Prime Cuts: Open Heaven (River Wild), Transfiguration, In God We Trust
Hillsong Worship's brand new album stylized as "OPEN HEAVEN/River Wild" fills a lacuna in today's canon of worship music. These are songs that are made for God's throne room. Ask Ezekiel, Isaiah, Jesus, the Apostle Paul, and the Apostle John about the secret of their longevity and tenacity of their ministries, they would all agree that it's because each of them has seen God in his exalted throne. Unless we have met God in his glory, our lives would never be transformed. The songs on Hillsong Worship's twenty fourth live worship takes us on an excursion into the heavenlies. Rather than domesticating Jesus as the church's everlasting boyfriend, these songs offer our brokenness and inadequacies before God's transcendent sublimity. In this regard, this album is dangerous: just as one cannot be exposed to God's consummate light and not be changed; these songs can also function as God's surgical tool, renovating our hearts for his glory.
Capitalizing on Hillsong UNITED's mammoth hit "Oceans (Where Feet May Fail)" which spent more than a year on the summit of Billboard's Christian Songs Chart, worship ballads abound. To date, this may be Hillsong Worship's most ballad heavy album. Utilizing Acts 2 as its scriptural template, the title cut, "Open Heaven(River Wild)" lives up to its title. It's a torrent of a ballad that implore with elephantine passion the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the church. It's songs like this that are the soundtrack of revival. Brooke Fraser (aka Brooke Ligertwood), one of Hillsong Worship's most treasured scribes, has up the ante as far as song writing goes. She gets to co-pen three cuts here. "Love on the Line" is a stately ballad in the vein of "Broken Vessels (Amazing Grace)" and the hymn-esque "Jesus I Need You" is just stunning.
Best among the Fraser's works is "Transfiguration." While many worship songs interweave the Psalms or Paul's didactic passages, few ever utilizes the narrative portions of Scripture. With the story of Christ's transfiguration as the song's seed thought, the ballad "Transfiguration" performed by Taya Smith could easily be the follow-up of "Oceans." Worship pastor Reuben Morgan takes a back seat with this project. This time Morgan only contributes two offerings with "In God We Trust" being the better of the two. Calling to mind Morgan's former classics like "Calvary" and "Christ is Enough," "In God We Trust" has a familiar old school pop singalong structure we have come to love of Hillsong Worship. What is surprising is that EDM-infused beats are conspicuously missing on this record with one of more upbeat numbers being "One Thing" (not the same song as the one with the same titular from the "Savior King" release).
Though many of Hillong Worship's former leads such as Annie Garrett, Jay Cook, and Darlene Zschech are either not represented or only singing minimally, Marty Sampson not only gets to co-write two songs but he does take the lead on their Easter single "O Praise the Name (Anástasis)." Sampson is in fine vocal form here, the same can be said of UNITED's leader Joel Houston who takes the microphone on the soaring rock-tinged ballad "What a Savior." If you love the Australian mega-church's ballads ala "Oceans," "Our Father" and "Broken Vessels," the ballads here are literally heavenly --- they truly bring us into God's presence. And what a better place to be than in God's throne room?
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