Jimmy Needham returns on May 4 with his seventh studio album, Vice & Virtue. The new collection of songs, produced by Will Hunt (Crowder, Shane & Shane), marks Needham’s first project to be released by his new label, Platinum Pop Records.
As he commenced writing for his latest album, the veteran artist found himself in the midst of an unnerving internal crisis — an overwhelming sense that he just wasn’t measuring up spiritually. “I would be in my writing room and feeling like it was the end of the world,” says Needham.
But as the songwriter and R&B vocalist peeled back layer after layer of sorrow he just couldn’t shake, a few rays of light began appearing — most prominently through a study on the book of Galatians by well-known pastor Timothy Keller.
One quote by Keller — whom Needham thanks in the Vice & Virtue liner notes —“devastated” him: “Irreligious people repent of nothing. Religious people repent of their sin. But Christians repent of their righteousness.” And it got the 29-year-old asking uncomfortable questions.
“My ‘nicety’ gave me a sense of worth and value,” Needham confesses. “But that’s really the opposite of the gospel. We bring nothing to the table except sin and brokenness. Through all of my religious efforts, I was actually fleeing from the cross.”
These stirring revelations unleashed the overarching lyrical theme of Vice & Virtue, but Needham was nervous about how others would react, particularly his listeners. “My fans are nice people,” Needham observes. “They don’t cheat on their taxes. They hold doors for strangers. They say their prayers.”
So how would they respond to lyrics from the title track — a tune Needham calls “the most offensive song I’ve ever written”?
All my sins go to private school
All my sins know the golden rule
All my sins hold the door for you
There’s vice in all my virtue
Hell’s gonna have an HOA
Hell’s gonna have a low crime rate
If we don’t watch out it’ll have us too
There’s vice in all my virtue
And then the line Needham figured the record company would never let see the light of day — one that got its author remarking, “I can’t believe I just said that”:
Which is good and which is bad:
Crystal meth or a gospel tract?
If it’s done for me and not for you.
There’s vice in all my virtue.
But the label loved it.
“Jesus didn’t come to make us nice, he came to make us new,” Needham remarks, borrowing a C.S. Lewis maxim. “The Pharisees were the people he had the harshest words for in all the gospels: ‘Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you.’ That’s big and it hits me hard.”
Similar sentiments are expressed in other Vice & Virtue tracks, which explore a variety of topics that reflect his resurgent spiritual path. Needham says that after a decade of recording, “everything was different” this time around, and he’s ready to share his discoveries with his listeners.
“I don’t feel cynical,” he says. “I love the church; I wrote this album for the church. And it seems most appropriate for the body of Christ.”
For more information, visit www.jimmyneedham.com.