important themes in this song: ‘Do not let anyone steal your hope.’ I’m not sure the music – which is a bit Eurovision – served the sentiment.”
Track 6. La Iglesia No Puede Ser Una Ong!
“This one says there is charity; there is love; there is God. It’s a well-known thing that the Church sings on the night of the Last Supper and has traditionally been turned into chant music. Those chants are much better than what you hear here [a sweeping ballad] because they’re actually meditative.”
Track 7. ‘Wake Up! Go! Go! Forward!’
“This is quite rock-like. He speaks in English on this one because it’s taken from a speech he gave in the United States. He doesn’t speak English very well, though that’s not his fault. The song’s okay, but the thing is – it’s about not letting sin dull us to his Holiness and being glad for each other. These are quite heavy themes, and proper rock songs are about unrequited love normally, so it’s not quite the same. The content and the form are being stretched here.”
Track 8. ‘La Fe Es Entera, No Se Licua!’
“Tracks seven, eight and nine are the best ones. There’s a good beat and rhythm to this ballad but the speech – which is about Jesus dying on the cross – is a bit on the hectoring side.”
Track 9. ‘Pace! Fratelli!’
“This is the best song on the album, I think. Unlike the other songs, the music comes in before the words here, which is better. The song before the words gave it a bit of context. But if you think about Puff Daddy and Faith Evans, they’re the gold standard of rap music. [Their song ‘I’ll Be Missing You’] has a really powerful message: “I’ll say a prayer for you every day”. In a sense, it requires someone who’s not that religious to give quite a powerful testimony there. I think he’s got the right voice, this ‘Puff Daddy’, to just speak over music when Pope Francis doesn’t really have the right voice. Obviously, a pop star actually does this for a living, and the Pope doesn’t do this for a living, so it’s not the same thing.”
Track 10. Santa Famiglia Di Nazareth
“I found the music a bit of a nuisance here; I didn’t really think much about this. It’s about the Holy family in terms of its sentiment, this is good stuff. But again I didn’t find that the music really gave me any insight.”
Track 11. Fazei O Que Ele Vos Disser
“This one, in Spanish, is about “the friends who come to the door of Mary”. The thing is, some of these songs are written in Latin, some in Italian, some in Spanish. The average English Catholic or Christian is going to be flummoxed by it all. It’s no problem for me because that’s the media you work in as a Priest, but I think for anybody else it’s going to be fairly difficult.”