- In Jesus Name
- You Alone
- Never Too Late
- All To You
- We Lift You Up
- We Will Worship
- Restore Me
- God Rest My Soul
- In the City
Since debuting their self-titled album 12 years ago, Portland rock/worship band Kutless have become a topic of discussion over the years, with fans and critics of their music both having their own say about whether it is a welcomed change for Kutless to make their way from a rock band to a more worshipful sound as each album progresses. And while many die-hard fans proclaim things like ‘I wish ____ sounded like they did ____ years ago’ (which is a phrase commonly said to artists like Kutless, Jeremy Camp, Sanctus Real, The Afters, and more recently, Switchfoot and Skillet); I myself (who you know by now loves anything CCM/pop/rock) am respectful of these changes in styles bands make throughout their careers. Bands change, their music changes. It’s as simple as that. Kutless, despite having a worshipful sound that they didn’t necessarily carry so distinctly and evidently on albums like their self titled debut (and their 2008 album To Know that You’re Alive), continue to deliver songs that can be for the church or for personal worship and reflection on their new album Glory (which releases next Tuesday, but you can stream the album on NRT here). With easy-to-learn lyrics and a worshipful sound with rock roots, this is an album that, while a departure from their powerful rock anthems in favour of radio-friendly tracks and songs that can be introduced in Sunday worship at any stage of the year; the band has found their niche- rock-worship music. Still formidable in this Christian music industry today, Glory is a decent album, and while not their greatest (I personally love Believer, Strong Tower and It is Well better than this new one), does manage to deliver vertical lyrics with plenty of biblical truths. And while some listeners may cringe their foreheads and shake their heads at how far Kutless has deviated from their original sound, I on the other hand ponder at their continual assertion that they are both a rock band and a worship band (yet listening to Glory, you can tell that it’s worship first, then rock). While the cynic in me is saying ‘just pick a style and stick with it’, I applaud the band on continuing to forge ahead amidst all the talk and chatter from fans and critics alike about their music and the style they want the band to take it towards. From first radio single ‘You Alone’ to the powerful promotional singles ‘In the City’ (which speaks about God reigning over the city we live in) and ‘Rest’ (reminding us to rest in His presence as we walk daily in Him); Jon Micah Sumrall, James Mead, Kyle Peek and Nick DePartee present to us their latest, certain to be a standout amongst fans and critics in February 2014!
‘You Alone’ is the first radio single from the band which released in October 2013, and while the lyrics and music can seem a little bit ‘radio friendly’- even for my own liking- whenever I hear the song, I can’t seem to get the song out of my head, making the song possibly one of the most catchiest melodies (and easiest to remember, even if you don’t want to or you feel like the song is too CCM for yourself to ‘enjoy’ it as much as you do) of the year so far. Speaking about how God is on His throne and us declaring that He alone is exalted on it, this song immediately takes me back to the 2005 Kutless ‘Strong Tower’ days- I dunno why, maybe it’s the style of music, or even the fact that there is so much repetition in the chorus that you just can’t help for it to be stuck in your head after the first listen. Nevertheless, ‘You Alone’ and it’s message is poignant and powerful, and while many listeners may wonder where the old Kutless has gone, need I remind us all that regardless of their sound, Kutless songs are still great, with ‘You Alone’ being one that despite its lyrical genericness (there are still probably a lot of other songs out there that say a similar theme to Kutless’s track, and probably say it better, like ‘Higher Than All’ by One Sonic Society, or ‘Jesus, Son of God’ by Chris Tomlin), the song is undoubtedly one that people will sing when no one’s looking. A song that you can’t get out of your head, even if you tried.
Kutless are a rock band, but they are also a CCM and worship band. As the band shares that ‘…our song ‘You Alone’ is meant to lift up and glorify the name of God…’; we are able to hear the band’s inspiration- worship and the church. Will Kutless still be a good band if they didn’t go back to their rock roots? And can they revert back to their Hearts of the Innocent/self titled debut days? Yes, they would, and they can, respectively. But Kutless, shown through this song in particular, have redefined themselves- a worship band that creates songs for the church, providing us guitar driven anthems to declare in both a corporate and individual worship setting. While some listeners could be mourning the old Kutless, I myself am pleased that the band have been able to shift and mould their music, rather than playing just the one style all the time. Kutless are a band that keeps on entertaining and reminding us that rock and worship can fuse together and marry quite nicely. The band continue their inspirational songs with two promotional singles in ‘In the City’ and ‘Rest’.
Released within a few weeks of each other, both ‘Rest’ and ‘In the City’ give us great themes of resting in the Lord’s presence (‘Rest’), as well as calling generations of believers to rise up the name of Jesus in the cities and spheres of influence that we live in (‘In The City’). With light electric guitars and a powerful drum beat, Jon and the band highlight the need of rest- resting in the Father’s love for us, resting in the midst of the chaos of busy life, and resting, just because God longs for us to be rested and not frantic, anxious and worrisome, as sometimes us humans can become from time to time. While not necessarily the most ingenious in terms of lyrical themes (it has been done before- think about Matthew West’s song ‘Rest’, recorded a few years ago for the Jesus Calling album), Kutless have still delivered to us a melody that is certain to be popular on the radio airwaves, in people’s iTunes playlists, and in churches around the world in months to come. The last track of ‘In the City’, though an acoustically driven melody, is possibly one of the most powerful on the whole album, with Jon declaring a challenge to every Christian; that ‘…may Your Church do more than sing…’ As we ponder what Christianity is really all about, it is the deeds that show others the love of Christ (but not the deeds that save us in the first place). A song that characterises the church as one that moves into the city to share God’s love, this prayerful song is an invitation to all of us to open our hearts to the city we live in and the communities we are a part of. Well done to Jon, James, Nick and Kyle for these two songs, songs which, in my opinion, are destined to succeed far greater than their current radio single, ‘You Alone’!
With worship at the forefront of the minds of Kutless, it makes sense that the remainder 9 tracks continue in the worshipful vein, and even if some lyrics may seem to have been tried and tested by many worship artists before, it is great to see Kutless place their own slant on worshipful themes as they try to create something new, fresh and exciting for the church. ‘Revelation’, the first track, is a great way to start off the album musically, with big gang vocals and awesome guitar work by James. However, the lyrics seem to be something we’ve heard tons a time before, and for these lyrics to open up the album seem a little weird. For someone who knows Kutless to be a rock band, to hear Jon declare out from the get-go words of how ‘…Lord we come, before Your throne, we lay our crowns of gold down at Your feet…’ is certainly a sudden change. Compared to the rest of the album, ‘Revelation’ pales in comparison, yet in and of itself, I’m sure it’s going to be a song that the church can take hold of and sing on Sunday mornings. And while ‘Revelation’ the word itself isn’t sung in the song, the theme of the melody is all about it- us realising that God is holy and declaring it out for everyone to hear. While this is a theme that has been sung to death (and die hard fans of Kutless and their rock genre will use this fact to call this album tired, cliché and label the band as them losing their edge creatively), ‘Revelation’ greatly paves the way for some more energetic and enjoyable tracks. While not the first choice song to start the album with, ‘Revelation’ still has some good points in its own right, namely the music. The guitars continue with ‘In Jesus Name’, a song that proclaims Jesus’s name, and gives everyone encouragement that God is indeed the hope of the world. With this song being one of the songs that when you hear it, you’d think you heard it before (even when you haven’t), Jon and the rest of the band invite us to hear the biblical truths of how ‘…in Jesus’s name, our sins are washed away, in Jesus’s name, we are rescued, we are saved, love has come, to make a way for us…’ A step up vocally, lyrically and musically from the album opener, Jon and the rest of the band decide to place the better songs at the end of the album, trying to ‘prove’ that the end of albums don’t necessarily have to be a bore (‘In the City’ was the last track, but this is one of my favourite songs on Glory).
As the album progresses, we are shown a myriad of themes, imagery and music styles. Hard rock at its finest is shown in ‘We Lift You Up’, an anthem lifting up the name of Christ, and having the repeated chorus phrase ‘…we lift You up…’ to allow an ease of remembering the words so as to declare them with the congregation on a Sunday morning; while ‘All To You’ invites us to hear light electric guitars underpinning a song that brings to life Psalm 123, offering comfort that our souls, knowing that were made for the eternal, and that ‘…I’m Yours, every beat of my heart, I’m Yours, here to reflect who You are…Jesus I surrender it all, all to You…’. ‘Never Too Late’, possibly the weakest song on the album in terms of length of song, topic (us never being too late to turn back to God- Matt Maher’s ‘Turn Around’ tackles the theme better) and the cheesiness factor (‘…it’s never too late to call on Him, whatever You’ve done, wherever You’ve been…’- 2 years of writing and they come up with these lyrics), seems to be a winner with the radio charts, being released as the second radio single just a few days ago. While not discounting the passion of Jon and the time and heart they’ve placed in the song, ‘Never Too Late’, like ‘Revelation’, seems out of place in an album of worship songs that could possibly be the start of Kutless 2.0- the worship band that they probably were all along.
The longest track on the album, ‘Restore Me’ is one of hope and possibly my favourite song by Kutless since ‘Even If’. The five minute track certainly stands out, in length and in lyrical ingenuity as Jon and the band yearn and long for God to restore them, ‘…pull me out of darkness for Your glory, let the waves of mercy wash over me, holy, holy, holy, we wanna see the fullness of Your majesty, the beauty in the scars Your wearing on me, Jesus please restore me…’ About being able to lay everything down and ask for a total transformation of character, vulnerability is the most with ‘Restore Me’, and even if the song is not a single (usually, some of the greatest songs on albums aren’t), this will still be a welcomed highlight, and possibly a bright spot for fans of the old Kutless- yes, I’m sure even fans of old Kutless will enjoy this track. ‘God Rest My Soul’, certain to be a modern hymn and possible successor to ‘10,000 Reasons’ as being the song sung in many churches around the world, speaks about the gospel, and makes it plain as day for us to recount and remember that ‘…God rest my soul, I lay me down, to lose myself in the grace I’ve found, oh to die and rise with Christ alone, take my life, God rest my soul…’ With gang vocals and a heavy bass guitar to create a unique music undertone, ‘God Rest My Soul’ is another one of these songs that sound familiar, even if I know for a fact that I hadn’t heard the song before. Ending the album with ‘Always’ (not a cover of Kristian Stanfill’s famous track), Jon Micah and the rest of the band deliver a hit in the making, singing the opening lines of ‘…have you not known, have you not heard, the Lord is an everlasting God…He is creator of the earth…’, and we can hear Isaiah 40 put to song. One of the most famous passages in Isaiah, it is good to see this famous passage put to music. With this song having the potential to be almost as famous as Kristian’s ‘Always’, Kutless have saved the best songs to last with ‘God Rest My Soul’, ‘In the City’ and ‘Always’. Well done guys for delivering worship songs that can be played in iTunes playlists and slotted in amongst other worship artists, like Leeland, Phil Wickham and Martin Smith.
Overall: Kutless’s latest album is certain to draw some critics and commendable words alike. There’s always going to be listeners who are not fans of an artist’s music- just like how Casting Crowns are simultaneously the most loved and the most hated group in the CCM industry. Similarly with Kutless, they are and will be the band that everyone will talk about, for both the CCM and rock music styles. Their latest album Glory is a testament that rock and worship can work together, and despite there being a few songs that aren’t up to the quality as the rest of the album, Glory as a whole is a solid Kutless effort. Fans of Sanctus Real, Jeremy Camp and The Afters will certainly love this new offering from this 4 piece worship band. And while I’m sure the divide will continue between who loves the new direction Kutless is going and who doesn’t like it, the band is going to do what they do best- make good music that glorifies God. Well done guys for a powerful album, and certainly one that’s going to consist of some of my favourite worship songs of the year so far!
RIYL: Jeremy Camp, The Afters, Hawk Nelson, Casting Crowns, Leeland