He’s holy, he’s diplomatic, and now he’s dropping a rock album – Pope Francis has become a true triple threat.
This November, the pontiff will release his debut, Vatican-approved album titled "Wake Up!" The 11-track LP is a collaboration with Believe Digital, and it will feature excerpts from his speeches in English, Portuguese, Spanish, and Italian laid over upbeat rock musical accompaniment and Gregorian chant.
The title track single, “Wake Up! Go! Go! Forward!” premiered on Friday. The lyrical component is a speech by Francis, in English, addressing a South Korean audience last year. "Wake up, Wake up," Francis says on the track, complemented by prog rock guitar riffs, dramatic synths, and dynamic trumpets. The track is reminiscent of cinematic instrumental bands like Explosions in the Sky or Mogwai.
"The Lord speaks of a responsibility that the Lord gives you,” he goes on. “It is a duty to be vigilant, not to allow the pressures, the temptations, and the sins to dull our sensibility of the beauty of holiness."
Francis’s soft cadence paired with an escalating rock beat is certainly tuneful enough to nod along to. The single has garnered more than 700,000 listens on Soundcloud. It was generally well-received, prompting comments like “This completes me. I can't get enough of this guy,” and “now I want to see him shred live.” Others solicited collaborations and said the track is evocative of the band The Mars Volta.
“Wake Up! Go! Go! Forward!” is available for download on iTunes, where you can pre-order the entire album, to be released on Nov. 27.
According to the Rolling Stone, the full album will tackle issues of environmental concerns, peace, dignity, and compassion for those who need it most. Francis's papal career has been marked by declarations that everyone deserves love and respect. The pope has spoken out on immigration, homelessness, and even same-sex marriage.
It’s precisely this belief that has given him universal appeal, redeeming Catholicism for the world. And what’s a better way to spread a message than music?
Don Giulio Neroni, the album’s producer and artistic director, is a veteran in working with papal rockstars. In the past, he has worked with Pope John Paul II on the 1999 album "Abbà Pater" and with Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI on "Alma Mater."
"As in the past, for this album too, I tried to be strongly faithful to the pastoral and personality of Francis, the pope of dialogue, open doors, hospitality,” Neroni tells Rolling Stone. “For this reason, the voice of Pope Francis in 'Wake Up!' dialogues music. And contemporary music – rock, pop, Latin etc. – dialogues with the Christian tradition of sacred hymns."
For this project, Neroni recruited songwriter Tony Pagliuca, who composed "Wake Up! Go! Go! Forward!” and several others pieces on the album. Pagluica was a touring rock musician in the 1970s, during which he’d also made an “important journey of faith.”
“Putting my music in the service of the words and the voice of Pope Francis has been a fantastic experience and a very interesting artistic challenge," Pagluica says.
The Vatican has a history of flirting with popular culture. Catholic Gregorian chants had a great impact on medieval and Renaissance music. And it was the Catholic Church that popularized the Baroque style.
In 2010, the Vatican released a “semi-serious” list of top 10 albums, earning the praise of music critics for demonstrating decent, timeless taste. The list includes "Graceland" by Paul Simon, "Rumours" by Fleetwood Mac, and "Revolver" by the Beatles at No. 1.