Fourteen months ago, Hillsong United's The I Heart Revolution was released to the United States and was embraced by fans of the worship team all over the country. Unfortunately, it wasn't so much a revolution (more of a rip off, really), as just about every song was recycled from earlier Hillsong work. Now, following Hillsong's protocol of releasing a new album year after year, United offers up another disc full of their brand of praise & worship. And also following Hillsong protocol, the songs aren't anything spectacular.
What was surprising to me about Across The Earth: Tear Down The Walls is that some of the songs actually have some well-written music. Some. Not that United doesn't have talented musicians, but when every single one of their previous albums used the same sound and same notes and chords over and over again, it becomes slightly pleasing (and shocking) to the ears to actually hear some good music. Part of "No Reason To Hide" actually has somewhat of a Capital Lights feel (just musically though, not so much lyrically or vocally). The beginning is typical United, but the drums during bits and pieces of the song are what sound like Capital Lights. And there is a finely played keyboard (reminiscent of The Postal Service) throughout the opener, "Freedom Is Here."
But, alas, what would an album by any incarnation of Hillsong be without something that would make a fan of good music think twice about the purchase? Sure, anyone buying a Hillsong album may not be buying it for the sake of good music, but rather for the sake of having some worship music on hand whenever they want quiet time with God or when they just want to praise Him. And for that, this wouldn't be a terrible choice at all. But this review is intended to describe the pros and cons of the album as a music album, not just a worship album.
The first problem with United is that it's live. Live worship is hard to translate onto disc, as there are times when the music is extended by the worship team so as to give room for God's Spirit to move in people attending the live performance. There may be a time where the person singing feels the need to repeat a certain verse, or the whole group just wants to keep praising God with that particular song. That's often a beautiful thing to experience in person. But to put it on disc is difficult because the listener may not get the same thing out of it that the crowd present had gotten, thereby making the extended parts feel like they're dragging on. This is why songs like "You Hold Me Now" (eight and a half minutes long) and "Tear Down The Walls" (over ten minutes long) make the album so tiring. Not to mention that some songs take a long time to end. After the last chorus of "Freedom Is Here," the keyboard and some drums play the song out for two minutes until "No Reason To Hide" jumps in. "Tear Down The Walls" suffers from this too, with about a minute and a half of fading out before the next song begins (so, not only is it ridiculously long to begin with, but at the end you also have to bear with a long outro).
With United being the youth-focused worship team of the Hillsong church, you would expect the majority of the songs to be more on the upbeat side, right? Well, the first three tracks are pretty upbeat and energetic, but after that, there's not much more of that until the last two songs. Granted, there are a couple of the slower songs that have parts that pick up (such as "King of All Days" and "Oh You Bring"), but when they do, it's usually still a slower way of "picking up." Of course, some youth do enjoy some slower worship songs, so it's not a total loss for all young people.
Now, there's two more things that you can pretty much always count on in an album from Hillsong. These two things do occur several times throughout, but the second to last song serves as a good example of both of them. At the end of "Arms Open Wide," as the worship leader yells "Do you wanna keep praising tonight?!" and the audience cheers and claps really fast, the drummer comes in with the signature thump-thump-thump of the bass drum, which leads into the song "Your Name High," which was the first song on last year's This Is Our God from Hillsong. They have a knack for recycling songs, whether it's their own or somebody else's (Across The Earth also uses This Is Our God's "Desert Song"). Granted, many worship groups use each other's songs when performing in worship services, but reusing two songs from last year's album? Why not bring one out of the attic, just for old times' sake? When it comes to the typical, simplistic drum beat that leads into "Your Name High," it's not done too much on Across The Earth, yet at the same time, it's done too much from Hillsong in general. Song after song after song has thump-thump-thump coursing through it, numbing the listeners' minds until they accept it as good drumming.
On one hand, I have to give United props for writing some new songs year after year. Without having to deal with the hassles of scheduling and paying for studio time, they have the freedom to put out a new record at that pace. And they always deliver to their swarms of huddled masses. But some people only wish to spend their time and money on projects that are written and performed with much higher musical standards (as well as more artistic lyricism). United continues to just get passed by on the CD racks at the Christian music stores by the likes of these, and I can't really blame them. So if all you're looking for is an album to praise God with, get this album and you'll be satisfied, as this may be one of United's best yet. But if you seek quality, the songs on Across The Earth: Tear Down The Walls (along with its really shoddy packaging) just won't hit the spot.- Review date: 6/3/09, written by Scott Fryberger of Jesusfreakhideout.com
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