Conceptually, it sounds like the premise of a bad SNL sketch. Or perhaps it's more indicative of these end times, like the random result of a meme theme off the rails. The Pope — the same Pope who lives in the Vatican — has just released his debut album at the age of 78.
That same Pope! The old Argentinian guy in the rags with the pointy hat; He just released an album of contemporary music. You can find it in your favorite record store between albums by (Papal favorites?) Pitbull and Pusha T.
Don’t worry, you’re not dead. This is a real thing that’s happening to all of God’s beautiful children.
Actually, to be precise, this is a real thing that’s happening to me and a few other idiots with questionable taste. It’s hard to comprehend what motivated the production of this album, one with a target market that can't reach beyond the deliriously devout and editorially compromised. The whole thing is a mystery. It might seem impossible for music with this compelling of a backstory to be less than riveting, but (spoiler) Jesus is this snoozer ever a turkey.
But why? <—- Something you might be asking yourself, and we’re glad you’re so inquisitive. Why don’t we find out together! Here’s our track-by-track review of Pope Frances’s Wake Up! May God have mercy on City Pages!
Track No. 1: "Annuntio Vobis Gaudium Magnum!"
The slate is clean as we press play. We are like the pure souls of unborn fetuses to the music of the Pope. There are so many questions to be answered. Questions like: How’s his singing voice? Does the Pope use vocal fry? The next Beyoncé?
Here we go ... Starts off with smooth, chill-wavy synths before some Herbie Hancock-lite organ diddling. There’s resonant Trappist chanting before our man His Holiness steps on the mic. Unfortunately, this is the moment where the odd hope I held for this project is vanquished like so many unfulfilled prayers. Less than a minute in, and the questions that drew me toward this record are answered with the least amount of satisfaction possible.
Essentially, clips of the Pope speaking to massive crowds of his adoring followers are repurposed and placed under the bed of music. I can confirm that there is some artificial reverb on his “vocals” but otherwise, not very rock 'n' roll.
Track No. 2: "Salve Regina"
How do you feel about pan flute? Love it? This is the track for you! Hate it? Hope you like eternal damnation, this song was (tenuously) made by the fucking Pope! And there is hella pan flute, like wall-to-wall pan flute, which coincidentally is what you’ll be listening to in hell.
The song ends with the Pope putting on his shades and doing some a cappella spoken word.
Track No. 3: "Cuidar el Planeda"
An interesting fade in/fade out decision made by executive producer Pope Francis. This track begins with a suite of a cappella spoken word, and the blending between this track and the last one is seamless. This little slice of studio magic verifies my initial suspicions: This is one savvy Pope we’re dealing with.
After the speech ends, the song becomes a Latin-inspired ostensible ode to God or living virtuously or something; I didn’t pay attention in Spanish class. The lead vocal is then taken over by a woman or maybe the Pope’s vocals have been pitched into a higher register in Garage Band. Either way, it sounds like something you might expect from a world music compilation at Walmart.
Track No. 4: "Por Qué Sufren los Niños?"
In this song the Pope employs a really interesting musical metaphor by equating the suffering of children with the most insufferable piece of music on his debut album. Genius.
Track No. 5. "Non lasciatevi rubare la speranza!"
The first track to feature a drum kit. Boy choirs are divided into alto/soprano sections before blending during the song's conclusion. As far as songs on the Pope’s album Wake Up! go, it’s a winner. A far as songs on albums go, it’s positively a dud.
Track No. 6: "La Iglesia No Puede Ser una ONG!"
Including snippets of crowds cheering wildly before and after the Pope’s speeches is a bit bewildering. These moments are especially bizarre when they come before the Pope speaks, as whatever piece of music is introduced it is, by its nature, inescapably bland.
There’ll be some patient, tasteful piano noodling and then — wham! — you hear a massive crowd losing their shit. It’s not quite as unsettling as the laugh track used in Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers, but it’s in the same ballpark. Now, there is a time and place for enthusiastic crowds on a record — think Cheap Trick’s Live At Budokan. But instead of Cheap Trick it’s the Pope of the Catholic Church.
Track No. 7: "Wake Up! Go! Go! Forward!"
The title track and the one where the Pope speaks in English (momentarily), in case you’re curious as to what the mouthpiece of our Lord is blabbering on about. This one also features heavy distortion and more than one extended guitar solo. I’m now considering whether or not Pope is aware of the irony inherent in the inclusion of something so obviously “wicked.” He might consider them “righteous.” As of this writing, the song has 4,321 plays on Spotify. Is the rock 'n' roll countdown coincidental or is there a god?
Track No. 8: "La Fe Es Entera, No Se Licua!"
Opens with a pan flute solo that is just relentless. Eternally painful stuff here. Possibly the nadir of music made by the head of the Catholic faith.
Track No. 9: "Pace! Fratelli!"
We’re finally getting toward the end of my suffering! Pace! Fratelli! Why are there so many exclamation points on this record!? Are the titles supposed to be shouted?! Feels like their overuse diminishes the intended impact! I’m tired!
Track No. 10: "Santa famiglia di Nazareth"
You could refer to this as “the ballad” of Pope Francis’ album Wake Up! I think the problem here isn’t so much in the execution which, besides all the pan flute, is more than serviceable.
There are simply no rough edges or traces of personality to be found anywhere on the album. It’s as if each song was created by committee and finished off with a little tuft of white smoke. The album is sort of like the sonic equivalent of sitting through a non-holiday Midwestern church service. It’s wild tedious, dog.
Track No. 11: "Fazei o Que Ele Vos Disser!"
The Pope sounds like a man possessed by the Holy Spirit on Wake Up!’s final cut. This is the dirge of the album, with cavernous timpani drums, violins, and whole lot of choral humming. Just like that the album is over. This failed experiment of an article can finally end.
If I had to offer one final takeaway of this record, it would be that there’s a record by the Pope and I’ve now listened to it three times. Amen.