Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Pope Music

I'm grateful (this once, at least) to Damian Thompson for pointing to the official PopeTour UK commemorative CD. Damian isn't impressed. "My heart sank when I saw that the papal visit team had released two tracks from the official “Pilgrim Journey” CD that comes with the (expensive) tickets for papal events. But nothing could have prepared me for the awful reality."

One of the newly-released tracks which you can listen to on the Papal Visit website, Urban Pilgrim (Reprise), is a piece of ambient chill-out music that clearly belongs in a nightclub. It's not exactly bad, just inappropriate. It would sound reasonable if you were spaced out on Ecstasy, but I doubt that is quite what the Catholic Church has in mind. The second, Deus Tuus Deum Meus, is rather more contemplative and consists of a seminarian crooning some words taken from one of the gospels with a pared-down piano accompaniment. I can imagine him on Britain's Got Talent, though I doubt he'd last very long.

Damian Thompson thinks the music is "crap" which "proves that the Church in England and Wales is still in the grip of philistines." I suppose it depends what you're looking for in a Papal souvenir CD. "I’m not suggesting that visitors to papal events should be given a CD of Renaissance polyphony," he writes. But why not? And would his suggestion of "good Christian rock music" be any better? I doubt it. There is no musical abomination worse than "Christian rock", for the perfectly good reason that rock music is Satanic. And I don't mean that if you listen to tracks played backwards you can hear demonic messages. Rock music is about blackness and sensuality; it is the music of sexual excess, of drink-sodden abandonment; of damnation. At least if it's any good it is. It is no coincidence that bands have traditionally chosen names like Black Sabbath, Judas Priest and Megadeth. Rock music belongs to the Devil and if the Devil has all the best tunes that's just bad luck on the Christians.

Renaissance polyphony, leavened by a bit of Bach and Mozart and perhaps some of 19th century French religious pap (Panis Angelicus, Gounod's Ave Maria, that kind of thing), would be just the ticket. It would be much more in keeping with Ratzinger's own style and tastes, and it would give papal groupies something they might find themselves listening to more than once. The church should be celebrating its great musical heritage not undermining it, either with pseudo-acid house or ersatz rock.

As a branding exercise, it's doomed. They clearly want to package as trendy and modern someone who mentally has never left the 17th century. But if you like Pope Benedict XVI or find his message credible, then almost certainly you're not the sort of person who will relate to Urban Pilgrim (Reprise). They would have done better repackaging Monty Python's Every Sperm is Sacred. At least that would accurately reflect Ratzinger's core message.