LABEL: HILLSONG MUSIC
RELEASE DATE: OCTOBER 23, 2012
Worship music continues to be the hardest genre of music for us to review, because no one likes to kick a puppy. A worship music is the puppy of the Christian music scene. It’s the media darling and to speak low of it is to invite ridicule and “Yeah, but it’s worship” excuses to give it a pass because of that “Jesus-per-minute” quotient. Hillsong albums have been some of the worst offenders—though no worse than the Chris Tomlin knock-offs of the world. That said, Hillsong Chapel’s Forever Reign is a great offering.
Funny thing is, there’s nothing new on this project. We’ve heard every song already. And even though this is Hillsong’s general recipe for success—offering one or two new songs and regurgitating the rest ad nauseum on each new album—Hillsong Chapel has an approach that actually works—acoustic. And while I wasn’t impressed with Yahweh, the songs they’ve chosen to strip down for Forever Reign is more often than not a beautifully haunting experience.
“God Is Able” starts off the project and this may or may not have been the best one to start things out with. As every project has an ebb and flow to it, a song like “God Is Able” works better to kick off a more raucous event. But, since this is an acoustic album, I’d have appreciated a more nuanced beginning, one that sets the mode for a more contemplative encounter with the Divine. The song is still a nice rendition of the original, it just doesn’t fit as an opener. The second track, “Hallelujah” may have been a better choice to inaugurate things with.
“Rhythms of Grace” is actually a huge improvement over the original, which is quite a feat given that it was already one of Hillsong’s better songs. At times it sounds a bit like Karen O and the Kids’ “Igloo” from the Where The Wild Things Are soundtrack and that’s perfectly fine with me. Given the amount of hipsters who indiscriminately worship at the altar of Michael and Lisa Gungor as of late, I’m sure this will be a welcome piece of musical flattery. After all, this song was already primarily to acoustic to begin with, so a few tweaks in the right places and the addition of a few raw sounds made for a great acoustic experience all around.
I did not like “It Is Well With My Soul.” Call me an old fogey, but this song works best in its original form musically. I love that people are returning to hymns and making them fresh for a new generation, but the dissonance of a song like Horatio Spafford’s “It Is Well,” given the backstory, I believe needs to be sung with more sobriety and a more somber disposition. Also, adding lyrics to this one is like putting a mustache on the Mona Lisa. You just don’t do it.
“His Glory Appears” is the album’s brightest moment of pure worship magic. The ethereal choral-esque “ooooooooo” line enhances the experience and raises goosebumps on your arms as you lift them skyward.
“Beautiful Exchange” and “With Everything” close things out, respectively. Of course, given the fact that these are two of Hillsong’s best songs in recent years—not to mention worship rotation saturation these songs have experienced—this seems like a smart move logistically. Again, good songs, but I’d like to see them get away from the latter of the two. “Beautiful Exchange” could stand a little more time in the spotlight, but I feel like “With Everything” has already received enough iterations to keep the masses happy.
Conjuring pictures of worship “in the round” and drum circles, hanging lights, and a ton of acoustic guitars, Forever Reign is big and small at the same time. It is an intimate gathering of friends to worship Jesus and it is also a consumer success. Strange dichotomy as that is, I can’t help but recommend purchasing this album. It may be one of Hillsong’s best in a very long time.