Album Review :
Chris Tomlin - Burning Lights

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Artist: Chris Tomlin
Title: Burning Lights
Label: sixsteps Records
Release Date: 1/8/13
Reviewer: Jonathan Andre


  1. Burning Lights
  2. Awake Me Soul (feat. Lecrae)
  3. Whom Shall I Fear (God of Angel Armies)
  4. Lay Me Down
  5. God’s Great Dance Floor
  6. White Flag
  7. Jesus, Son of God (feat. Christy Nockels)
  8. Crown Him (Majesty) (feat. Kari Jobe)
  9. Sovereign
  10. Countless Wonders
  11. Thank You God (feat. Phil Wickham)
  12. Shepherd Boy

One of the most popular worship artists of the 21st century to date, Chris Tomlin has given listeners many songs to sing to, from global anthems ‘How Great is Our God’, ‘Holy is the Lord’, ‘Jesus, Messiah’ and ‘Amazing Grace (My Chains are Gone) to recent fan favourites ‘Our God’ and ‘I Lift My Hands’. Recently recording a World Edition of ‘How Great is Our God’ complete with other languages from around the globe (Spanish, Portuguese, Russian, Mandarin); Chris Tomlin’s worship music influence has been phenomenal, with many of his songs offering hope and promise, healing and restoration to many listeners around the world. With such honesty and encouragement in just about every song he has ever written, Chris now gives us his new album, Burning Lights, out January 8th, 2013; featuring many songs written and performed on the Passion 2013 album White Flag (inclusive of ‘Jesus, Son of God’, ‘Lay Me Down’ and ‘White Flag’); as well as brand new first radio single ‘Whom Shall I Fear (God of Angel Armies)’. Such a powerful single to anchor an album that has since been one of my favourites since Arriving and Hello Love, ‘Whom Shall I Fear’ gives us a clear reminder of God’s promise to us that He will always be with us in our time of need, and that ‘…I know who goes before me, I know who stands behind, the God of angel armies is always by my side…’ From hauntingly refreshing ballads like ‘Jesus, Son of God’, ‘Shepherd Boy’ and ‘Thank You God’, to dance and rap melodies ‘God’s Great Dance Floor’ (co-written with ex-Delirious? lead singer Martin Smith) and ‘Awake My Soul’; the album is full of musical genre diversities, with many guest vocals on the record, from Lecrae and Kari Jobe, to Christy Nockels and Phil Wickham. Great to listen to if you enjoy the Passion annual albums, or if you are a great fan of Chris Tomlin’s previous musical work, Burning Lights is able to break the musical mould of simple worshipful tunes, mixing the tempos and musical arrangements up nicely as I declare this album to assert itself as a potential nomination for Worship album of the Year at the 2014 Dove Awards, with Chris being able to release a great mix of both original songs and others that many listeners may have heard from either Passion albums over the years or from the radio.

One of my favourite Chris Tomlin songs ever and title track of the Passion 2012 album, ‘White Flag’ (along with current radio single ‘Whom Shall I Fear (God of Angel Armies)’) anchor the album and promote its marketability with heartfelt songs of praise to God and encouragement to fellow Christians. Starting off with a guitar riff that I hope should be able to bring in even the most uninterested of listeners; ‘White Flag’ gives us a clear reminder that surrender is not a form of weakness when it comes to surrendering ourselves to God as a sacrifice of honour and praise to Him. With Chris declaring that ‘…we raise our white flag, we surrender, all to You, all for You…’, we are reminded of how giving everything we have to God is only a small gesture of love and faith than what He gave us- eternal life and communion with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Though this version doesn’t have the moments where it’s just the live crowd declaring God’s worth and fame, the studio version does have a gang vocal that replicates that particular part very well. A great studio recording of what is destined to be a Chris Tomlin classic; ‘Whom Shall I Fear (God of Angel Armies)’ is another highlight on Burning Lights. With the song being the last to be placed onto Burning Lights (the album was supposed to have been released in November 2012), Chris creates an anthem that should be just as powerful (if not more so) than his most recent global hit, ‘Our God’. Through rising guitars and powerful lyrics, listeners are given a moment of clarity by Chris as he declares that ‘…nothing formed against me shall stand, You hold the whole world in Your hands, I’m holding onto Your promises, You are faithful…’ amongst the light percussion and radio-friendly instrumentation. With the song being on Christian radio over the last few months, this anthem is sure to become one of the most popular and heartfelt worship songs of 2013. Well done Chris for both ‘White Flag’ and ‘Whom Shall I Fear (God of Angel Armies)’, arguably the two best songs on the album!

Much of Chris Tomlin’s best songs have all been sung at Passion events (either before or after his studio albums release) and the studio counterparts of the live hits from Passion: White Flag are no exception either. ‘Lay Me Down’ is a great acoustic rendition of the anthemic electric guitar driven live song, and though Matt Redman was not present on this studio recording, this country infused track about laying down everything we have in front of Jesus is perhaps one of the only renditions that made me enjoy the studio cut better than Chris’s live recordings in March 2012. ‘Jesus, Son of God’ on the other hand seemed a little short and while Christy Nockels sung beautifully in the track (and was one of the very few highlights), the song that was 6:16 in length on Passion’s 2012 album was shortened to a mere 4:27, with the chorus not sung with a rousing in the end like how it was on the live disc, but rather Chris just sings the chorus once after the bridge with just the piano to fizzle a song that should’ve deserved a better ending. The song itself is a masterpiece, and with words like ‘…You took our sin, You bore our shame, You rose to life, You defeated the grave, and a love like this the world has never known…’, what’s not to love? The musical arrangement unfortunately left much to be desired.

Nevertheless, there are some other bright notes on the album that more than make up for a less than appealing effort for one of my favourite Chris Tomlin songs of late. Both worship leaders Phil Wickham and Kari Jobe join Chris on ‘Thank You God’ and ‘Crown Him (Majesty)’ respectively, the former song presenting an acoustically prominent song of thanks to God with both Chris and Phil giving praise in a nicely harmonious manner and the latter being a modern rendition of the timeless hymn ‘Crown Him with Many Crowns’, a song that is and will continue to be timeless through the ages. Chris’s duet with Phil on this humble track of thankfulness is one of the best duets I’ve heard (along with ‘Words’ with Hawk Nelson’s Jon Steingard and MercyMe’s Bart Millard) since ‘Empty’ by Dan Haseltine and Matt Hammitt. ‘Crown Him’ also impresses, with Chris able to modernise the song quite well, adding in a chorus declaring God’s majesty that fits quite well between the verses. Kari Jobe also offers her own contribution with singing the second verse and the backing vocals throughout the song. The chorus and how it declares that ‘…Majesty, Lord of all let every throne before Him fall. The King of Kings, oh come adore our God who reigns forevermore…’ is a great reminder of God’s supremacy and His timeliness in everything that happens in our own lives, understanding that every circumstance, good or bad, will be used to glorify God in the end. Just like ‘Amazing Grace’ and how he created a worship anthem that is one of his most revered and honoured songs from his career, ‘Crown Him’ will again follow suit to become maybe even a 3rd or 4th single on Burning Lights.

From praising God of all the wonders that we can see on the Earth and recognising that He is the ‘…great God of countless wonders…’ (‘Countless Wonders’) to ‘Shepherd Boy’, a Martin Smith co-write that reminds us through strings and a piano that our lives, though we may see them as insignificant or unsure as how God is going to use them for His glory, are very much used by God to excel His fame and transform us into the God-loving history makers Christ has called us to be; it is the 5 minute opener of ‘Burning Lights’ segueing into the Jason Ingram co-written song of ‘Awake My Soul’ (with rapper Lecrae) and a Martin Smith penned melody, ‘God’s Great Dance Floor’, that were my personal highlights and standouts from Burning Lights. Speaking about the moment of when the Lord told Ezekiel in the valley of dry bones that He was going to breathe life into the skeletons, ‘Awake My Soul’ is a bold song of waking up and being fully alive in Christ, giving us a sober reminder that sometimes we can be like the skeletons in the valley- we may be alive but it is only when the Holy Spirit resides in us and we realise our full potential in Christ that we can live fully and to the maximum as described in John 10:10. Lecrae’s rapping through spoken word as he describes the story of Ezekiel is a great fit, with ‘Awake My Soul’ one of my favourite collaborative songs with Lecrae (along with ‘Forgiveness’ on TobyMac’s Eye on It and ‘I Will Find You’ on Jimmy Needham’s Clear the Stage). ‘God’s Great Dance Floor’, penned as a tag to Martin Smith’s hit song ‘Back to the Start’, is also another song to remember as Chris delivers a powerful melody of freedom and liberty as we cry out ‘…I am alive on God’s great dance floor…’, a moment when all inhibitions and preconceptions are placed by the door as we dance along with this electronically infused song, full of abandon as we realise that God ‘…never stop[s] loving us, no matter how far we run…’ One of the most ‘alternative’ songs Chris has ever recorded, ‘God’s Great Dance Floor’ ought to give listeners a rejuvenated and revived spirit as we remember the freedom that we have in Christ. Well done Chris for such a powerful and compelling song of hope and restoration!

Overall: Chris Tomlin has given us great songs over his more-than-10 year musical career, with the two most powerful and popular songs being ‘Our God’ and ‘How Great is our God’. With ‘Whom Shall I Fear (God of Angel Armies)’ already performing well on the radio charts, Burning Lights should be a great addition for any avid Chris Tomlin fan, and for others as well- it doesn’t matter if Chris isn’t exactly your favourite artists, there is enough on Burning Lights for me to personally say that this album can appeal to a variety of listeners who enjoy a variety of musical genres. With Chris expanding his musical repertoire to encompass dance, worship, ballads and rap (courtesy of one of the world’s most popular Christian rappers, Lecrae!); this album is a certain purchase to bring in the new year of 2013 with great worship. One of my certain picks for Worship Album of the Year for the 2014 Doves (along with Meredith Andrews’s Worth it All also releasing in January 2013); Chris has crafted a compelling and convincing album full of conviction and encouragement. Well done Chris and co. for such a great worship experience. Bring on the new Passion album on March 12th, 2013!

RIYL: Matt Redman, Kari Jobe, Phil Wickham, Martin Smith

Buy the Album: iTunes/Amazon mp3