Album Review :
Hillsong United - Aftermath: Live in Miami
- Break Free
- Search My Heart
- Mighty to Save
- All I Need Is You
- Freedom is Here/Shout Unto God
- Like an Avalanche
- Rhythms of Grace
- Oh You Bring
- The Stand
- From the Inside Out
- A Song to Sing…
- With Everything
- Your Name High
- Take It All
- Yours Forever
- Take Heart
Everyone knows Hillsong! More so, everyone knows their hit songs (‘Hosanna’, ‘Mighty to Save’, ‘Shout to the Lord’, ‘You’ll Come’, ‘Shout Unto God’), as well as their 2-3 albums that they release every year (some under the name Hillsong United, others under Hillsong Chapel, but all under the same umbrella of Hillsong Church!). Personally, I was never much of a Hillsong fan, except for a few of the hit songs played on the radio. Not that I don’t respect their passion for the Lord and their mission to see generations of people lifting up the name of Jesus; sometimes it seems like albums, songs, even musical melodies can be rehashed, especially where there is a tense and healthy competition between them and other worship movements today (Jesus Culture and Passion certainly are Hillsong’s greatest rivals, along with Parachute Band, Desperation Band and Soul Survivor UK). The pressure to release an album today is enormous, and the ease at which Hillsong is able to release album after album like it’s run-of-the-mill, can sometimes feel like melodies, lyrical ideas seem to be comprised at the chance of just releasing! Nevertheless, Hillsong United are back again with a new album, their last being a Dove Award nominated Aftermath. With their latest titled, Aftermath: Live in Miami, Hillsong United have presented to us a 22 song collection, a fair amount from their latest album, but other songs like ‘Hosanna’ and ‘Mighty to Save’ make their way in the line-up. Listening to the album holistically, I was able to immerse myself in worship, lifting high the name of Jesus to the big-name songs like ‘From the Inside Out’, ‘The Stand’, and ‘Freedom is Here’. However, with many of the songs dragging, musically and lyrically (‘With Everything’ goes for 10 minutes!), I was left thinking of how Hillsong would’ve improved their set-list by creating melodies that would catch the listeners attention so that they don’t press ‘skip’!
Captured primarily on the Aftermath Tour throughout late 2011 and featuring 9 (out of 13) tracks from Aftermath on the 2 Disc snapshot album of Hillsong United’s career; Live in Miami has plenty to offer with recent hits like radio favourite standouts ‘Search My Heart’ and ‘Go’. A recent favourite of mine, ‘Search My Heart’ shines with crowd participation through claps and backing vocals as worship leader Jad Gilles passionately cries out to the Lord, ‘…without You I am nothing…’ Understanding that it is a live setting and that sometimes the crowd and music can overpower the vocals; both ‘Go’ and ‘Search My Heart’ manage to balance the levels well, reminding me how much I have come to respect Hillsong’s radio single choices. The first song on the album, ‘Go’ starts the concert set-list with passionate punch with plenty of guitars, as listeners are convicted with the truth that as Christians, we ought to give everything we have back to Christ, follow in His footsteps as we walk in tune with His calling on our lives. A revitalising and rejuvenating song, both ‘Go’ and ‘Search My Heart’ peel back the layers of the human condition, and ponder us to think about whether we’re really asking the Lord to ‘…search my heart and search my soul…’
‘Bones’, ‘Like an Avalanche’ and ‘Take Heart’ are also highlights, both from Aftermath and again on this live recording. Featured first on Aftermath, ‘Take Heart’ is track 22, as worship leader Joel Houston giving listeners hope and comfort as he proclaims God’s promise to us, so we can ‘…take heart, let His love lead us through the night…’ One of the most reflective moments on the record, ‘Take Heart’ is a fitting end to an album full of moments of praise and adoration. ‘Bones’ also showed to be one of the underrated songs on Aftermath, as we are met with the realisation that God is the breather of life, awakening ‘…my heart to beat again…’, thereby giving us the full confidence that we have in Christ. ‘Like an Avalanche’ is also sung with passion as Hayley Law gives us a reason to lift our hands, showing that as God’s love covers our hearts, indeed like an avalanche; our outlook on life will forever be changed as we continue to dwell in His mercy and grace, sharing Him to everyone that we know. These three, as well as ‘Go’ and ‘Search My Heart’, have become some of my favourites from both Aftermath, and Live in Miami, sung with such passion and heart, lyrically rich and heartfelt as we soak in the truth of who we are as children of God!
Throughout the rest of the album, Hillsong introduce many of their beloved songs, giving a snapshot of their discography as the listener focuses upon melodies like ‘Mighty to Save’ and ‘Hosanna’, with these two songs in particular inspiring a generation of worshippers as they all worship with simple lyrical moments- ‘…hosanna in the highest…’ (‘Hosanna’); ‘…Saviour, He can move the mountains, my God is mighty to save…’ (‘Mighty To Save’) Becoming my favourite worship songs of all time, both ‘Hosanna’ and ‘Mighty To Save’ are worthy placements on the live album, despite both my favourite versions of these songs coming from other artists (‘Hosanna’ by Christy Nockels, ‘Mighty to Save’ by Michael W. Smith). ‘Freedom is Here’, recently covered by alternative worship band Esterlyn, is the first song on the second disc, and showcases some of the best Hillsong live arrangements as I listen to Jad sing out ‘…everything comes alive in my life as we lift You higher…’ The ever popular ‘The Stand’ is also a worthy addition to the set-list, simple in lyric yet profound in response, showing listeners that as we make a stand and give everything we have to Christ, our lives will become enriched as we become renewed daily in our outlook on life.
However, in all its strong points, Hillsong’s latest is not without places of improvement. ‘Your Name High’, though sung with heaps of energy and plenty of passion and intensity, can seem cliché lyrically as Jonathan Douglass (JD) cries out ‘…we’re living to make Your name high…’ repeatedly, seemingly leading the listeners to feel like the song was written without much careful planning in a lyrical sense. Similarly, ‘You’, ‘Break Free’ and ‘Take It All’ are all hits among fans of the worship movements; however, for outsiders only familiar with their much more well-known melodies, these three can seem similar, musically and lyrically, with themes similar in each song- breaking free from the chains of sin so that we can live a life resemblant of Christ within us, more of Him and less of us in the process. ‘All I Need is You’ is a wonderful song in its entirely, yet appears on this album with just a chorus and a tag/bridge- even though it’s around 6 minutes, dragging for the casual listener who’s introduced to Hillsong for the first time. ‘From the Inside Out’ is again one of my favourite songs from Hillsong, but in this setting, the song is given over to the crowd in the first verse. Without a worship leader for a little less than the whole first verse, someone who’s new to the band may be lost in the lyrics. ‘Yours Forever’ has a catchy beat, but when someone analyses it lyrically, it is one of their most simple songs, ‘…we are Yours forever, our lives won’t be the same…our eyes won’t turn away…’ I probably would’ve expected something more lyrically rich in a song that is delivered with such passion and enthusiasm. Finally, with all the songs that were placed on the album, I was left scratching my head as to why they left others off the album (I’m sure they played more than the same 22 on their Aftermath Tour!). I would’ve loved to have seen the hit singles ‘Desert Song’, ‘You Hold Me Now’, ‘Let Creation Sing’, and ‘You’ll Come’ slotted in the line-up somehow, not to mention ‘Salvation is Here’, ‘Saviour King’, ‘This is Our God’ and ‘Lead Me To the Cross’ that were sorely missed.
Overall: If one wanted a Hillsong album that emphasised their latest album, but also gave highlights from their earlier hits, Hillsong have only half-impressed. Balancing their mix of songs quite nicely from Aftermath compared to others from earlier years (9 v 13), it is in the representation of the 13 that they couldn’t find the balance of songs (listeners may only even know ‘Hosanna’ and ‘Mighty to Save’ from the whole album!). A must for an avid Hillsong collector; this is certainly not an album to purchase if you want to start off your venture into Hillsong territory. While sung with plenty of passion and sincere vulnerability; Hillsong need to select their set list more carefully to take into consideration newer fans- thereby creating more of a balance between old and new melodies. Not slowing down any time soon, Hillsong release Cornerstone in July, hopefully able to make more of a lasting impression- because apart from a few standouts like ‘Search My Heart’, ‘Hosanna’, ‘Like an Avalanche’, ‘Go’ and ‘Mighty to Save’; most of the album leaves the listener in unfamiliar territory!
RIYL: Jesus Culture, Planetshakers, Desperation Band, Soul Survivor