Album Review :
Bethel Music - Without Words

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Artist: Bethel Music
Title: Without Words
Label: Integrity Music
Release Date: 3/5/13
Reviewer: Jonathan Andre

Tracklisting:

  1. What Does it Sound Like
  2. God I Look to You
  3. Forgiven
  4. For The Sake of the World
  5. Angels
  6. Come to Me
  7. To Our God
  8. One Thirst
  9. Worthy is the Lamb
  10. I Will Exalt

It’s hard to review an instrumental album. With just music and nothing else, something like Michael W. Smith’s Glory where I would have no clue what to write about. Talking about the music and nothing else never sat right with me. As I’m primarily a lyrics person, firmly believing that no matter how great the music is, if the lyrics aren’t inspired or not uplifting, then the whole song seems to take a back turn in relation to the worth that I place on it; Bethel’s new instrumental album Without Words certainly takes a chunk of my belief in instrumental albums, shakes it, turns it upside down and makes me re-evaluate and appreciate the music more than I have been doing so lately. Listening to this March release has led me to assert that there is a welcomed place within the music industry for instrumental music. Glory and Freedom have always been some of my favourite instrumental albums ever (primarily because of singer-songwriter Michael W. Smith at the helm in creating them), yet it is only recently (this year) after listening to Without Words that I have come to place more value upon these records that seem to speak to us in ways unimaginable without a word being uttered in the first place. As I have usually shied away from instrumental albums in the past in favour for uplifting and CCM albums, Without Words presents to listeners 10 songs (indeed they are songs) from their musical past and remaking, re-imagining and even rearranging the arrangements to let the music speak to us as we listen to the notes of songs we have heard and loved before from Bethel (with just no one singing it now). With some added instruments like violins, glockenspiels, keyboards and percussion used to create a sense of melody that the vocals portrayed before the songs were instruments-only; Without Words takes a little getting used to if you’re usually interested in CCM sounds or orchestral music, yet it does its job to soothe the soul and take us further into the presence of God as it reminds us that there’s more to worship and praise than the words sung in a song. One of the most different albums of the year, this is an album for Bethel enthusiasts everywhere, because of the downside of the project- you’d only recognise the songs if you had listened to Bethel projects before the release of Without Words!

‘God I Look To You’ and ‘Come to Me’ are two of my favourite Bethel songs, and some of the most inspired and prolific songs ever recorded by the worship movement. Sometimes when I’m listening to these songs on Without Words, I sometimes imagine the lyrics being sung over the music, just so I could follow along with the melody and know which part of the song it is up to. Yet lately, I’ve just been listening to the songs as they are- without words!- and let the music seep deep inside myself so I don’t have to worry about whether this song is familiar or this song is not. Regardless of whether I notice the melody of this song or not, all these melodies (especially the ones I don’t recall or remember) have a quality of reflection about them. Our local church has been singing ‘God I Look to You’ for ages now, so listening to a stripped down version of it with an acoustic guitar entering with the chorus from the get go as well as a metronome-like sound (or maybe a ticking clock) used to create a beat and an anthemic feel to the song is an ingenious way to recreate this song. While the melody is slowed down too (try singing over the music with the lyrics and you’ll see what I mean), it does give us much to reflect to. As I remember the lyrics, and how with everything we have we can proclaim that ‘…I will love You Lord my rock, forever all my days, I will love You God…’ because of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection; this instrumental version of ‘God I Look to You’ is one of my favourite on Without Words.

‘Come to Me’ is another song that has been highly publicised throughout the year, on radio, or promoted through an acoustic music video on VEVO. Again slowed down for reflective purposes; the eerie keyboard and violin start the melody in great fashion as I myself am drawn into the song so much that I can’t stop the music. Closing my eyes to hear the electronic songs that create the verses; the drums and piano kick in during the 1 minute mark or so to create some sort of familiarity; as we remember back to the part of the song that was similar to the newly envisioned recording. Listening to this instrumental song while reflecting on the words from God’s point of view- ‘…come to me, I’m all You need, come to me, I’m Your everything…’ can be very refreshing, especially with the introduction of brass instruments in the bridge. Re-imagining songs and creating instrumental versions of them can be hard, yet ‘God I Look to You’ and ‘Come to Me’ remind me of how great instrumental songs can be. Well done Bethel for these inspired songs and some of my favourites on the album.

While I do recognise a few of the other songs like ‘I Will Exalt’, ‘To Our God’, ‘One Thirst’ and ‘Forgiven’, I don’t necessarily know them that well, or even remember the melody as much as ‘God I Look To You’ and ‘Come To Me’. Despite this unfortunateness, these songs still strike me as reflective, emotive, inspiring, encouraging and uplifting as Bethel display their entire musical prowess in creating songs that feel like songs instead of instrumental music, or even orchestral music. ‘Forgiven’ starts off with an acoustic guitar pluck as we are left lingering in the presence of God. Hand claps and ‘ooohhh’ backing vocal sounds start to enter the frame as we are given an anthem without words. The original lyrics on the song remind us of how great it is to be forgiven by the Father, and while I can’t really remember how the song really goes, listening to this track is great to submerse yourself into as we ponder what it really means to be forgiven for all our mistakes we have done in the past. ‘I Will Exalt’ was sung by worship leader Amanda Falk on Bethel’s album Be Lifted High, and listening to the instrumental version of the song is a great blessing. Remembering from the original recording and how Amanda cried out that ‘…I will exalt You Lord, there is no one like You God…’ is one of my highlights on the original recording, and listening to how the chorus is translated into an instrumental one is also a great highlight. Using the acoustic guitar plucking and the occasional glockenspiel for variety gives the song a great poignancy and a similar atmosphere to the original recording- kudos to Bethel for creating a great last song! ‘To Our God’ is a great anthemic song that gives us the Lord’s Prayer in a unique musical fashion with big drums and percussion and powerful voices in the original recording, and the instrumental version, while it starts off with a eerie keyboard and light percussion, gradually builds with electronic noises to create an anthemic song that could be even slotted into a film like Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit. While to me it hardly resembles the original song it was trying to portray (I may not have remembered the original melody of the song entirely), this instrumental track has done enough to warrant myself to dive in deeper, reflecting and delving into Christ’s love through relaxing to this song. While ‘One Thirst’ the original track was reflective and emotional as Jeremy Riddle declared that we have come to God, ‘…with one thirst and hunger…’, the instrumental remake of the song somehow doesn’t seem to have grabbed me like the original recording. Sure, the electronics, keyboard and percussion are all there to create a solid instrumental track that resembles the original song in some fashion (with the keyboard introducing a riff that was present in the chorus of the originally recorded melody), yet by the end of the song, I wasn’t sure if whether they tried too hard or not hard enough that made this recording falter amidst the others.

From recording a song about ‘Angels’ with an excessive amount of acoustic guitars and whistling, that let us know (in the original recording) that angels are singing along with us as we give praises to Christ, to recording an instrumental track of ‘For the Sake of the World’, the title track and pivotal anthem of their last live album, reminding us that it is for the sake of the world that Christ came to die and rise again; Bethel have given us unique, ingenious and different interpretation of some of their fan favourite songs over the years. However, despite all the things that are great with it, one can’t help but think that the only way that anyone will gain a great deal from it is if they know all the original recordings of these songs- inside out and back to front as they recite the lyrics in their heads as they listen to the instrumental counterparts. While the album is great on it’s own (even if you don’t know the tracks that these instrumental songs birthed from), it does add a greater value for Bethel enthusiasts. The only downside on an otherwise uplifting and reflective album, even if you don’t know some of the songs or how they go (I certainly didn’t before listening to the whole album), you can still be blessed and encouraged through these electronic sounds that are destined to show listeners a different side to instrumental music. Well done Bethel for an album release that is certainly out-of-the-box as we hear these songs re-imagined, yet still as powerful as we reflect on what it truly means to worship Jesus without words!

Overall: Without Words is going to be a standout in Bethel’s discography, and while it took me a few listens to really appreciate the album (I do really miss vocals on a track!), once I listened to the album a few times I was able to be immersed in the wonder and awe at the musical production side of things. Still using their music to praise and honour God, this album project showed me the interesting and ingenious musical instruments that are used to shape and create the album as they try to create the same emotiveness and inspiration that these original tracks gave us in previous Bethel albums. While some tracks served their purpose and others were drastically different from the original, Without Words is great if you enjoy symphony music, electronic music, or even Freedom or Glory from Michael W. Smith. Well done Bethel for such an enjoyable and certainly timeless album that will forever change how worship instrumental music is made!

RIYL: Jesus Culture, Michael W. Smith, Electronic Instrumental Music, Brian and Jenn Johnson

Buy the Album: iTunes/Amazon mp3

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