Ping Pong Over the Abyss is the official debut album of the 77s, a new-wave/punk band with a definite Christian bend, but not a break, in their music. This one is considered a lesser album in their discography, especially compared with their next two records, which I’ll talk about shortly, but I think this is still a really, really solid record. The main flaw here is that lead singer/songwriter Michael Roe hadn’t yet figured out how to weave themes of spirituality and discontent into his lyrics in an artful, clever way. The lyrics here are often quite preachy and Roe aims a lot of his vitriol at what he sees as “worldly” philosophies and ways of thinking; there’s some cringe inducing stuff here, without question. The bland Renaissance Man and the weird, dissonant It’s So Sad are particularly bad because they don’t even have the catchy music or great instrumentation of a lot of the other tracks. But when the music is on point, like the frenzied, rock’n’roll title track, you can forgive some of the clunkier lyrics. Luckily there’s plenty of evidence here that Roe is on the right track. The aching, plaintive Time Is Slipping Away is a masterpiece of pop melodicism and the album opens with a great one-two punch with the anthemic, fist-pumping Different Kind of Light and the incredibly catchy How Can You Love. The album closes, strangely yet wonderfully, with a cover of an old standby gospel tune, first recorded in the 1920s by Washington Phillips as Denomination Blues & made famous by Sister Rosetta Tharpe in the 1930s under the title That’s All. It’s a slow, guitar based ballad that is by far the most sedate on the album which, on the whole, has a really up-tempo, kind of frenzied pace. It’s really quite beautiful and points, I think, to the expanding palette the band would unveil on their next couple of records. Despite a few missteps, this is a really solid, hard-charging debut. The clunky lyrics are forgiven when they’re placed with rocking, brilliantly performed music and that’s thankfully the case with only a couple of exceptions. I think I like this album more than most fans of the band, even if it is a step below the places the band would go from here. 3 ½ stars.
tl;dr – catchy melodies, intense musicianship, great riffs and high energy elevate this debut album; preachy lyrics sink a couple of tracks, but on the whole this one really works. 3 ½ stars.