- Courageous (Casting Crowns)
- 10,000 Reasons (Matt Redman)
- Overcome (Jeremy Camp)
- Blessings (Laura Story)
- My Hope is In You (Aaron Shust)
- I Lift My Hands (Chris Tomlin)
- The Hurt and the Healer (MercyMe)
- Forgiveness (Matthew West)
- We Are (Kari Jobe)
- Live Like That (Sidewalk Prophets)
- Fall Apart (Josh Wilson)
- Angel By Your Side (Francesca Battistelli)
- Trust in Jesus (Third Day)
- Do Everything (Steven Curtis Chapman)
- Someone Worth Dying For (MIKESCHAIR)
- Only A Mountain (Jason Castro) – BONUS
- Love Come to Life (Big Daddy Weave) – BONUS (DELUXE)
- Carry Me to the Cross (Kutless) – BONUS (DELUXE)
- Free (Dara MacLean) – BONUS (DELUXE)
- God’s Not Dead (Newsboys)
- Me Without You (TobyMac)
- Where I Belong (Building 429)
- All This Time (Britt Nicole)
- Lift Me Up (The Afters)
- Busted Heart (For King and Country)
- Hold Me (Jamie Grace)
- Strong Enough to Save (Tenth Avenue North)
- He Said (Group 1 Crew)
- Center of It (Chris August)
- Good Morning (Mandisa)
- One Day Too Late (Skillet)
- The Redeemer (Sanctus Real)
- The Light in Me (Brandon Heath)
- Make a Move (Royal Taylor)
- Banner of Love (Luminate) – BONUS
- When Mercy Found Me (Rhett Walker Band) – BONUS
- Let Me Feel You Shine (David Crowder*Band) – BONUS (DELUXE)
- Down (Mat Kearney) – BONUS (DELUXE)
- Feel It In Your Heart (Abandon) – BONUS (DELUXE)
Every year around September/October, the three Christian label umbrella groups (EMI CMG, Provident Distribution, Word Label Group) come together to bring out one of the most commercially successful releases each year- WOW Hits. Starting in 1995 and now rivalling the mainstream Now That’s What I Call Music!; WOW has always prided themselves to make it their mission to reveal to the public songs that have charted the radio and have become well loved melodies in the hearts of many throughout the year. Some years WOW Hits showcase better selections than others, with this year’s WOW Hits 2013 falling into the category of underwhelming. For the casual listener picking up this release, the promise given to them that this album showcases the best in Christian music in 2012 is certainly a false claim, because as I look at the lineup, these 39 tracks are not this years best songs- I can even think of 30 or 40 odd songs that missed selection that could’ve slotted in the lineup in place of some dubious decisions. Featuring plenty of odd decisions, song ‘bolters’, some songs that are so dated they should’ve been on WOW Hits 2012; and some artists that they do not touch (for some unknown reason) in favour of the same artists again and again; I have come to realise that WOW Hits promise doesn’t hold true anymore. This release tells me at least one thing, that no decision making process benefits everyone, however, if I were to purchase one release that encompasses all the year’s greatest and most remembered hits of 2012, I wouldn’t purchase this album- because of the simple fact that these songs aren’t the best that this year has to offer!
Disc 1 starts with Casting Crowns ‘Courageous’, first radio single from their latest release Come to the Well, as well as the official theme song to the Christian film titled the same name, about how fathers come together and release their role as parents, seeking the Lord as they come to terms with a tragedy that strikes for one of them. Featuring strong guitars and the booming voice of Mark Hall reminding us to take our stand for Christ and become courageous in our lives; this song is a great starter… but for WOW Hits 2012 instead! With their music video releasing for this song in June 2011, I would’ve expected this melody to be deeply considered for WOW Hits 2012 (instead it was ‘Glorious Day’). Nevertheless, this is a great song, and though I would’ve hoped for current single ‘Jesus, Friend of Sinners’ to be unveiled in this years ‘best’ (expect their current single on WOW Hits 2014!); ‘Courageous’ leads the way into 39 songs that showcase some good hits, but also some worrisome decisions when it comes to favouring certain artists above others!
As I scan the 1st disc, I am immediately proud of a few decisions WOW have decided to make when it comes to this lineup. Never in a million years would I think that Matt Redman would appear on a WOW Hits, or worship artist Kari Jobe for that matter; but here they are with their radio charters ’10,000 Reasons’ and ‘We Are’ respectively, with the former earning Matt a No. 1 single on the Christian charts, topping his previous hits ‘Blessed Be Your Name’ and ‘The Heart of Worship’; and ‘We Are’ propelling Kari as one of the most respected and revered worship leaders of our generation. As these two melodies show how worship is a lifestyle, and that ‘…for all Your goodness I will keep on singing, 10,000 reasons for my heart to find…’ and how ‘…we are the light of the world…and we gotta let the light shine…’; Matt and Kari both deserve their place on an album where only a select few have the honour of being a part of. Both MercyMe and Matthew West have also released stirring radio singles (and both on WOW Hits 2013!), each giving them equal chance at receiving a nomination for song of the year at next year’s Doves. ‘Forgiveness’ is one of the most heartfelt and transparent melodies I’ve heard this year, and along with MercyMe’s ‘The Hurt and the Healer’, speak to the soul about how we ought to give forgiveness a chance, and how we should ‘…let it go and be amazed by what you see through eyes of grace, the prisoner that it really frees is you…’ (‘Forgiveness’). With Matthew writing this song based upon a real life event about how a mother forgave her daughter’s killer and advocated on behalf of him for his release from prison; this song speaks about the freeing effects of just leaving our bitterness by the wayside, and surrendering to Christ as He works through the issues we constantly face each day. MercyMe’s hit song and title track off their album The Hurt and the Healer also hits an emotional spot for lead singer Bart Millard. With Bart crying out ‘…You take my heart and breathe it back to life, I fall into Your arms open wide, when the hurt and the healer collide…’, fuelled by his own hurt with his experience of his fire-fighter cousin’s death; listeners are met with some of the most vulnerable and comforting lyrics of the year. No matter how much hurt we feel throughout our lives, God is still on the throne, reigning and walking with us through the process. A sobering thought to know that He longs for us to trust Him in the times when we just want to run away; ‘The Hurt and the Healer’ is one of the stand-out tracks on disc 1 of WOW Hits 2013!
Out of experience, Disc 2 normally features a rock flavoured track listing, however on WOW Hits 2013, it can sometimes feel like listening to pop-rock rather than just rock. Nevertheless, there are some edgier melodies to inspire the listener- starting with the ever-reliable ‘God’s Not Dead’, featured from the latest Newsboys record God’s Not Dead. Sorely missed on last year’s WOW Hits (where was ‘Way Beyond Myself’ or ‘Save Your Life’?), the Newsboys latest offering is something to behold! Originally written by worship artist Daniel Bashta, this 25 year veteran band have given a unique representation of a stirring melody full of guitars and Kevin Max (ex-member of DC Talk), as we hear the band proclaim that ‘…God’s not dead, He’s surely alive…’ Group 1 Crew have also re-invented themselves of late, becoming a duo ever since Pablo Villatoro left in 2011. Returning to WOW Hits with hit single ‘He Said’ featuring Christian pop artist Chris August; this pop-worship melody is a big divergence from this well-known group famous for the rap/hip-hop genre. Nevertheless, this is a welcomed change and a great chance to hear Manwell’s singing ability (most of their songs before he was just rapping!) as we remember all of God’s promises for us and how ‘…I won’t give you more, more than you can take…don’t you forget what He said…’ Building 429 are also celebrating a big moment in their lives as a band- receiving a No. 1 single in ‘Where I Belong’ (charting even higher than their most famous song to date, ‘Glory Defined’!). Reminding us that this world is not our home, this power-guitar ballad is certain to make listeners sing along with lead singer Jason Roy, as we all proclaim that ‘…all I know is I’m not home yet, this is not where I belong…’, thereby being reminded that our circumstances do not dictate were we end up, but rather are testimony to God’s faithfulness throughout our lives.
Britt Nicole expounds on this theme further in her heartfelt testimony and worthy inclusion on WOW Hits 2013, ‘All This Time’. Featuring a strong piano undertone, Britt cries out in declaration that Christ has been with her during the times when she needed Him the most (especially during her parents divorce, the main catalyst for writing such a song!), giving listeners confidence that as we experience moments in our lives when we need counsel and solace, we can declare the words that ‘…every heartache and failure, every broken dream, You’re the God who sees, the God who rescued me…’. Chris August, recently in a skateboarding accident that landed him in hospital for a week or so, also declares the running theme of God’s faithfulness through his hit radio single ‘Center of It’, from his upcoming album The Upside of Down. Featuring a piano riff and strong percussion, this heartfelt 3:03 grooving pop-funk melody brings hope and light in the words ‘…in the dark, in the light, in the morning and night, in the good, in the hurt, in the places I hide, when I rise, when I fall, You’ll be there through it all, at the start, at the end, in the center of, the center of it…’; offering assurance to the listener that Christ is at the centre of every situation, working everything to His glory and our good. Another gem within the song list of disc 2 comes in the form of Australian duo Joel and Luke Smallbone of For King and Country (brothers of worship/pop Christian artist Rebecca St. James) and their radio smash hit ‘Busted Heart (Hold on to Me)’. Gaining popularity in mainstream media through their honest lyrical messages of hope and assurance, the 2 men from ‘the land down under’ have created a hopeful prayer to God (or to someone they love as mainstream media may see it) to hold onto them in the difficult times, to ‘…don’t let me lose my way, hold onto me…’ Featuring the musical ingeniousness of a piano-accordion, their first single from their album Crave is a nice addition to a WOW lineup that hasn’t necessarily changed even though the years have (25 artists from WOW Hits 2012 are on WOW Hits 2013, 20 artists on WOW Hits 2011 are also on this album too!).
Bonus songs on WOW albums send a particular message to listeners, that these artists are new (or relatively new!) and therefore, you ought to keep your eye on them because we believe that these artists have something special. Jason Castro, Rhett Walker Band and Luminate are all selected for WOW Hits 2013 for their melodies (‘Only a Mountain’, ‘When Mercy Found Me’ and ‘Banner of Love’). Totally surprised about Jason’s selection and how he was considered as a ‘bonus’ since he was also one last year with his offering of ‘You Are’; I am pleasantly surprised at Luminate’s inclusion on the album list. Incorporating synths and guitars, lead singer Samuel Jay Hancock showcases some of the album’s most stirring vocals as we are met with confidence, perseverance and endurance as we raise ‘…a banner of love up high in these city streets, one love for all the world to see, be my banner of love…’ Country-rockers Rhett Walker Band provide a stirring account of Christ saving us in ‘When Mercy Found Me’, greatly promoting the country genre as I liken this Nashville band to the bands of Third Day and needtobreathe. With great musical diversity, this melody is a welcomed addition and refreshment to this Christian brand that is in desperate need of a makeover, before they can rightfully claim that this album is the best of all year (because frankly, this album is far from it!).
Every album has its downsides and with a compilation album that claims to be the best selections of the year, the very weight of the claims should bring about some song selections that reflect this. However, glancing through these 39 songs, I have to say that this album doesn’t live up to the hype and expectations that always surround a WOW Hits album before release date. Not that these songs themselves are bad in anyway, however, when one is considering one album to buy (some people can only purchase one album a year!), this collection of radio hits and songs should give the casual listener a snapshot of the entire year and all it’s songs. However, looking through this tired lineup of artists where most of them have been the same for the last five years, it doesn’t really leave much room for up-and-coming artists to emerge and claim their ‘right’ to be placed on these types of albums. With some omissions that I believe are ‘unforgivable’ and others that can be overlooked; things need to change in a drastic way so that the listener can receive the full benefit of such albums in the first place!
There are two versions of the album, one with 33 songs, and the other ‘deluxe’ edition with 39 (6 bonus). And because of this and the extra pricing between the two versions, someone may be faced with a choice to purchase one over the other; thereby with the off-chance that they purchase the 33 song version; the ‘best’ songs need to be properly marketed within the 33. However, when it comes to WOW Hits 2013, this is not the case. Kutless’ ‘Carry Me to the Cross’, Big Daddy Weave’s ‘Love Come to Life’, Abandon’s ‘Feel It in Your Heart’, Dara MacLean’s ‘Free’ and David Crowder*Band’s ‘Let Me Feel You Shine’ are all deluxe bonuses, even though if I were creating the WOW Hits 2013 lineup, I would place them within the 15-song tracklist. Jeremy Camp’s ‘Overcome’ is a great addition to the WOW 1st disc (though many could argue his original song ‘The Way’ as a more worthy addition to the lineup than a Desperation Band cover of a song originally recorded in 2008!), however, with the introduction of a more worshipful direction towards disc 1 following additions of ’10,000 Reasons’, ‘We Are’, as well as Laura Story’s ‘Blessings’, other songs couldn’t make the selection. Mark Schultz’s first single, ‘All Things Possible’, off his album of the same name releasing in September; is gaining plenty of radio airplay currently, and though we all know that WOW Hits is a fan of Mark (even to the point of placing ‘Love Has Come’ on WOW Hits in consecutive years!), it is nowhere to be seen on WOW Hits 2013. Upcoming artist Audrey Assad’s melody ‘Sparrow’ would’ve also been a nice addition to the WOW list, as well as the ever-reliable Natalie Grant with her powerhouse single ‘Alive’ (which won her a nomination for song of the year at this year’s Dove Awards!). Arguably the most famous song off Music Inspired By: The Story; this song certainly would’ve had my vote to be placed on this year’s WOW! Steven Curtis Chapman’s ‘Do Everything’, Chris Tomlin’s ‘I Lift My Hands’ and MIKESCHAIR’s ‘Someone Worth Dying For’ are all great additions, if it was for last year’s WOW Hits (although ‘I Lift My Hands’ did top to number 1 on Christian music charts!), and songs like ‘Long Way Home’ (Steven Curtis Chapman), ‘All For You’ (MIKESCHAIR) and ‘White Flag’ (Chris Tomlin) would’ve been more relevant and less dated options for these celebrated artists. Matt Maher (‘Rise Up’), Jason Gray (‘Remind Me Who I Am’), Rachael Lampa (‘Remedy’), Jaci Velasquez (‘Give Them Jesus’) and Hillsong (‘Hope of the World’) all have had success this year with music singles, none of which are present on this album declaration of this years best. Not to mention the bonus new artists of Bellarive (‘Taste of Eternity’), Moriah Peters (‘I Choose Jesus’) and Karyn Williams (‘Rest in the Hope’) and you’re left wondering how the selection process goes for choosing which artists to heavily promote on WOW Hits and which artists to bypass altogether!
One look at disc 2 and then you gravitate to the dated singles of Skillet (‘One Day Too Late’) and Sanctus Real (‘The Redeemer’), weird that even though these two artists haven’t released any new material within 2 or so years, these songs are still promoted as ‘the best of 2012!’ (surely Matt Hammitt’s ‘All of Me’ was considered for WOW Hits 2013?), and even weirder is that there are plenty of songs missing from artists that I assumed were going to slot right back into the lineup! Needtobreathe are a great band full of southern rock flavour, and I would’ve expected songs like ‘Keep Your Eyes Open’ or ‘Drive All Night’, however, the band were shunned, which is perplexing, since the band have been on every WOW Hits since they ‘debut’ on WOW Hits 2009! Switchfoot’s radio single ‘Restless’ was played heavily on Air1 Radio, and I would’ve expected the band to make an appearance on a WOW Hits album (following ‘This is Home’ and ‘Your Love is a Song’), but this was certainly not the case. Some of the lesser known bands in The City Harmonic (‘I Have a Dream’) and Starfield (‘The Kingdom’) both have songs that have impacted the radio waves in 2012, so where are their deserved places (if they do have any!)? One sad omission is Fireflight and their radio single ‘Stay Close’! Such a stellar performance by Dawn Michelle about how we long for Christ to save us, sometimes from ourselves; I was scratching my head at why this song was omitted- are Fireflight’s new single not ‘worthy’ to be placed on WOW Hits but Skillet’s ‘One Day Too Late’ is? Tenth Avenue North release their 3rd album The Struggle on August 21st, 2012 (same day as Chris August’s The Upside of Down), yet, ‘Strong Enough to Save’ from their 2nd album, The Light Meets the Dark, is offered to the listeners on this album. Filled with hope and promise, ‘Losing’ is one of my favourites of the year, and it’s a shame that I may have to wait till next year to see it on a WOW Hits. Both Kerrie Roberts and Plumb have new radio singles out (‘Finally Home’ and ‘How Many Times (Need You Now)’ respectively) at the moment; and both in my opinion should’ve been seen on this years WOW Hits compilation, and they weren’t (just because both don’t have release dates for their albums for this year, does it really mean they aren’t picked for the compilation?). The Museum (‘Love Will Find You’), Remedy Drive (‘Better than Life’), Leeland (‘The Great Awakening’), Downhere (‘Let Me Rediscover You’), The Afters (‘Life is Beautiful’), Peter Furler (‘Matter of Faith’) and Jimmy Needham (‘If I Ever Needed Grace’) all have great tracks and are all tossed by the wayside in favour of older more-dated melodies in ‘The Light in Me’ (Brandon Heath), ‘Make a Move’ (Royal Tailor), ‘Trust in Jesus’ (Third Day) and ‘Lift Me Up’ (The Afters). When you also think of other bonus melodies that have made an impact in 2012- ‘Mercy Light’ (An Epic No Less) and ‘Our God’s Alive’ (Andy Cherry) that have been overlooked to place in Mat Kearney’s new melody in ‘Down’- a dubious decision where I’m not even certain of the song’s direction spiritually; you’re left wondering whether WOW Hits can be ever reliable again to bring to the fore melodies and heartfelt songs that are truly the best of the year. With so much more songs that could’ve been placed on the album but didn’t, you realise that there is something wrong with the whole selection process, or they must really love to promote the same artists again and again. Sameness is ok, but not if you’re claiming that these songs are the best that the year has to offer (especially if some songs are from albums 2 years ago!).
Overall: WOW Hits have been around for around 18 years since WOW 1996. Of late, despite a few songs here and there, song selections have been few and far between as poor dated melodies by the same artists year after year always seem to take precedence over artists that may seem like they ‘fly-under-the-radar’, but nevertheless equally deserve their opportunity to assert themselves as some of the best musical offerings of that particular year. WOW Hits 2013 is no exception. Though some melodies are more than welcomed- ‘Forgiveness’ (Matthew West), ‘The Hurt and the Healer’ (MercyMe), ‘He Said’ (Group 1 Crew), ’10,000 Reasons’ (Matt Redman), ‘All This Time’ (Britt Nicole); much of the album does not live up to the praise of media outlets, continuously giving WOW Hits the acclaim and promotion of ‘the best songs of the year’. There are good songs on this album, and each song has its merit, but claiming that this album is the best of the year like WOW always does is far from the truth. This album does not serve the CCM itch that everyone has. With similar artists across multiple WOW discs, there doesn’t seem to be much experimentation with artists and songs- the listener not receiving exposure to melodies that may possibly be even more ‘worthy’ of their spot. Regardless, if anyone does purchase this album (even if they do have it on iTunes!), then know that these songs aren’t the best 39- rather they are certainly the most publicised 39! There is a big difference, and if the WOW brand really wants to live up to their name, they must consider overhauling the whole franchise, consider dropping a few big artists from their roster (or using them less frequently) as well as adding some fringe artists to remind listeners of the great variety of Christian songs out in the Christian music marketplace.
RIYL: Casting Crowns, Matthew West, Chris Tomlin, Group 1 Crew (+ others)