Yes, let there be wonder, please – something unexpected, marvellous, heart stopping and mind-blowing.
Time: 12 tracks + 1 bonus
This is a tricky one. On one hand, I vividly remember a girl in the youth group I ran coming back from an early Soul Survivor festival, struck by a (then unknown) Matt Redman and his music. I have often been personally grateful for his “I Will Offer Up my Life” as a vehicle for sung worship, and may never forget seeing bereaved parents singing, “Blessed be Your name,” using lyrics like, “When I'm found in the desert place, though I walk through the wilderness... when the darkness closes in, Lord, still I will say, ‘Blessed be the name of the Lord.’”
But on the other, Redman is locked into the corporate Christian music industry, with all its well-documented, frustratingly self-imposed limitations. Glance through these titles and what do you see? Two include the word ‘Praise’, three include ‘Jesus’ (reasonable enough), two inexcusably include ‘Name’, two have variations on ‘Mercy’ and, of course, there is the obligatory ‘Surrender.’ If that utter predictability and short-sightedness doesn’t say anything about those limitations and the worship-by-numbers approach, what does??
I have also been reviewing John Mark McMillan’s new album recently. While it doesn’t share Redman’s high production values, it is utterly free of all this as an independent release and a vivid example of what could be on offer if worship leaders learned to be proper songwriters. It is the most creative, thoughtful and intelligent set of Christian lyrics I have seen for months. By comparison, Redman’s songs are lyrically lobotomised.
So it is very hard to review such worship albums by normal standards of musical merit – many reviews could tend to read virtually the same, with just the titles changed. So I have to review on values within the Christian industry bubble – but by those standards, this is definitely a step up.
Many of these songs are so singable and rich in melody. The uplifting “King Jesus” can last some while without boredom kicking in, lead single “The Same Jesus” is really poppy, and the whole collection is easy on the ear.
Of course, we get the usual ‘borrowing’ of old hymns. I am still not sure in my own mind whether this is honouring their legacy, a short cut to lyrical inspiration, or simply a calculated plan to eventually replace the classic hymns they nick lines from. Whatever the motivation, the re-working of ‘New Every Morning’ works beautifully.
The sound is remarkably clear and well-mixed for a live album – the guitar in “We Praise You” has the rippling smoothness of Mike Rutherford’s “The Living Years” and at some points the keys have the air of an angelic chorus.
The set ends in sending out, emphasising that real worship is seen in lifestyle more than singing.
So if you buy a lot of Tim Hughes, Matt Redman et al, you should love this.
But Let There be Wonder is a somewhat ironic title. Yes, please, give us music that reflects wonder and creates it; marvellous songs with something unexpected, heart stopping or mind-blowing. And I think I know a way to get it...
If you could get McMillan and Redman together – McMillan’s creativity, intelligence and lyrical prowess, set alight by Redman (and/or his co-writing team)’s melodic instincts, production and congregational aptitude – that could be special.
My personal four-part account of 50 years of CCM starts here