When I first heard of Andrew Osenga's new release, Leonard, The Lonely Astronaut, I thought it sounded like a clunky, overwrought concept album. It's not. While Leonard's trajectory is one of self-imposed loneliness, the space metaphor is not overworked nor prominent. It becomes quickly apparent that these songs record the journey of an everyman from fierce independence to loneliness to a recognition of the cost of freedom and, finally, a rebirth and renewal that allows a reentry into relationship. If you hear in that the vocabulary of flight, it's mine, not Osenga's. Blame me.
From the opening notes of "Brushstroke," we get a sense of who Leonard is: a man "making lots of dough," one who "still sort of [has] a couple friends" (which don't really sound like friends), his fierce independence proclaimed in a "brushstroke on the canvas of a perfect blue sky." Musically, it's a subdued beginning, yet quickly we are launched into the big guitar sound of "Only Man In the World," just the kind of rocker that a guy "disappointed in love" might write on launching out on his own. And yet there is a wistfulness, a longing reflected in the closer to the first set of songs: in the acoustic ballad, "Ever and Always," Leonard reflects on the love he once had, how "she brought the stars to a landlocked boy/ held my heart, taught me joy/ and I'm here completely/ forever and always."
Two brief instrumentals, both bearing the title of "Perihelion," separate the three movements of this song sequence. If a perihelion is the point in orbit when a planet is nearest the sun, perhaps the suggestion here is that these are moments of epiphany or illumination, when Leonard awakes to some new insight about his life. "Perihelion I" provides a segue-way into a second suite of songs that catalog the effects of independence and offer up confession and a recognition of the need for community. "Tower of Babel" marks the albums first reference ot God, when Leonard says a broken relationship "finally brought me to my knees/ another ultimatum to a deity/ save this love or I won't believe/ (do you hear me?" What follows is a request for forgiveness ("Hold On, Boy"), a plea for rescue, for deliverance ("Smoke Signals"), and a recognition that self-made men are lonely men: "God help the man who helps himself!/ He needs no other devil/ Give us the courage to say farewell/ to the fear and watch it crumble."
Yet the most beautiful moment in this set of songs comes with the creation hymn entitled "It Was Not Good For Man To Be Alone." In what may be the lyrical center of the album, the writer puts words to the community that is at the heart of God: "He was looking for another just like him/ And the heart of God broke for his creation/ It was not good for man to be alone." And so it isn't. We come to "Perihelion II," and like a selah of the Psalms, have a moment to reflect on this great truth.
The final two songs of the album represent Leonard's rebirth and re-entry into community. You hear it the buoyant sound of "Beat of My Heart," when he sings that "only God can hold what's dead and make it new," when Leonard emerges from the silence, darkness, and emptiness of a life alone. His re-commitment echoes throughout "Shooting Star," the closer, when he tells his love to "brace for the splashdown/ the grip of gravity and age/ we're going to find out/ if anything can really change."
This is likely the richest album both lyrically and musically that Andrew Osenga has launched. There is a quirkiness in his character, and yet there is profundity in what the man has to say. This record just might resonate more broadly than in just the CCM community, as it touches on many universals and eschews the hackneyed phrases that abound in CCM marketed music. In fact, it strikes me as "acoustically-grounded, lyrically thoughtful, and spiritually provocative," just the kind of music I would have wanted to find and support in my Silent Planet Records days. And yet who needs a record label anymore? Leonard was funded by 365 fans via Kickstarter, and the set, a mock homemade spaceship, built by supporters. That's a testament to community and a new, broader sense of the importance of patronage.
So take a trip. Buy Leonard, the Lonely Astronaut. Hopefully, it'll feed your soul longer than a mere "brushstroke on the canvas of a perfect blue sky." It's gravity may even take you Home.