Album Review :
Hillsong Young and Free - We Are Young and Free

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Artist: Hillsong Young and Free
Title: We Are Young and Free
Label: Hillsong Music
Release Date: 9/30/13
Reviewer: Jonathan Andre

Tracklisting:

  1. Brighter
  2. Alive
  3. Wake
  4. Lifeline
  5. Close
  6. Love Goes On
  7. Gracious Tempest
  8. End of Days
  9. Back to Life
  10. In Sync
  11. Embers
  12. Sinking Deep
  13. Alive (Studio)
  14. Wake (Studio)
  15. Back To Life (Studio)

Hillsong have always been a strong force within the worship music industry, ever since their inception in the early 1990s. Since their first album, they have amassed many radio singles and other chart-topping hits, from ‘Salvation is Here’, ‘From the Inside Out’, ‘Oceans’, ‘Forever Reign’, and ‘Greatness of Our God’, to ‘Cornerstone’, ‘Hosanna’ and ‘Mighty to Save’. Now with their newest incarnation, Hillsong Young and Free (essentially they are the new Hillsong Youth band, just like how Hillsong UNITED were back when they first started); We are Young and Free releases September 30th. Yes, it is another live album, and even I myself find it difficult to maintain the concentration and keep up with every single Hillsong album release throughout all the years they have been a music movement. However, We are Young and Free gives us a sense of enthusiasm and heartfelt moments full of dance-electro-pop music as a backdrop as they try to bring in listeners with more of a passion for EDM or dance music. Presented with the same outlook as any other album (with their faith in Christ as their centre for developing and undertaking these songs); Hillsong Young and Free have given listeners an album certain to be popular amongst those who really love Hillsong music, or those who love to listen to worship music in general. From the first radio single ‘Alive’ to their current hit ‘Wake’ and their up and coming hit ‘Back to Life’; this is possibly one of the most anticipated Hillsong album release this year (just as unique and interesting as ZION, and definitely better than Glorious Ruins)!

With Hillsong Young and Free releasing three singles before the album releases next week, the powerful moments of ‘Alive’, ‘Wake’ and ‘Back to Life’ all anchor an album heavy in pop-dance music atmosphere to hopefully draw in listeners and fans of dance-pop music, or even fans of Hillsong contemporary worship music as well. With the first hand claps and crowd cheering to start off ‘Alive’, we are met with a radio friendly track that invites us into a time of celebration and purposeful declaration to our Father in Heaven. While at times I felt the crowd was dominating the song rather than letting the instruments and vocals promote the song to the listeners, ‘Alive’ is still a timely reminder to us that Christ is alive within us, that ‘…nothing can take Your place, You are all we need, Your love has set us free…’ Hillsong can be indeed hit and miss with creativity in terms of lyrics and music ingenuity, and sadly, ‘Alive’ falls into the category of somewhat-cliché tracks that will do very good on radio, be loved by Hillsong enthusiasts, but not much more anywhere else. Despite some clichéd lyrics, the song is good otherwise, boasting a great electronic keyboard and percussion musical backdrop to give us a song that, with altered lyrics, could work quite well when played in a nightclub. The overall message of the song about God’s love permeating every part of us and igniting us to shine His light through us is a theme that has been in songs before, yet, ‘Alive’ still will be a fan favourite amongst Hillsong fans in months and years to come.

The other two singles of ‘Back to Life’ and ‘Wake’ are lyrically and musically much more enjoyable for myself, with more of an emphasis on unique electronic backing noises that don’t overpower much of the vocals. The congregation is both more subdued overall in each of the two tracks, while the messages are much clearer as we hear each of the songs. ‘Back to Life’ is a 4 minute dance-worship melody that gives thanks to God for bringing us back to life, declaring in the chorus that ‘…in the night, through the struggle through the trial, You have made my burden light…’; while ‘Wake’ delivers a powerful moment of anthem and enthusiastic passion from vocalist Taya Smith (the same one who sung ‘Oceans’), as she asks the Lord in a poignant moment of praise to ‘…wake within me, wake within me, You’re in my heart forever…’ Just like how ‘Oceans’ became a great hit from ZION, I’m already predicting that ‘Wake’ will also follow, not because of the vocalist, but because of the hopefulness, anticipation and expectation the song brings with it. Some songs have an ‘it’ factor, lasting on for centuries even after the artist’s popularity, and from my listen, ‘Wake’ will be one of them. With all these songs also delivered and recorded in a studio setting as well (available on the deluxe edition of the album); the studio cuts provide us with great alternate versions without the congregations and crowds if the cheering and background noise and somewhat discomforting to the listener. With these three songs anchoring the album as a whole, We are Young and Free will hopefully inspire a new generation to live boldly for Christ, with hopefully these songs the catalysts for inward change and outward transformation.

With the whole album presented in a live setting, it’s hard to become invested in a group of songs that are presented in a dance-pop feel when there are plenty of other worship albums that are presented either in a much more typical praise format, or there’s some folk/acoustic element, rather than the traditional mainstream pop atmosphere that a sizeable part of We are Young and Free seemingly echoes with each song. Despite comparisons between this and mainstream pop, the songs on this album are great for church services (if worship with a music backdrop in EDM is something that your local church is willing to do). The music of ‘Brighter’ is directly reminiscent to something that Royal Tailor or Capital Kings would do as we are able to declare out in a melody whose theme comprises of us being reminded that God’s love shines brighter than anything else and that ‘…we have found our place in the Saviour’s grace, dance the night away, Your light is taking over me…’; while ‘In Sync’ sadly fails in terms of vocal delivery gelling in with the music- the music of the song can be way too electronic at times, and while the song itself provides a decent theme with us being in sync with God as our hearts respond to His in worship and praise in light of what has been undertaken for us. Great work for effort, but the music just doesn’t fit. ‘Lifeline’ is a great electronic dance anthem full of heart and passion as this 5 minute melody delivers an upbeat track that’s energetic from start to finish. Reminding us that ‘…You took me from the wayside and called me Your own, You’ve thrown me a lifeline and carried me home…’, Hillsong Young and Free have possibly given us the track that’ll slip by under the radar, but will probably be just as equal in music and lyrical quality compared to songs like ‘Back to Life’ and ‘Wake’.

‘Close’ is a song of encouragement with a prominent instrument in the electronic keyboard presented to sound like an organ, as we are met with an atmosphere of us longing to be close with Christ. Yet while the idea may be great, the repetitious lyrics in the chorus of us declaring that ‘…I want to be close to You, I want to be close to You, there’s nothing in this world that compares to all You are…’ can feel a little cliché and very similar in theme of the famous Bethel Music hit ‘Closer’. With Hillsong Young and Free also providing us with themes about us declaring the praises of God, making the statement that ‘…Your love outlasts the end of days…’  as we are met with the 8 minute anthem ‘End of Days’; as well as offering a piano prominent reflective album ender ‘Sinking Deep’, as Hillsong delves into the notion of us sinking deep into the sea of grace and mercy that God longs for us to dive into; one of my all-time favourites on the album (aside from ‘Back to Life’ and ‘Wake’) is the electronic and guitar driven ‘Love Goes On’. Sung powerfully by Taya Smith, I can understand why she’s fast becoming one of my favourite singers from Hillsong (alongside Jad Gilles and Matt Crocker), as she powerfully sings out amidst the light keyboards and drums that ‘…ever our heart will seek Jesus in everything, from sky to ocean deep, Your love goes on…’ A melody that invokes a sense of appreciation within us that God’s love goes on in us for more than we can even imagine or even think possible; Taya brilliantly brings this song to life with her soaring vocals and her infectious enthusiasm. Hopefully a radio single at some point during the next year or so; ‘Love Goes On’ is an encouragement and blessing to all those who hear it, and a moment of clarity when we realise that God stands ‘…strong for all of time, in the joy, in the trial, You are the Beginning and the End…’

Overall: There are obviously two distinct, yet equally different and somewhat disturbing camps. The one where the Hillsong enthusiast sits, waiting for every Hillsong release, eager to listen to new songs by this global movement and pleased with every song they sing. The other, where there is much despising of Hillsong’s music in general, in favour of worship artists with more of a unique bent (like David Crowder or All Sons and Daughters). I’ll admit, at times I feel like the first group, and other times, I feel like the second. There are songs by Hillsong that I absolutely adore, yet there are other songs that I know are clichéd, and that I know the themes are sung much better by other artists instead. Despite these two groups (and a third in the middle that likes Hillsong now and then); the worship movement continues to thrive and continues to churn out albums like it’s no-one’s business. So what’s the verdict of Hillsong Young and Free’s debut album? This is one for the worshipper who loves primarily dance music- any other lover of music, either from the folk or acoustic scene, or those who enjoy contemporary worship music a la Tim Hughes or Paul Baloche, will be somewhat underwhelmed. Needless to say, listen to the album, and make your own judgement. There are songs that are standouts, like ‘Wake’, ‘Love Goes On’ and ‘Back to Life’, which increase the rating of the album, from a 2 to a 3. Despite all of this division in terms of whether Hillsong are universally liked or not, they are continuing to serve in the worship ministry. Hopefully, Young and Free’s first album will do a great job in winning souls for the kingdom of God. Well done Hillsong for the latest instalment in Hillsong albums, and possibly one of the most unique dance-worship albums of the year so far!

RIYL: Bethel, Passion, Hillsong UNITED, Chris Tomlin

Buy the Album: iTunes/Amazon mp3

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