I think we all read the headlines earlier this year: “Pope Francis to release prog rock album.” It’s enough to make you double-take, imagining the leader of the Catholic Church improvising solos alongside the likes of Steve Hackett and Steve Howe (#TrendyPope, or perhaps #PopeProg). Now this isn’t as radical as one would think, seeing the previous Pope John Paul II had released three albums of his own, mainly spiritual recitations incorporating world music. But with the personality and background of Pope Francis, a progressive rock album isn’t out of the picture. Although I am not Catholic myself, I can’t help but enjoy the holiest of rock albums to be released this year, “Wake Up!”
Former Bouncer, former metalhead, current Pope. Jorge Mario Bergoglio, better known as Pope Francis, is known as being one of the most progressive and accessible contemporary religious figures. Thinking of his popularity among his constituents and others around the world, I thought “why not record a rock album?” What a way to spread the gospel, and those not interested in its message can still enjoy an intriguing listen. Featuring numerous collaborators, including Italian prog rock band Le Orme, much of the music behind “Wake Up” is an attempt at 70’s-style progressive rock. But even with all the synths and other progressive instruments, the album easily falls in line with what we call world music. Choric voices, Asian flutes, Latin percussions; I feel each region of the world is represented in this album. The album is an easy listen, full of ambiance and easy listening.
There are some pleasing moments musically in “Wake Up.” The album starts with “Annuntio Vobis Gadium Mangum,” using synthesizers, flutes, and chants to set up Pope Francis’ opening speech, being an excerpt from the first speech he gave as pope. The fourth track “Por Que Sufren Los Ninos?” utilizes a lone female voice, an exceptional vocal performance that mirrors the pain spoken in the Pope’s speech. The highlighted track “Wake Up! Go! Go! Forward!” is perhaps the hardest track on this album, a word I’ll use lightly considering the fragility and nature of the man. There’s electric guitar, drums, and brass instruments throughout, complementing some of the easygoing rock albums that have been released this year. I particularly liked this track because it is the closest to what I typically listen to. Having heard this song before the album released, I was hoping for more songs like this. But my expectations were immediately tempered. “This is the Pope we’re talking about,” I thought. “Not Dream Theater.”
As for the front man himself, Pope Francis provides excerpts of speeches in several languages, including Portuguese and English. Ranging in themes of climate change to the gospel itself, each title summarizes the topic in question, that is, if you can read in multiple languages. His vocals are beautifully incorporated with the orchestrations and rhythms of every song. Each performer deserves an applause for their ability to produce a backing track that will highlight specific moments of every song without overpowering the overall message of Pope Francis. My only complaint is the majority of the tracks are spoken in other languages, with only the title track being spoken in English. I was interested in hearing the overall message of the album, but there was no way for me to understand the album’s lyrics. In speaking his own language, though, the lyrics do feel more personal, being spoken as if I am one with the crowd of jubilant followers.
Overall, “Wake Up!” by Pope Francis and his collaborating musicians will feed upon your curiosity. Not every day does the most powerful man in the Catholic Church release something as perplexing as a rock album. It is by no means the best album I’ve heard this year, but it is one filled with joy and affection. And in a world as crazy as this one, what better way to spread peace and love but by an album as relatable as this one. For those wanting to hear something different, I’d definitely recommend checking out this album. There’s nothing I can compare it to.