Australian worship music is having a big moment this month. Hillsong United is releasing their follow up album to the massively popular Zion, and the Planetshakers movement (similar in style and theological bent to the Hillsong movement) is releasing Outback Worship Sessions, a set of original tunes that can't escape Hillsong's long shadow of influence.
To be fair, these types of worship album compilations (be they from Passion, Bethel Music or Elevation Church) are by nature uneven listening experiences. With many musicians, singers, writers and influences, Outback Worship Sessions plays like a who's who of musical influences and stylistic choices. And so, as a helpful exercise, it's good to group the songs being offered up by levels of quality.
Opener "Like A Fire" channels British artist Florence + The Machine, shakes up (a bit) the formula for what a worship song can sound like, and serves as an excellent opening number. "My Soul" takes a few liberties in cribbing the melody from the ancient Irish hymn "Be Thou My Vision," but the result is a nice pastoral song that serves as a down-tempo breather from the dancy, pulsating songs around it. "Made For Worship" also features an interesting build and a rousing chorus that would serve well in a corporate worship setting. The bridge of this song is a winner, and the instrumental drop-out at the end is a textbook example of how to create tension in a song. It's interesting that the best moments of Outback Worship are sung by the female vocalists of Planetshakers; there's no perceptible reason why this should be the case, it's just an intriguing oberservation. "This Is Our Time" ends the album nicely with a declaration that any time you turn your heart back to Jesus can be "the best time of your life." This is an interesting turn of a phrase on this subject, and the melody carries the idea nicely.
The middling moments on Outback are plenty however. "Spirit Of God," "Leave Me Astounded" and a few other songs drift by without much impact. A few clunkers, like the jarringly aerobic "Endless Praise" and "This Is The Day," round out the set and seem oddly out of place with their club-lite dance beats and pedestrian lyrics.
A couple of points need to be made here; the first is that there are cultural differences between "church" music in Australia and here in the states, and between charismatic denominations like Planetshaker's Assemblies Of God background and other expressions of the Church, and this can lead to some unfair musical criticism that is mostly a difference of preference or background. The kind of triumphant, upbeat worship music that is featured on Planetshakers' albums might not be your cup of tea, but it is sincere. The second point is more of an artistic observation. The EPK videos for this album cite Australia's Outback region as the inspiration for this album, and that the music is "organic" and "inspired by the beautiful terrain" there. But aside from a few songs, the tone and sounds of this album are similar to that of almost every Planetshakers album that has come before.
Keeping those thoughts in mind, Outback Worship Sessions is a collection of worship songs that has its really good moments, its dull ones and its substandard ones in almost equal measure.- Review date: 5/11/15, written by Alex Caldwell of Jesusfreakhideout.com
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