10 Musicians Who Got Religion, with Mixed Results

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As we listened to the new Rapture album on Monday — once the initial shock that it just wasn’t very good had worn off — the thing we couldn’t help noticing was that the lyrics seemed pretty rabidly Christian. Perhaps this shouldn’t be a surprise, considering the band’s name, but as far as we’re aware, their songs have never been overtly religious before. Anyway, it turns out that there’s a story behind this — according to the Village Voice, singer Luke Jenner converted to Catholicism in 2009. He’s not the first musician to undergo a road-to-Damascus experience — so after the jump, we’ve looked at a selection of other famous musical conversions, and what they meant for the both the artist in question and the music they made afterward.

Bob Dylan

Religion: Christianity

Dylan’s well-documented Christian conversion was perhaps the most famous example of an artist getting struck by a bold of spiritual lightning. His unexpected acquisition of “born again” status came at a difficult period of his life — his marriage had broken up and his latest record hadn’t enjoyed great reviews. And then someone threw a silver cross onto the stage at one of his shows, which he picked up and kept. Apparently, it was accompanied by a vision of Jesus, and all of a sudden, Dylan was going to Bible school and recording albums like 1980s’ Saved, which featured cover art with a huge hand of god reaching down to the hand of the benighted masses. Fans, understandably, were mystified, especially since the singer refused to play his old material live: “I won’t sing any song which hasn’t been given to me by the Lord to sing.” This would have been fine if the new songs were any good — but sadly, they weren’t a patch on those from Dylan’s glory days. “Being born again is a hard thing,” Dylan told an interviewer in 1980. It wasn’t easy for his fans, either.

Before: “The Times, They Are A-Changin’,” voice of a generation, etc.

After: Bombastic evangelical songs, a confused fan base

Sunny Day Real Estate

Religion: Christianity

Sunny Day Real Estate are one of the bands generally credited for inventing what became known as emo — but don’t hold that against them. Their classic 1994 debut Diary and its self-titled 1995 follow-up were both great, and they seemed to have the world at their feet. Then frontman Jeremy Enigk got religion. Quite what happened next is unclear, but the consensus seems to be that the rest of the band took a dim view of his new-found faith — as Enigk himself told an interviewer in 2006, “I didn’t want to be a Christian band, by any means, but I wanted to have lyrics that at times talked about those subjects. That made some of the guys uncomfortable.” The band have reunited twice since, but Enigk has largely left the exploration of religious issues to his solo career — and while his solo records have been perfectly acceptable, we can’t help but wonder what might have been for a band who’ll now forever remain one of the 1990s’ most underrated.

Before: Discontent, angst, inventing “emo”

After: Contentment, lack of angst, Foo Fighters

Isaac Hayes

Religion: Scientology

Hayes will forever be remembered for his era-defining soul records, particularly 1969’s glorious Hot Buttered Soul and the 1971 soundtrack to Shaft. Those glories were long behind Hayes by the time he embraced Scientology in 1995 — but by a remarkable coincidence, his meeting with Xenu coincided with a career renaissance, with roles on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and a successful comeback album. Shortly after, he began his long-running role as Chef on South Park, which brought him a whole new audience (and lots of money). Famously, however, his appreciation of South Park‘s humor didn’t extend to its satire of his own religion — after the show’s hysterically funny “Trapped in the Closet” epsiode, Hayes threw an almighty strop and asked to be released from his contract with Comedy Central, citing the show’s “intolerance and bigotry.” He also contributed to something called The Golden Era Musicians And Friends Play L. Ron Hubbard in 2001 — sadly, none of its songs are to be found on YouTube, so you’ll just have to settle for “Walk On By.”

Before: Black Moses

After: Bane of Cartman

Alice Cooper

Religion: Christianity

Surely the world’s unlikeliest born again Christian, Vince Furnier has generally refrained from being evangelical about his faith, which he embraced in the early 1980s after overcoming alcohol addiction. There’s really nothing evangelical about the records he’s made since, though — as ever, Alice Cooper and Vince Furnier seem to be two entirely different people. Furnier suggested to HM Magazine in 2002 that if there’s any Christian relevance to Alice’s output, it’s that he exists as a kind of embodiment of Very Bad Things: “If God is going to use Alice Cooper, it’s going to be more on a level of a warning. It’s not going to be on a level of, ‘Isn’t everything great? Isn’t everything good? Aren’t we all wonderful?’ Alice is going to be more like, ‘Be careful! Satan is not a myth. Don’t sit around pretending like Satan is just a joke.’ Because I have a lot of friends that do believe that. I think my job is to warn about Satan.” Anyway, whatever the case, although his moment of musical relevance has long since passed, Cooper’s songs are as camp and entertaining as ever.

Before: Shock rock, snakes, booze

After: Golf, sobriety

Cat Stevens

Religion: Islam

Apart from Bob Dylan being born again, Stevens’ embrace of Islam is perhaps the most famous musical conversion, and certainly its most dramatic. The story is well-documented — the singer was swimming off the Californian coast, got into trouble, called on God to save him, and was washed back to shore. Shortly after, his brother gave him a copy of the Koran, and less than a year later, Cat Stevens was no more — he adopted the name Yusuf Islam, auctioned all his guitars for charity, and stopped playing entirely. He wasn’t to return to the stage for 25 years, and while no one would begrudge him the happiness his religion seems to have brought him, it’s a great shame that he eschewed music completely for so long.

Before: “Father and Son,” AOR stardom

After: Years of silence

Prince

Religion: Jehovah’s Witness

The first hint of a spiritual influence on Prince’s work came around the time he decided to withdraw the Black Album from sale and replace it with Lovesexy. Still, he didn’t become a Jehovah’s Witness in 2001, and while the peak of his recording career was long since past, making it hard to gauge the effect (if any) of his conversion on his songwriting, there was at least one tangible implication — he refused to play any of his dirty songs live. As any good Prince fan knows, the dirty songs are the best ones — see “Darling Nikki,” “Erotic City,” “Head,” “Let’s Pretend We’re Married,” “Gett Off,” and various others — so for fans, this was not a good thing. Happily, his stance on this point seems to have softened somewhat in recent years — standout 2007 single “Black Sweat” was the best (and dirtiest) thing he’s recorded in years.

Before: Gloriously filthy

After: Tediously non-filthy

Ma$e

Religion: Christianity

You may well remember Mase (or Ma$e, if you must) as a mid-ranking rapper on Puff Daddy’s Bad Boy roster. At some point during the late ’90s, the whole gangsta schtick must have started to weigh on his conscience, because in April 1999, he retired from music and embraced Christianity, eventually becoming a preacher. He resurfaced in 2004 with an album called Welcome Back, and has popped up sporadically since, although none of his post-conversion work has rivaled the commercial success of his debut album Harlem World.

Before: Dollar signs, guns, bitches, etc.

After: Gospel, relative obscurity

MC Hammer

Religion: Christianity

Another hip hop type gone clean, although in Hammer’s case, he wasn’t exactly dirty to begin with. In fairness, Hammer was a practicing Christian throughout the peak of his success, releasing a single called “Pray” as the follow up to career-defining megahit “U Can’t Touch This,” and he started his career in a Christian rap group called Holy Ghost Boys. Still, it was only after the money from “U Can’t Touch This” had pretty much disappeared that he returned to what he’d once seen as his calling, becoming an ordained minister after a brief and bewildering flirtation with Suge Knight’s Death Row Records. His music since hasn’t been anything to write home about — but then, honestly, it never was. Bless him.

Before: Global stardom

After: Celebrant at Corey Feldman’s wedding

Brian “Head” Welch

Religion: Christianity

“I was walking one day, just doing my rock ‘n’ roll thing, making millions of bucks, success and everything, addicted to drugs, and then the next day I had [a] revelation of Christ and I was like, everything changes right now.” So said former Korn guitarist Brian “Head” Welch in 2009, explaining his decision to in 2005 to quit the band. Welch’s epiphany certainly seems to have worked wonders for his lifestyle — he kicked addictions to alcohol, meth, and prescription painkillers — although not necessarily for his career, with his solo records not coming anywhere near to matching the global success of his former band, even if they were reasonably well-received by critics. His autobiographies have done well, mind.

Before: Drugs, dreadlocks, more drugs

After: Sobriety, confessions, vomiting

Sinéad O’Connor

Religion: All of them, basically

Ever since she emerged with her wonderful cover of Prince’s “Nothing Compares 2 U,” Sinéad O’Connor’s ongoing religious odyssey has been one of the music world’s stranger spectacles. Raised a Catholic, O’Connor has since torn up a picture of the Pope, embraced Rastafarianism, been ordained as a priest, released an album called Theology, and called herself a “pantheist.” Her conflicted relationship with her religion has clearly been a driving force in her music, for better and for worse — without it, she’d be an entirely different person.

Before: Religious angst

After: Religious angst