Prime Cuts: Living Hope, Song in My Soul, Wild River
Overall Grade: 4/5
Anyone who has led worship before knows that there may be songs which may be theological erudite or musically ingenious, yet they fall flat before a congregation. Why? It takes more a good song to gain commerce with a congregation. Good worship songs, for instance, cannot be too complex in its melodic structures, yet they need to have a hook so obvious that even the most tune-deaf person can pick up in a couple of cycles. The expectation of the lyrical content is even loftier. Worship songs, in general, can't be too individualistic; they also need to be Biblical and theologically orthodox, and they need to give expressions to the cries of the congregation. With all of these criterion to satisfy, no wonder only a small cluster of new worship songs ever made it to the CCLI Top 40. Phil Wickham understands all of this. This is why Wickham's songs such as "This is Amazing Grace," "My All in All," "Doxology (Amen)" and many others have been in constant rotation on worship sets across churches.
To the delight of worship leaders and those interested in worship, this new album is packed with church songs. Months before this album was released, the vanguard single and title track "Living Hope" has had already invited many covers, most notably by Bethel's Bethany Wohrle, Shane and Shane, and New Wine Worship. "Living Hope" not only narrates the Gospel systematically, from our lostness to how the death and resurrection renovates our lives, but it has a melody that is simple enough for a congregation with an array of musical backgrounds to latch on immediately. Wickham uses the same template, albeit with lesser impact, on "How Great is Your Love." Similar to "Hope," "How Great is Your Hope" starts with the softer piano pedals before ascending to those great and grandiose heights of anthem declarations. The same can be said of "Boundless,""Anthem" and "Tethered."
Packed with a roaring worshipful explosion is the power-fest 'Wild River." Audacious, and prophetic, God's mercy is majestically depicted as a wild river. This song is a wonderfully reminder that metaphors still flourish in worship music. "Song in My Soul" deviates a tad from the Wickham big balladry template with the incorporation of syncopated pop beats and a slight hint of Motown R&B groove. Meanwhile, when Wickham steps into EDM terrain disappointment sets in. The swirling "Great Things" and then highly individualistic "Till I Found You" retards Wickham back to Y&F territory where juvenile lyrics thrive.
"Living Hope," on the whole, is packed with church songs made for us to sing with our brothers and sisters in worship. Despite some spots of sloppiness, this is a treasure trove for worship leaders and worshippers to mine as we search for ways to express our worship in ways that are Biblically sound and musically accomodating.