Skillet: The Bare Minimum of Christian Rock
Your Favorite Version of Skillet
Whether you are a longtime fan of Skillet, or a relative newcomer to the band's music, what would you say is your favorite Skillet album?
Skillet: Christian Rock's Dimming Superstars
For nearly 25 years now, Skillet has been one of the leading names in Christian rock, earning multiple Dove Awards, a couple of Grammy nominations, and legions of adoring fans lovingly dubbed "panheads" by the band. I was introduced to their music at the age of fourteen when I heard "The Last Night" for the first time on rock radio on the way home from school, and the use of violins and piano in mainstream rock was fascinating to me; but as I've grown older, time has shown that even though Jon Cooper's band is a household name in rock and the nu metal era, their music isn't necessarily up to snuff with the clout they've accrued over years of musicianship. Their messages of hope in the Judeo-Christian God and perseverance through trials are often repeated to a grating degree, and the sheer vagueness and middle-of-the-road mindsets of their more aggressive tracks wear thin over repeated listens.
Perhaps as some form of quarter-life self-torture, I have endeavored to listen to nearly all of Skillet's discography, and rank their songs from worst-to-best (with some exceptions noted below) and discuss - in brief - why Skillet has continued to persist in the rock music lexicon despite diminishing returns.
What Was Excluded
For the purpose of this ranking, I listened to nearly every Skillet album, with a few exceptions:
- Right Upside Your Head (1996)
This album is Skillet's first, and isn't publicly available on any streaming site or web-based format that I could find.
- Ardent Worship (2000) and Comatose Comes Alive (2008)
When reviewing a band's music, I rarely - if ever - compare studio music to a recorded-live project, which is where this album happens to reside. A live performance has to be seen and experienced firsthand in order to fully flesh out the music in this way. That, and while I hear the albums both sound great, I didn't feel it would be appropriate to compare praise-&-worship hymns to Skillet's more rock and nu metal-oriented music.
- The EPs (The Older I Get, Awake and Remixed, and Unleashed Beyond)
While I do enjoy a good remix or acoustic performance from time to time, it wouldn't feel right to include acoustic versions of previously released songs and copare them to their originals as though they were originals themselves. The same rule extends to remixes, especially those that are DJ remixes instead of remixes by Skillet's in-house engineers.
- Unleashed (2016) and the new Victorious singles (2019)
A lot of critics have already torn into what is commonly agreed to be Skillet's worst album, Unleashed, and I would rather not waste time or energy tossing logs into the industrial fire. Shrill, distorted guitars, ugly looping effects borrowed from crunk music circa 2008, bare minimum lyrical ability, and virtually no bass to speak of make Unleashed a harsh listen, and while three of the singles from the upcoming Victorious are available now (Legendary, Anchor, and Save Me), they must be heard within the context of the full album to fully grasp their messages and content.
With all of that out of the way, here is how Skillet's track listing ranks from the worst to the best.
The Charred Underside of Skillet: Songs 97-33
Most of Skillet's songs are unfortunately found here, in the bottom two-thirds of the scoring pool. Whether's it's due to creepily whispered lyrics that send the uncomfortable kind of chills down your spine, poor choices of effects programming, unintelligible and lackluster vocals, clichéd lyrics, or outright ripping off musical elements from other bands, these songs listed here (with samples of certain songs below) are the worst-of-the-worst; the crusted, charred, and greasy underside of Skillet's music. Each song is listed with the album it can be found on, and may have extra details written as a case for why it has such a score.
Score = 0
97. Monster (Awake)
What could've been Skillet's greatest hit is weighed down by the comparison to Three Days Grace's "Animal I Have Become," which came out three years prior to "Monster's" release as a single. They both feature incredibly distorted guitars, themes of overcoming beasts residing within one's head and heart, but where "Monster" falls by the wayside is with a completely pointless growling effect on John Cooper's voice after the bridge that isn't even present on the radio version of the track. Couple that with a lot of repetition, angst, and underwritten aggression, leaves "Monster" as Skillet's worst song, despite also being one of their most successful.
96. Freakshow (Rise)
95. Believe (Awake)
94. Say It Loud (Invincible)
93. Battle Cry (Rise)
92. Don't Wake Me (Awake)
91. The Thirst Is Taking Over (Alien Youth)
One of Skillet's more commonly known weaknesses is John Cooper's lack of vocal range, as he only ever presents himself in gruff, 'smoker' vocal tones and the limited expression that comes with such a voice. He is either snarling, growling, yelling, screeching, or as is the case in this song - and most uncomfortably - whispering. The way Cooper whispers is incredibly unsettling, not allowing himself to enunciate certain vowel sounds in his lower register, and then trying to compensate by screeching high notes for about one-third of the song's runtime.
90. Locked In A Cage (Hey You, I Love Your Soul)
89. Scarecrow (Hey You, I Love Your Soul)
88. The Fire Breathes (Invincible)
Score = 0.5
87. Madness In Me (Rise)
86. American Noise (Rise)
85. Under My Skin (Collide)
84. It's Not Me It's You (Awake)
Once again, not learning from their previous decision, Skillet once again decided to borrow from their contemporary in nu-metal, Three Days Grace, this time by making their own version of TDG's biggest hit, "I Hate Everything About You." Only in this case, Skillet forgot what made that song so resonant with audiences and critics alike - I.H.E.A.Y. wasn't repetitious to such an agonizing degree, nor was it as full of vitriol so much as remorse; instead, Skillet just throws around scorn in place of contemplation, and the track ultimately suffers for it.
83. Never Surrender (Awake)
82. Will You Be There (Alien Youth)
81. Forgiven (Awake)
Score = 1
80. Coming Down (Hey You, I Love Your Soul)
79. One Real Thing (Alien Youth)
78. Would It Matter (Awake)
77. Suspended In You (Hey You, I Love Your Soul)
76. Promise Blender (Skillet)
75. Rippin' Me Off # (Alien Youth)
74. What I Believe (Rise)
73. Should've When You Could've (Awake)
72. Those Nights (Comatose)
71. Not Gonna Die (Rise)
Score = 1.5
70. Safe With You (Skillet)
69. The One (Invincible)
68. Say Goodbye (Comatose)
67. Deeper (Hey You, I Love Your Soul)
66. Better Than Drugs (Comatose)
Score = 2
65. Your Love Keeps Me Alive (Hey You, I Love Your Soul)
64. Kill Me, Heal Me (Alien Youth)
63. You're Powerful (Invincible)
62. Pour (Hey You, I Love Your Soul)
61. Take (Hey You, I Love Your Soul)
60. Stronger (Alien Youth)
59. Come On to The Future (Invincible)
58. Whirlwind (Hey You, I Love Your Soul)
57. Sometimes (Awake)
56. One Day Too Late (Awake)
55. Whispers In The Dark (Comatose)
54. Yours To Hold (Comatose)
One other chief element of Skillet's music that I had failed to mention at the top of this ranking is the sheer amount of cheesiness in a lot of the writing behind Skillet songs. Producer Brian Howes co-wrote this song with John Cooper, and the back-and-forth between the two attitudes of the song - whether it should be a ballad from the perspective of a boy longing for a girl to notice him, or from the perspective of God calling for someone in need to recognize His presence in their life - is blatantly obvious, and makes for unsettling listening to someone who is unsure whether they should feel charmed or confused.
Score = 2.5
53. My Religion (Rise)
52. I Trust You (Invincible)
51. Hero (Awake)
50. Invincible (Invincible)
49. Each Other (Invincible)
48. Energy (Collide)
47. Angels Fall Down (Invincible)
Score = 3
46. Paint (Skillet)
45. My Beautiful Robe (Skillet)
44. Vapor (Alien Youth)
43. Gasoline (Skillet)
42. You Are My Hope (Alien Youth)
41. Good To Be Alive (Rise)
40. Hard To Find (Rise)
39. Cycle Down (Collide)
Score = 3.5
38. Eating Me Away (Alien Youth)
37. You're In My Brain (Invincible)
36. I Can (Skillet)
35. Awake And Alive (Awake)
34. Dive Over In (Hey You, I Love Your Soul)
33. Live Free or Let Me Die (Comatose)
Songs 32-2: Songs with Sizzle and Spice
From here on out, each of these songs could be reasonably quantified as good, with each having merits that carry them through even if they carry on specific traditions and aspects of lesser Skillet songs. These songs could be recommended for a number of various playlists, including ones developed for exercise, worship, spiritual warfare, anxiety, combating depression, and purely enjoyable rock music.
Score = 4
32. Fingernails (Collide)
31. Alien Youth (Alien Youth, 2001)
30. Fire and Fury (Rise)
29. Falling Inside The Black (Comatose)
Score = 4.5
28. Open Wounds (Collide)
27. Saturn (Skillet)
26. Hey You, I Love Your Soul (Hey You, I Love Your Soul)
25. Comatose (Comatose)
24. Circus For A Psycho (Rise)
Score = 6 - 7.5
23. Dead Inside (Awake)
22. Rest (Invincible)
21. Salvation (Rise)
20. You Take My Rights Away (Invincible)
19. The Older I Get (Comatose)
18. More Faithful (Hey You, I Love Your Soul)
17. Earth Invasion (Alien Youth)
16. Sick Of It (Rise)
15. Rebirthing (Comatose)
14. The Last Night (Comatose)
As I said at the onset of this piece, this was my first Skillet song. It is one of Skillet's most comfortable and relatable tracks, reaching deep into mid-2000's teen angst and communion with one another during times of duress within families. Though it has its flaws (the acoustic strings are frequently overpowered by the buzzing, distorted guitars, and Korey Cooper's vocals are a little flat), it is a timeless classic of the nu metal and Christian rock sub-genres.
13. Lucy (Awake)
Perhaps Skillet's most raw and earnest song, "Lucy" addresses the pain and apathy felt by a couple after an abortion (though this is only clear via an interview with John Cooper, not so in the lyrics themselves), and it shows. John emotes with fiercely determined passion and drive to cherish every day anew, and make his life significant while he can so that he may one day spend eternity with "Lucy" telling her all about the things he did while on Earth. Though it can be read as cheesy at points, this song deserves a ton of respect for being an accessible rock song that addresses both the immediate sorrow and long-term recouping it will take to see this choice's consequences come to fruition. An underappreciated gem of Skillet's, to be certain.
12. Everything Goes Black (Rise)
11. Rise (Rise)
10. Boundaries (Skillet)
9. You Thought (Skillet)
8. Best Kept Secret (Invincible)
7. A Little More (Collide)
6. Forsaken (Collide)
Score = 8 - 8.5
5. My Obsession (Collide)
4. Splinter (Skillet)
3. Collide (Collide)
2. Savior (Collide)
The only song to score a 10 on my grading scale, "Imperfection" is, ironically, Skillet's perfect track. This song features a perfect lyrical balance between bleak self-observation and earnest hope; between raw honesty, and tenderheartedness ("no one escapes every breath we take dealing with our own skeletons; you fall on your knees, you beg, you plead, 'can I be someone else for all the times I hate myself?'"), and features some of John's most powerful and mature vocal work. This song is a masterclass in modern rock, and should be a staple of every Skillet live show. However, I highly suspect that we may never get a song so shockingly vivid again.
© 2019 Nicholas Gallagher