Stryper: ‘Against The Law’
AGAINST THE LAW
Released on August 21, 1990 (Enigma Records)
The Against The Law album by Stryper is one that many may remember more for the so-called controversy surrounding it than the actual songs on the release. After a successful run with To Hell With The Devil and In God We Trust, which boosted the band into the MTV and secular Top 40 and rock radio stations, Stryper were not only getting backlash from some of the mainstream rock fans (not surprisingly since Christian music were new to the rock and metal genre at the time), but also from their Christian colleagues for not being “Christian enough” in their lyrical content, or the fact that many church followers thought that adding heavy guitars to the praise music was blasphemy.
Singer Michael Sweet stated in his book at the time the In God We Trust tour was over, the band members were angry at the Christian music critics, and the music market in general. With fueled resentment encouraged by partying and drinking among the band, they deiced to go into a new direction, one without overtly Christian lyrics and bid farewell to the yellow and black outfits that they were known for.
The title track starts off the album, which kicks into a bluesy rock drive in the beginning before going into straight rock, and includes a great scream by Michael Sweet. The lyrical content shows the frustration Sweet was having in his life at the time, where many who do not follow the band too much may not understand. The bass is heard more on this album in the production than in the previous Stryper albums (especially compared to some of the band’s releases after this, where I think the production comes off flat at times).
“Two Time Woman” was the third video for the album, where the band filmed the second and third songs together on the same day due to budget costs, which was another problem the band was having, according to Sweet‘s book. He stated he was realizing that the costs for the band was over-reaching what was coming in. My friends were big time Stryper fans, and I listened to them often (especially at church functions), but did not remember the video for this song when it came out, but then again, I checked out of the band after the first single of this album. The slide guitar solo by Ox Fox is nice, along with drummer Robert Sweet‘s playing on here, which is not the normal mid-tempo straight beat that the more popular Stryper songs included. Many leaders at my church blasted Stryper at this time, stating that the band “renounced” their Christian faith, yet bashed them for being “not Christian” due to playing hard rock. Listening to this song, one would not know that the band was a Christian band lyrically, and would have fit with any of the other bands from this era. This is a great song with strong backing vocals. This is a great track.
“Rock The People” has an ’80s Sunset Strip feel to it. Again, the bass is heard more on this album than some of the other productions in the past (yes, I know Michael stated in the past that Tim Gaines was not on some of the other albums). Musically, this reminded me of something Ratt may have created. To me, the music makes this song, as opposed to some of the lyrics. Another great guitar solo here from Fox.
“Two Bodies (One Mind, One Soul)” starts with a mellow opener, and takes the listener to several dynamics throughout the track. At first, it seems to be a ballad until the second verse. For the backlash, the band was getting when this album came out for not having up front Christian lyrics, the content in the wording is not anti-religion. Remember, there were not many Christian hard rock acts on the scene at this time, especially one that was getting major mainstream attention. Christian pop acts like Michael W. Smith and Amy Grant were a year or two away from hitting the mainstream charts, helping make listeners of the genre not feel like total outcasts. Stryper were the Christian trailblazers for acts to come, in both pop and rock music (one could argue bands like Petra were around before Stryper, but even they didn’t have the mainstream success). The lyrical content could be about a relationship or even the members of the church. Regardless of the inspiration, if the listener was turned off by the band’s up front religious stance, this whole album proves that the band had musical talent. Once the song kicks in, the power drives it throughout. The track was recently referenced by Chris Jericho during an episode of AEW wrestling.
“Not That Kind Of Guy” was a song that Michael says he was not fond of, especially since he thought the band would be sued for it being so similar to Van Halen‘s “Hot For The Teacher.” The similarities are no doubt there, but the thing that makes me like the song is the musicianship in the song. This is a very heavy song for the band (maybe their heaviest from the first several albums). Robert‘s drumming and Fox‘s solo makes this song, similarities or not.
One of the reasons I checked out of the band on this album, was because of “Shining Star.” My best friend was a die hard Stryper fan (along with Rush), and was so excited for this album, like all the others from the band. When he showed me the video for this song (back in the days when we would record MTV on our VHS players for hours at a time just to get our favorite videos), I was sort of dumbfounded by the video and the song. I just didn’t get it. We didn’t know about the band Earth Wind & Fire at the time (it wasn’t until my later college years before I listened to that band, but have enjoyed their music). Randy Jackson plays bass on the track, and still to this day, it is my least favorite song on the album. I just didn’t see the need for the band to do a cover of a soul/R&B song. I’m not against covers. I have even liked some covers over the originals (White Lion‘s “Radar Love” and Poison‘s “You’re Mama Don’t Dance” come to mind), but this made me indifferent to the band, so I moved on from them after seeing this video. My friend always loved the album (he passed away last year, which is a lasting memory about him is how much he loved this album played the CD often). Was it because I believed my church leaders that bashed the band at this time, stating they “gave up on religion?” I don’t know, but I am still not a fan of the song or video to this day (and this is the first I’ve listened to this release in years). Regardless of the psychological reasons, to me this song didn’t fit the image of the band, and the video didn’t help change my mind.
“Ordinary Man,” again, has the musical style that would have been found in the clubs of the Sunset Strip by bands like Ratt, reminding me of “Way Cool Jr.” Being a fan of that style of songs, with a slow blues groove / sleaze style, this is another shocking song for me that I enjoy. I got the CD when I was in college at a bargain bin at the campus bookstore, and honestly didn’t listen to it much. I just got it for a cheap price to add to the collection. I like Robert‘s strong drumming in the song.
The major surprise on this release is “Lady” for me. I have mentioned many times in reviews here that I am not one that hates ballads from bands. I know many readers of my work hate ballads and want to rock out all throughout the albums. That’s fine, and is your right, but since the musical acts I listened to (and still do) have more of a radio friendly/pop feel to them, I love listening to ballads to give my ears a break on albums. This second single has a Tesla feel to me (like “Love Song”). I remember the backlash that the video had at the churches I attended, because Sweet was singing a love song to a model in the video who was not his wife. Christians thought that it was encouraging adultery (once again, keep in mind the time of the release). This song is a wonderfully written piece of power ballad that if it was pushed more, it may have been on any of the “Best of Power Ballads” CDs (the record label went bankrupt by the time the album was released which may also been another factor). The strong drums give the song intensity without being overpowering. This is a gem, and hopefully more people will discover this song.
“Caught In The Middle” gets the album rocking again after the ballad. This song has the more classic Stryper style to the song that is heard on the earlier albums. Again, I know this song only because of using the word “hell” in it, and it not referring it to a place (“you don’t know what the hell you’re feeling”). This is one of the songs that my church leaders pointed to that wanted us to denounce the band. Song wise, the classic Stryper solos are here, and this doesn’t shy from their normal fan base at the time. “All For One” has a chugging guitar style during the verses, and has a more political statement than the other songs on the record, with trying to change the world. The song has strong vocals on the chorus.
The album ends on a heavy note with “Rock The Hell Out of You,” another song that I knew of only due to my church’s backlash of the band, and my best friend telling me about the song. This song has a Judas Priest influence, which is not surprisingly since the band was influenced by the mighty Priest. The song has a driving beat like a train coming down the tracks. The speed metal drumming by Robert, and Michael‘s Halford style singing during the chorus gives the album a wonderful and power-filled ending.
The cult following of the record throughout the years may have shown once again that Stryper were ahead of the time when it comes to the Christian hard rock genre. Today, it’s not uncommon to see Christian bands like Skillet, P.O.D., and Demon Hunter have successful selling albums without the up-front Christian lyrics. For those that thought the early Stryper albums were too cheesy in lyrics and content, this album is one to check out, because even with the lack of religious tones, there is nothing that is offensive and has the quality musicianship which makes this release one of the underrated rock releases that went under the radar at the time. Although I still don’t comprehend the R&B cover on the release, one bad track doesn’t hurt the overall flow, and few very albums have EVERY song a winner. Image wise, I compare this album to Revenge by KISS, where the band got rid of the colorful outfits from the 1980s and went to the leather metal / hard rock look, letting the music speak for itself, giving the middle finger to the critics who declared the band as only a gimmick. This just happened to be a Christian band giving the finger.
Against The Law was a point where the band started to reinvent themselves due to the backlash, and internal problems within the Stryper company. Many Christian followers of the band shunned the record at the time, yet today is considered one of the best albums that they released. It may even be THE best musically the band released.
01. Against The Law
02. Two Time Woman
03. Rock The People
04. Two Bodies (One Mind One Soul)
05. Not That Kind Of Guy
06. Shining Star
07. Ordinary Man
09. Caught In The Middle
10. All For One
11. Rock The Hell Out of You
Michael Sweet – lead vocals, guitar, background vocals
Oz Fox – guitar, background vocals
Robert Sweet – drums
Tim Gaines – bass, background vocals
John Purdell – keyboards
Randy Jackson – bass (6)
Brent Jeffers – additional keyboards
Jeff Scott Soto – additional background vocals
Tom Werman – percussion
Produced by Tom Werman
Recorded and mixed by Eddie Delena
Reviewed by Lance Lumley for Sleaze Roxx, August 2020
Stryper‘s “Two Time Woman” video:
Stryper‘s “Shining Star” video: