The Fifth Iron

There’s something I’ve always wanted to talk to somebody about: the ending of Five Iron Frenzy’s The End Is Near album (2003). I’m sure there are people who had the same experience with it as I did, but where would I find them? I’ve only known one other Five Iron Frenzy fan, but I’ve not seen or heard from them in ages. So I’m going to write this out and maybe somebody will stumble upon it.

It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of ska music. Everybody else writes it off as this goofy thing that was popular for 10 minutes in the 1990s, like Tamogachis and Beanie Babies. But I missed out on the fad, discovered the style in the early 2000s, and have loved it ever since.

Ska’s popularity led to a blossoming of sub-genres. Ska-punk was dominant, but there was neo-trad, ska-jazz, acid ska, and more. There was even a robust Christian ska scene. It was dominated by the aforementioned Five Iron Frenzy, but also contained The O.C. Supertones, The Insyderz, and a number of regional acts.

I’m not a Christian. I was raised by a lapsed Catholic and grew up in a “Bibles and guns” kind of area, and thus had a rebellious “Internet atheist” phase. Even so, I liked some of the Christian ska bands. I gravitated toward their secular songs, or at least the ones that were ambiguous (are they singing about their girlfriends or about Jesus?).

One explicitly religious song that I loved was Five Iron Frenzy’s Every New Day. It was a perfect specimen of mid-1990s ska. I loved the horns and the guitars. And I loved the final section:

Healing hands of God

Have mercy on our unclean souls once again

Jesus Christ, light of the world, burning bright within our hearts forever

Something about how Reese Roper, the singer, delivered these lines was very moving. Even to me, the strident atheist. What a great ending to a song! I looked forward to it every time the song started, which was pretty often - in the pre-Spotify era my music selection was pretty limited.

So imagine having that experience for years. Then eventually you get Five Iron Frenzy's later record, The End is Near. You're sort of digging it, and then you get to the last track. It's called On Distant Shores, and it has this heavy-handed religious imagery in its lyrics:

I have been scarred so deep by life and cold despair

And brittle bones were broken far beyond repair

I have leveled lies so deep the truth may never find

And inside my faithless heart I stole things never mine

If mercy falls upon the broken and the poor

Dear Father, I will see you there on distant shores

Just as you're about to tune it out, the bridge kicks in. Reese is shouting, building to a crescendo:

Fighting to accelerate!

Shaking free from crippling weight!

With resilience unsurpassed, I clawed my way to You at last

And on my knees, I wept at Your feet

I finally believed that You still loved me

Now the last section starts. Reese is singing again. It sounds familiar… what is it? Just as the realization dawns, he’s getting to the best part:

Healing hands of God

Have mercy on our unclean souls once again

Jesus Christ, light of the world, burning bright within our hearts forever

Freedom means love without condition

Without a beginning or an end

Here’s my heart - let it be forever yours

Only you can make every new day seem so new

They played Every New Day - whoa! They embedded their best song in another song - can you even do that?! Why doesn’t every band do this?!

I wish I could describe this better. It’s chills every time, if you had the right history. If you just listened to the two songs in quick succession then it’s maybe a little neat, but not earth-shattering. But if you heard Every New Day every week or two for a couple years and then heard On Distant Shores, I promise your mind would be blown.

This has been Mundane Pointless Stuff I Must Share. If you dig Five Iron Frenzy, check out their later (more secular) stuff that came out post-2013. It's not ska, but I enjoyed Into Your Veins very thoroughly.