Album Review :
Steven Curtis Chapman - The Glorious Unfolding
- Glorious Unfolding
- Love Take Me Over
- Take Another Step
- Something Beautiful
- Finish What He Started
- Only One and Only You
- See You in a Little While
- A Little More Time To Love
- Sound of Your Voice
- Michael and Maria
- Feet of Jesus
Steven Curtis Chapman has been one of the most inspiring, relevant, enjoyable and uplifting artists I have ever listened to throughout my life as a CCM enthusiast. From hearing my first album from him in the 1996 album Signs of Life, to purchasing his popular albums in This Moment, Speechless, All Things New, All About Love and Declaration; I was able to journey as a fan alongside Steven through his music. Nearing 30 years in music (he started within the industry in 1987), Steven’s first full-length album of original material in 4 years is something to be in wonder and awe of, especially considering what he and his family had to deal with when his adoptive daughter Maria Sue went to be with the Lord in May 2008. Since the tragedy, Steven and his family’s journey from mourning to trusting in the Lord through this circumstance has been a long process, and even now on this new album, Steven has been able to show that strength through the music on The Glorious Unfolding. Primarily an acoustic/folk album with a few pop music elements thrown in the mix, we are given a message of hope, anticipation, longing and expectation as Steven underpins some of his thoughts about the new album as a whole, and how ‘…God has continued faithfully to reveal Himself through dark places and reveal His mysteriousness. I get the sense that He’s telling an amazing story. He’s not confused. He’s not biting his nails worrying if the plan is going to turn out okay the way I do. He’s fully confident of His plans and He’s in control. That’s been something that I’ve held onto…’ With these words above a comfort to Steven and his family, what has resulted from a switch from Sparrow to Provident Label Group, from having no glasses to glasses; is an album experience like no other. More happy and jovial than Beauty Will Rise, and a great throwback musically and lyrically to the days of both Declaration and Speechless, The Glorious Unfolding is possibly my favourite album of the year so far, and my favourite album by an individual artist since Francesca Battistelli’s Hundred More Years. From the musically epic title track, to the acoustic ‘Love Take Me Over’ and the big drum infused ‘Finish What He Started’; this is an album full of rejuvenation and restoration as the themes running through the album as a whole, with Steven giving us a clear reminder that ‘…God’s plan from the start for this world and your heart has been to show His glory and His grace, forever revealing the depth and the beauty of His unfailing Love, and the story has only begun…’ (‘The Glorious Unfolding’).
The first radio single from the album (released in August and a fast bolter to be included on WOW Hits 2014); ‘Love Take Me Over’ is a happy, fun, enjoyable and possibly one of my favourite SCC radio singles since ‘All Things New’. The first single from The Glorious Unfolding offers us a great acoustic moment full of grooving and toe-tapping as we are given a song about surrender- with Steven offering the poignant words of how he longs for love to take over every part of his life, something we all have to declare in our lives at some point or another. Infusing folk, acoustic, pop and a hint of CCM; Steven’s message can never be more clear- that ‘…it’s like that Scripture about “putting on love” like clothes. We don’t just hop out of bed and go about our day. We first put on our clothes. We need to put on the love of God just like putting on our clothes before our day. We need to have God’s love take us over, in me, and on me. The only way I can have love on me is to recognize how loved I am…’ With ‘Love Take Me Over’ the first song of many on this album where you may stop and think, ‘Gee, out of the large amount of CD’s and albums Steven has done, I don’t think I’ve ever heard him create a song, musically and lyrically, like this before!’; Steven’s passion for love, God’s love, to come take him over is as evident now as it was years and decades before. With hand claps, Steven’s great backing vocal in ‘oohhh’, as well as the crisp and dynamic strums of the acoustic guitar; we are able to declare alongside Steven to ‘…let Your never ending, never failing, all-consuming love take over me…’ Presenting both a fun-filled track, yet also one that hopefully allows us to examine our own heart to see if we’re really letting God’s love take us over fully; Steven’s first studio radio single on Reunion Records is a sign of great things to come from this CCM veteran, in months and hopefully years ahead!
From epic anthems to acoustic gems, this album has great songs to minister to listeners from all walks of life. Arguably my favourite album from 2013 so far; Steven’s powerful knack at songwriting, singing and passionately letting listeners know what’s in his heart through song is something that gives The Glorious Unfolding great music and lyrical atmosphere as I myself have thoroughly enjoyed this album since it released a few days ago. The fade-in on the first track ‘The Glorious Unfolding’ provides us initially with a sombre mood that gradually moves into an epic build and a magnificent moment of realisation, hopefulness, expectation and masterpiece as Steven declares alongside the acoustic guitars, the keyboards and the other unique instruments, that ‘…this is going to be a glorious unfolding, just you wait and see and you will be amazed, you’ve just got to believe the story is so far from over, so hold onto every promise God has made to us and watch this glorious unfolding…’ A song that conveys a sense of trust and assurance in God that He knows exactly what is going on in our lives, and that every piece of the puzzle which are the circumstances that happen to us all lead us to become people of God who rely continuously on Him for guidance, hope, motivation and encouragement; Steven’s optimism in the light of tragedy and hardship throughout these last 5 or so years is something on this album that’ll hopefully encourage others who may be going through something similar to Steven and his family. A song that boosts my own spirits, the instrumentation feels majestic and awesome, something that could’ve come from a soundtrack or an orchestral album full of instruments. Similarly in ‘Take Another Step’, Steven’s hope continues to flow as he urges us to ‘…take another step, take another step, when the road ahead is dark, and you don’t know where to go…’ A song to encourage those who are struggling through circumstances sometimes even beyond our control; the big powerful drums, the soaring backing vocals, reverbing keyboard and the ethereal vocals Steven possesses in the song provides us with a sense of empathy as we try to envisage how Steven must’ve felt following Maria’s death, and that ‘…none of us can even begin to truly understand what it really means ‘til all the lights go out, and there we are nothing to hold on to but the promises God’s made to me and you…’ With each of ‘Take Another Step’, ‘Love Take Me Over’ and ‘Glorious Unfolding’ providing us with one of the strongest set of opening tracks since Josh Wilson’s ‘Pushing Back the Dark’, ‘Faith is Not a Feeling’ and ‘Carry Me’; well-done Steven for such powerful and emotive performances that will continue to minister to myself (and hopefully many others) as the months and years continue to progress!
The Glorious Unfolding has provided us with joyous melodies written out of difficult and trying circumstances, leading to the hope, happiness, excitement and expectation I myself have felt when listening to the album as a whole. ‘Finish What He Started’, track 5, is my own personal favourite track, especially for me who currently is looking for a job after university. A song that describes the trust we ought to have in God that He’ll finish whatever He has promised and started in us long before our moment of doubt and uncertainty is brought to the fore; Steven’s vulnerability through his passionate vocal delivery is what has made this song become one of my favourite on the album. With light percussion and a keyboard riff, Steven offers up promise after promise in a song that has been one of my favourite songs I’ve listened to in a while. The truth that ‘…no thread will be left unwoven, nothing will be left undone, every plan and every purpose that He has will be accomplished…’ is something to always hold onto, even during the days when that truth doesn’t seem to be true anymore. Moving from more of an acoustical sound in the first verse, then adding drums in the second to create more of a vibrant, dynamic and anthemic feeling; Steven’s melody, both in a lyrical and musical sense, has enough for my vote for ‘Finish What He Started’ to be the second radio single on The Glorious Unfolding. Comfort is again a central theme in upbeat and fast-paced ‘Something Beautiful’, a 3 minute track that infuses acoustic pop, and pop rock to showcase a melody that reminds me musically of something Steven would’ve done in albums like Speechless and Declaration. The declaratory chorus that promises, from God’s point of view, that ‘…I’m gonna turn it into something different, I’m gonna turn it into something good, I’m gonna take all the broken pieces and make something beautiful like only I could…’ is a moment in the song that reminds us indeed that God turns broken things into the beautiful, reminding myself of similar themes also written by Steven in his book, Restoring Broken Things back in 2005.
Also using life experiences as a basis of songwriting, from the piano prominent ‘One and Only You’ (a poignant song written for his daughter Shaohannah that expresses the themes of beauty, love, acceptance, identity and purpose), and ‘See You in a Little While’ (a piano focused and light acoustic melody inspired by Steven’s grandmother’s death and written as a prayer that he’s ‘…not gonna say goodbye, ‘cause I’ll see you in a little while…’), to the personal prayer of ‘Together’ (written for his wife Mary-Beth as a comfort to all the years they had and will have together) and the heartfelt ‘Michael and Maria’, a solemn acoustic moment of tranquillity and reflection as Steven reflects on the deaths of Maria, his daughter, and Michael, the son of a friend, and his certainty that he will see them again soon; Steven’s focus on the personal yet also applicable and motivational is something that has been threaded throughout the entire album. ‘Feet of Jesus’ provides to us a reverbing keyboard played with a hint of Middle-Eastern music influence as Steven proclaims that he will lay all his troubles and trials at the feet of Jesus; yet another one of my own personal favourites, alongside ‘Finish What He Started’, is the equally appealing ‘A Little More Time to Love’. A piano ballad that gradually moves into an epic acoustic moment of truth as Steven declares in the powerful words of how ‘…there’s a day that is coming when everything will be new, and oh, God will dry every tear and everything sad will be made untrue…’; this moment of heartfelt assurance that the day of reckoning and hope in a new heaven and new earth is on its way, is one of the reasons of the song’s importance and ability to stand out amongst the rest of the 12 melodies. Similar in theme to ‘Coming Attractions’, this is a song to build up hope and expectation, as we long for the day ourselves when everything is made right. With Steven paying homage to both Jason Gray (through the delivery of his album title Everything Sad is Coming Untrue) and himself (through reiterating one of the lines in ‘The Walk’); ‘A Little More Time To Love’ is an encouragement and hopeful motivation to us to use the time we have to love each other, not knowing when Christ will return. Arguably one of the most confronting and sobering moments of the entire album, Steven’s songwriting has once again led myself to declare that The Glorious Unfolding (in particular ‘Finish What He Started’ and ‘A Little More Time To Love’) has the power to hopefully change our lives as we utilise the time we have on Earth to the best of our ability. Well done Steven for such powerful songs that still speak to the heart of individuals, just as much now as well as then!
Overall: Releasing on the same day as well-produced albums from Hillsong Young and Free, Martin Smith and Press Play; Steven’s 18th studio album is to be commended and congratulated as we witness some of Steven’s most heartfelt and vulnerable moments since Beauty Will Rise. With more of a sense of trusting, hope, happiness and an uplifting nature in this Reunion Records release, even the moments of the album borne from loss, despair, uncertainty and mourning are still made into something jovial and glorious as we hear the optimism oozing through each track, showcasing the fact that God continues to restore and turn what has been a tragedy into something much more hopeful and encouraging to those who need it. Steven’s sense of family has always been strong, and never more so on this album, with a variety of family based and inspired melodies. The Glorious Unfolding is a grand masterpiece, and in time, will hopefully become one of the SCC greats alongside other standout albums in his career, from The Great Adventure to Speechless, This Moment, Signs of Life and Declaration. The album that has ministered to myself the most throughout 2013, this is something to not sit down to listen to if you’re half-listening, or to put in the background if you’re doing housework. The Glorious Unfolding is an album where listening to it- actually listening to it whilst reading lyrics, is a must, allowing the Holy Spirit to work through the lyrics and come impact the hearts and souls of the one listening. As I would firmly encourage anyone to listen to the album, even if SCC’s not the highest artist on the list of your favourites; Steven continuously reminds us through each of these melodies the central theme, that even if we so want to figure things out, God’s calling us to ‘…lay your head down tonight, take a rest from the fight, don’t try to figure it out, just listen to what I’m whispering to your heart…’ (‘Glorious Unfolding’). Hopeful and inspiring, motivational and an album worthy of being my personal #1 on top albums of the year; this is nothing less than a masterpiece from a man that continuously gives us hope, courage and encouragement as we walk our own lives with Christ, using his as a timely inspiration along the way. Well done SCC, for such a rewarding and enjoyable album experience, and one to be cherished, enjoyed and savoured in every way in months, years and decades to come!
RIYL: Michael W. Smith, Andrew Peterson, Josh Wilson, Jason Gray, Laura Story