Ah the predictable ‘end of year review’ blog post! On a serious note, I’ve never done this and I wanted to write an article about some of the most-well known and some not-so-well known Christian albums released that over the past year I’ve come across. I say the past year… I mean, a year or so…give or take…some were released in late 2012. Here’s Part 1.
*a brief note: I am not taking a swipe at any particular band or ministry. I am just trying to critique music in general, according to my taste.
Third Day – Miracle
Another good, solid album for Third Day, though not as good as 2010’s Move. Again, its well produced, solid, anthemic and country-filled at points, just what we’ve come to expect from Third Day. But not necessarily a standout album from them. Very listenable, though. Best songs: ‘Kicking And Screaming’, ‘Your Love Is Like A River’, ‘Forever Yours’ ‘I Need A Miracle’, ‘The Victory’.
Israel & The New Breed – Jesus At The Center
This is my favourite album of the last year. Worshipful (is that a word? I’m going to say yes), musical, inventive and creative, Israel and co continue to push the boundaries. Get this album. No more needed to be said. Favourite tracks: ‘Jesus The Same’ , ‘Rez Power’, ‘More Than Enough’, ‘I Call You Jesus’, ‘Jesus At The Centre’, ‘Speechless’. Rating: 9.5/10.
Worship Central – Let It Be Known
Good, solid offering from Tim Hughes and co. For me personally, it doesn’t match up to ‘Spirit Break Out’, and for a few reasons. 1. I feel some of the songs are ‘fillers’. I couldn’t tell the difference between the first two tracks, ‘Ready For You’ and ‘God Most High’ and the latest Jesus Culture/Hillsong/Elevation Worship etc offering. Is that a bad thing necessarily though? Maybe in some ways not. But if Hughes, Cantelon, Hellebronth etc are looking to implement creativity as a value of what Worship Central is, then it feels like a pretty dull opening to the album. Same mid-tempo feel, add a bit of synth, additional side drums and there you have it…a good opener heard on many a Christian worship album. 2. Relying on past ‘hits.’ This seems to be a common theme for Christian albums. Why do ‘Guardian’ and ‘Hallelujah’ appear (both Ben Cantelon numbers)? Ok, maybe it feels like Ben Cantelon’s new album has been out for ages, but it only came out in May 2012 (‘Guardian’ appeared on it, ‘Hallelujah’ is on 2009’s ‘Running After You’). Still, though, if its on the latest Worship Central album, theres a chance it’ll appear on Soul Survivor (on 2012’s Kingdom Come) and New Wine (on My Heart Will Ever Sing, 2012). But is that Worship Central’s fault, you ask? No, perhaps not. But for me, all of these albums where bands rely on past ‘hits’ seem to scream out to the buyer, “look, a new version…buy me!” Oh, wait, its the exact same song…
Right. With that moan out the way, the good songs on this album are really, really good. ‘Let It Be Known’ is such a funky, electronic piece, its one of these songs that makes you dance. And, perhaps a real step forward to where worship is going: electronica. ‘The Cross Stands’ is another stand out, as well as ‘Dry Bones’ (although is it just me or does the Ezekiel 37 theme seem to be doing the rounds with worship bands at the moment?) and ‘Our Generation.’ So yes, I do like this album. Especially the rapping. Rating 7/10.
Jesus Culture with Martin Smith – Live In New York City
When Jesus Culture hit a chord or a bass drum you know its them. This time they’ve teamed up with former Delirious? frontman Martin Smith. It features a couple of his new tracks, ‘Fire Never Sleeps’, ‘Waiting Here For You’ and ‘Song of Solomon’ as well as a few Delirious oldies. The current popular tune in charismatic Christianity (originally by Will Reagan & United Pursuit Band), ‘Set A Fire’ also makes an appearance, as well as some new Jesus Culture tracks. Now, whilst there’s no doubting the prominence of Jesus Culture movement, or their passion, I find this album quite dull at points (where’s your passion, Brian? LOL). Or do I mean ‘worshipful?” Some of the songs just really lack in tempo, the guitar sounds the same from song to song, the drums are so metronomical it lacks groove (that same bass drum kick and big crash groove in nearly every song is uninventive) making tunes indistinguishable from one to another (Perhaps we’re so used to this now, though!). A few lyrics I find to be mediocre at best, too. For instance, in the song ‘I Am In Love With You’, the line ‘My heart lusts after you, and I will abandon myself to you’ seems to be a poor choice of words and quite lazy actually, to be frank. But it doesn’t detract from the flow of the album, though (and I actually quite like that song), and is certainly not heretical, just poor. Highlights of the album for me, though are the brilliant ‘Alleluia’, ‘Holy Spirit’ (not a fan of the song, really, but like this version actually), ‘Fire Never Sleeps’, and ‘Did You Feel The Mountains Tremble?’. Rating 6/10.
Brenton Brown – God My Rock
First off, as a drummer, I actually thought the drums were far too loud in the mix! And the album really misses a keys player. There’s a space there filled by only one electric guitar which makes the whole thing sound quite empty and outdated. However, its a solid, if unspectacular album. It sounds at points it should’ve been released in 2005/6, and Brown’s ‘hit’ songs Everlasting God, Our God Is Mercy, Praise Is Rising are all included (for the mass audience I assume), as well as a nice transition to ‘How He Loves,’ actually. New songs ‘God My Rock’ and ‘Word of God’ are particularly good and show Brenton Browns skills as a songwriter. 6/10.
Bethel Music – For The Sake of The World
This album was a grower for me. At times I thought it was quite a boring album to be honest. Too many mid-tempo numbers, Brian Johnson’s ‘grainy voice’ and Jenn Johnson’s ‘howls’ can get annoying, but once I got past that (because I think you have to be in the mood when listening to it), I really appreciated it. Jeremy Riddle’s contributions ‘This Is Amazing Grace’ (co-written with Phil Wickham and others) and ‘In Your Light’ are two highlights for me personally. ‘You Have Won Me’ is a great addition from ‘The Loft Sessions’ and the album’s title track is also a pretty good anthemic heartcry. Steffany Frizzell’s song ‘Closer’ is quite good, too, if not a little basic. I guess it does have a ‘childlike’ cry to it, though. The album is also so well produced it makes it a very listenable collection of songs, and the spontaneous songs captured in the moment are great, though, a little predictable at times. Overall, I would give this album a 7/10.
Chris Tomlin – Burning Lights
As much as I like Chris Tomlin, I have to agree with Jesus Freak Hideout’s review: he doesn’t step outside of the box too often. Three obvious highlights of him doing this though are the anthemic ‘God’s Great Dancefloor’, ‘Awake My Soul’ (feat. Lecrae) and ‘Whom Shall I Fear (God of Angel Armies).’ Three great songs. The rest of it is average, to be honest. Not bad, but average. Crown Him is disappointingly predictable, and the Passion 2012 numbers ‘Jesus, Son of God’ and ‘White Flag’ don’t add a great deal, although both are very singable, Church songs. I guess that’s what Chris Tomlin is best at. But I just wish there was a bit more to the album. However, don’t let this negativity destract you from the album’s production, though which is incredible. Fantastic sounding drums, strings and synths galore, its really great to listen to. 7/10.
Passion – Let The Future Begin
This is the worst Passion album I’ve heard to date, to be honest. “Ouch, thats a harsh opening line” I hear you say. It’s just my opinion, though. Apart from ‘God’s Great Dancefloor, ‘Whom Shall I Fear (God of Angel Armies)’ nothing really stands out for me. For instance: Matt Redman and Chris Tomlin’s ‘Shout’ is so similar to ‘Break Free’ from 2011’s ‘Here for You’. ‘Revelation Song’…why is it on there other than it being Kari Jobe’s most well-known ‘hit’ (though not written by her)? Chris Tomlin appears on 8 out of 14 of the songs…hogging the album. Kristian Standfill’s tunes are not particularly interesting or captivating (though the bonus version track by Charlie Hall, ‘Death By Death’ is great!). The only song I kind of like is ‘Jesus, Only Jesus’, as its quite catchy, and typically Matt Redman. Oh, and one more thing. ‘In Christ Alone’ is on it…minus one verse and lots of ‘woahs’ and an extended bridge, which must be said is excellent. Very disappointed by this album, all in all, though. In 5 years time, will Passion be like Hillsong, churning out albums sounding almost identical to each other year after year? Only time will tell. 4.5/10.
Hillsong UNITED – Zion
Wow, this is a great album! This might just be the best Hillsong album I have ever purchased, I would even go so far as to stay. If ‘Aftermath’ was a step in a different direction for Hillsong UNITED, then ‘Zion’ is a massive step away from what Hillsong (in general) is known best for (not that I don’t like that, they are the best at what they do, but I just think that I’ve heard so much of it, album after album, 2008-12 in particular). At points of course, there are some trademark Hillsong tunes, like ‘Relentless.’ Still, its a great opener. And it just gets better. This synth-oriented, organic, spacious and poetic album is a stunning display of production, songwriting and musicianship (the glockenspiel and tambourine are undervalued instruments!). It flows beautifully, and would not be out of place in the secular charts. This is a must buy! If its where worship is going, then let’s go! I particularly love the song Oceans (Where Feet May Fail)’, especially the lyrics in the bridge:
Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever You would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my Savior
Rating: 9/10. Top songs: ‘Relentless’, ‘Scandal of Grace’, Oceans (Where Feet May Fail)’, ‘Mercy Mercy’, ‘Heartbeats’, ‘A Million Suns’.
STAY TUNED FOR PART TWO!