Hillsong Worship: No Other Name

First thing out of the gate, as previously reported, the band formerly known as Hillsong Live is now Hillsong Worship.

While I’ve been aware of the work of Hillsong for many years, it wasn’t until last year’s Glorious Ruins that I had a proper introduction to them. That album was great, but likely overshadowed by Hillsong United’s Zion record and the massive hit “Oceans.”

The group’s latest album, No Other Name, is a solid addition to their catalog, though time will tell as to its staying power. The set list starts strong, though excitement seems to wane toward the back half of the record. Several songs are “keepers,” but most took some time to grow on me — as opposed to the immediate connection I had with their previous release.

It’s often hard to critique a worship record because there is a lot at play beyond just production values, artistic choices, and listening experience. With that in mind, I will try to be as holistic as possible with my review.

The album opens with the mellow and melodic “This I Believe,” a nice, contemporary take on the Apostle’s Creed. While far from a new concept, the structure here is really engaging. “Heaven and Earth” is a great follow up, further developing the creedal theology and introducing the album theme. The high point of the album comes on track 3, “Broken Vessels.” The nine-and-a-half minute epic weaves together new lyrics and a new tune with the classic hymn “Amazing Grace.”

With how strong Glorious Ruins and Zion were, it’s hard to not hold this record up against them. For me, Ruins was immediately engaging despite being new material. I think that a large part of the effectiveness of that record was that the LIVE aspect was really ramped up.

The crowd volume was high and the songs were melodically engaging. That made it easy to feel like I was part of an experience. On No Other Name, the crowd voices are present, but are buried in the mix — sometimes to the point that I had to really pay close attention in order to hear them.

United’s Zion was not as captivating to me right off the bat. In fact I think I turned it off after about 30 seconds. I did, however, give the Zion Acoustic Sessions more opportunity and it has become one of my favorite records of the last year. Track by track, the songs have grown on me. That style of song-writing, especially the moodier melodies, are readily present here. While there are some anthemic moments, the entire presentation just seems muted — not that that is bad thing, just not what I was expecting.

Beyond the listening experience, an album that presents itself as a worship record should be able to provide resources to the church – that is, it should be “transferrable.” (It should be said that I think this is where Live and United have served different functions in the past, with United being more artistic, and Live being more corporate-worship-oriented.)

With that in mind, I think that church leaders will be pleased with “No Other Name” because it does offer several great songs that can be immediately picked up and used in corporate settings.

All things considered, this is a good record and definitely worth the listen. I would highly recommend it to worship leaders who are looking for something to add to their Sunday morning set list.

If this record suffers it is only due to the high expectations set by its predecessors in the Hillsong catalog.

Hillsong Worship: Glorious Ruins

Release Date: July 2, 2013

One of the perks of being a music journalist is that sometimes I’m given a record that I wouldn’t have picked up on my own that really surprises me. This is one of those cases.

Like everyone else, I’m aware of Hillsong—although I don’t know much about all the different iterations such as Live, United, etc. (However, if you haven’t listened to Hillsong Kiev, you’re missing out on something really interesting.) All that to say, I like what they do, but I’ve never really sought them out.

I’ve started lumping worship leaders/records into one of two camps: “Cheerleaders” and “Tour Guides.” Cheerleaders quickly and easily invite participation from their listeners. Their songs are built on simple chord structures; lyrics are memorable and straight-forward. Tour Guides are more apt to lead their audience on a journey that may be less participatory and more “let me show you and remind you of what God is doing.” Their songs may be a bit more moody or musically advanced. Neither one is better than the other (though cheerleader songs may be more transferrable to any given church environment), really they both serve a great purpose depending on where the audience is at spiritually and emotionally.

This is most definitely a cheerleader record, and I love it for that. Throughout the entire album there is a significant use of syth and keys which gives the whole collection a bit of an 80’s vibe in places—not that that is a bad thing in any way. Of course there are plenty of guitar-led songs.

The album opens with the foot on the gas pedal, driving drums, and crowd singing along on “Always Will.” And, while there are a few scaled-back songs, the sonic impact never really lets up. Nearly every song is stadium, anthem rock-ready for a crowd of 20,000+. What’s great is that each of them can easily be scaled back to a room of 20. (And if that is your crowd, may I suggest the Hillsong Chapel series.)

If there’s a misstep at all, it is on the title track which—to me—feels a little wordy. Other songs that start slow, eventually make the turn to memorable. Part of that could be the fact that there’s a crowd full of engaged folks singing along.

Three songs really stand out from the others. “Closer” is a great kickstart of a song. For a more mellow approach, check out “Where the Spirit of the Lord is.” It’s structure and instrumentation is reminiscent of early Delirious?.

“Christ is Enough” instantly catapulted into the upper echelon of worship songs for me (alongside Vicky Beeching’s “Deliverer” and Phil Wickham’s “You’re Beautiful”). Structurally, it reminds me of Passion’s rendition of “Jesus Paid It All.” Passion augmented a familiar hymn with a new, inspiring bridge, whereas Hillsong accents their original song with a re-invention of “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus.”

The standard album contains 12 tracks. There is, however, a “Deluxe Version” with a total of 15 songs and a 30 minute message which I didn’t get to hear.  They have also released a companion DVD that mirrors the songs and sermon from the Deluxe Version.

Here is the incredibly well-produced trailer for the album/DVD.