As a Christian, it’s hard to think of a song more polarizing song than Brand New’s “Jesus Christ.” Off of the appropriately titled album The Devil and God are Raging Inside Me it is, in part, a song about struggle, uncertainty, loneliness, and a deep down fear of the afterlife, things we all struggle with. On the other hand, it is a cry verging on the side of blasphemy that demonstrates the fundamental dissonance between secular and sacred viewpoints: the role of faith in Christian doctrine. I think that is what Jesse Lacey was going for when composing this masterpiece. His signature honest lyricism and uncaring vocals create a juxtaposition that leaves the listener feeling afflicted, yet comforted. With this, it has the uncanny ability to bring both sides of the coin together. I’ve found that both Christians and Non-Christians are drawn to this song for the same reason, the unshakeable ambiguity regarding our posthumous souls.
The song commences with a tremolo-driven arpeggiated triad. It is wavy, weak and reverberation is added to blend it all together as it penetrates and haunts. This proves to be the foundation for the whole song. Over this, another guitar is added playing a smooth, somber solo. After this ends, Lacey begins to sing. He sings with a waiver emulating the guitar that, as previously mentioned, lingers throughout.
“Jesus Christ that’s a pretty face. The kind you’d find on someone I could save” is the first line of the song. The first two words are said with a difficult to decipher tone. Is it a break in the fourth commandment? Is it a direct address to the man? Semantically, it seems he is erring more towards the former, yet the themes of the song and his vocal inflection hint that it is the latter. The more I analyze and the more I think the more I believe it is a moderate both. Either way, however, this first line illustrates a main theme to the song. The speaker is alone, seeking a lover, yearning for companionship.
There is no change in musical structure for the Chorus. The vocals do. Adding even more intentional obvious waiver the speaker comes to the conclusion “And I will die all alone” this is where it becomes a little more interesting lyrically as he goes from loneliness to his death to Jesus back to his loneliness back to Jesus and back his death and the afterlife. These ideas alternate, repeat and fade in and out of one another in a sort of inconsistent juggling fashion as he interweaves biblical illusions.
This idea escalates until he gets to the bridge where he states “I know you're coming in the night like a thief,” almost quoting 1 Thessalonians 5:2. This is then followed by the most difficult part of the song for me as Lacey sings,
But I've had some time alone to hone my lying technique.
I know you think that I'm someone you can trust,
But I'm scared I'll get scared and I swear I'll try to nail you back up
So do you think that we could work out a sign,
So I'll know it's you and that it's over so I won't even try.
I know you're coming for the people like me
What he means is, ultimately and intentionally, ambiguous. What the listener feels is probably different than what Lacey is writing about. For me, however, the bridge isn’t about being able to deceive and subsequently desperately take advantage of Jesus, it is about feeling inferior and undeserving of the ultimate prize, an eternity with Christ. The speaker feels that he is not worthy as his emotional state causes him to see all of his flaws and mistakes. He is weary that he will cross Jesus based off of his past. The “sign” mentioned is proof to him that Jesus is there and is a resolution to the uncertainty that prevails throughout.
The bridge builds until it crescendos with “we all got wood and nails” which to me is a metaphor for the crosses we all have to bear. We all have things that stick in us, hold us suspended, and kill us just as Jesus had the cross. Looking at it in this way, this line confirms my previous theory about the bridge in this song as the speaker has degrading thoughts about himself and his past. Deep down he has something causing his loneliness, making him uncertain, igniting his questioning of the afterlife and the world’s perceived savior. All though it is not defined, we can see that it is his cross and puts him with everyone else in the world as he concludes with “we sleep inside of this machine.”