"Worship-shredder" is about as unique a title as you'll find, but Alaskan-born Lincoln Brewster has proven throughout his now four-decade-spanned career that it suits him perfectly. As with any artist who's been in the game that long, there comes a certain expectation of growth with each passing album. I say "growth" instead of "change" because while a change of direction isn't always necessary, a mature step deeper into an artist's craft should be a goal. His previous albums have been somewhat hit or miss, so I was more than eager to try out his latest effort, Perfect Love, to see if the tides had turned.
Where Perfect Love works is in its musical energy and boppiness, which could get even the staunchest, arm-crossing church goer moving. I need to belabor that point a bit. While enduring the morass of droning worship music flooding the current market, it's simply a breath of fresh air to hear short and to-the-point worship songs, as a majority are up-tempo and clock in at under four minutes. This strength is magnified by Brewster's signature Fender Strat solos that are always a treat song in, song out. There's also a nice variation of genres, between rock, pop, gospel, R&B and modern worship. The band itself is tight, with Lincoln's guitar taking center stage. A wise decision, as in my opinion, he's in the conversation for top guitarist of the modern era - Christian or otherwise. It's not just his impeccable tone and playing chops, but how he formulates his solos made-to-order, with each note being tastefully played for a reason, that sets his playing apart.
The album succeeds in these ways just as hard as it falters in others. The vocal melodies and lyrics are, frankly, lifeless and underwhelming. Forgettable melodies are strewn with "Christianese" cliche upon cliche, to the point where classic worship lines are simply recycled, such as "save a wretch like me," "I surrender all," "love ran red," etc, and you'd be hard pressed to find even one completely original thought here. Melody-wise, the proverbial proof is in the pudding as even with repeated listens, none of the melodies stuck in my head, as there's nothing binding any of the notes together, or any pinnacle takeaways to lodge in the brain.
Another befuddling worship trend this album falls into is the faster a track's tempo, the more shallow its lyrics. Take the chorus from brisk opener "Move," "You make me wanna move/like no one's watching/I know You'll get me through/gonna keep on walking." Or the Justin Timberlake-esque "Nobody Like You," "I'm feeling it from my head down to my feet/from Your heart as it moves me to the rhythm of the beat now/I never have to question/I just know." Unfortunately, the mid-tempo songs continue to underwhelm lyrically, as in the overly romanticized "Who Am I," "I gave You my imperfections/You gave me all Your affection/The kiss of Heaven on my heart/You let me know that You love me." To me, it's as if the approved lyrics never got past the first draft, and this may seem odd, but I found myself wishing for a song not related to the Lord at all, if only to mix things up and offer something interesting and cliche-free.
Noting the above trend, it would follow that the album's softer side would feature its deepest moments, and "If Not For Christ" proves it. Ironically, this song is a highlight while being the only guitar-less song. That's not to say these lyrics are totally original (the Tomlin-coined "love ran red" for example), but it is the best of the bunch in that regard, with honest lines like, "countless times I wonder why/You choose to love me/in the midst of fear and doubt/you stand with me."
The next track, "Surrender (My Heart Is Yours)," continues the instrumental excellence in search of a catchy chorus. Around this song, I was relegated to mainly waiting for another one of those homemade solos, and can't help but imagine the potential result if Brewster could craft songs the way he crafts them. The inclusion of gospel choirs in "We All Need Jesus" and "O How Great" is fun and adds some emphasis, but no amount of extraneous material can save the album's main issue, that being the actual compositions themselves.
Perfect Love is paradoxical. It's at once exhilarating and lackluster -- as consistent in its instrumental inspiration, as in its thematic dullness. While Brewster continues to live every worship guitarist's dream, his songwriting chops currently don't measure up to his otherworldly axe talent, and while I was hoping for this album to be one step forward, Perfect Love seems to be two steps back.- Review date: 4/30/21, written by Joel Zaloum of Jesusfreakhideout.com
Record Label: Integrity Music
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