Prime Cuts: Starts and Ends, Clean, Might Sound Wild
Overall Grade: 4.75/5
Expectations are sky-high when it comes to Hillsong UNITED's new album "People." After all, how many church collectives can claim that they have one double platinum single ("Oceans"), one platinum single ("So Will I") and one gold single ("Touch the Sky")? How many artists (Christian or secular) can boast that their song spent 61 non-consecutive weeks at the No. 1 spot as "Oceans" did in 2014 and 2016. So, when it comes to their highly anticipated new live record "People," expectations are astronomical. Though "People" is not the Australian worship team's career best (the accolade still belongs to "Zion"), it's still an awesome record. Recorded live in Sydney, Australia, the album comprises of 12 new songs coming mostly from the pens of front man Joel Houston and his usual cohorts including Brooke Ligertwood, Marty Sampson, Ben Fielding, Matt Crocker, Benjamin Hastings and even Y&F's Aodhan King.
If you are looking for a ginormous hit, the way "Oceans (Where Feet May Fail)" was, "Starts and Ends" comes closet. Written by Joel Houston and Brooke Ligertwood, "Starts and Ends" is one of those songs that nowhere mentions its titular. But the charisma of the song lies in the careful exposition of Jesus' redemption before Ligertwood invokes us to "lay our burden down" in such a worshipful gesture. "Clean," which clocks in at 2:29 minutes, also anchors on the work of the Cross. The song is concise, simple, worshipful and so inviting. "Might Sound Wild," with its thumbing bassline and its stately percussion, sounds like a track that would be at home on a Hillsong Worship record. What is of note about this pop-centric anthem is the refreshing imagery of how sin has made up go off key like faulty notes in a flowing melody.
UNITED is also to be congratulated for keeping the Gospel central on this record. "Good Grace," though a tad predictable and reminiscing of "Touch the Sky," gives exposition to what grace means; a track that ought to make it into many churches' song sets. Speaking of worship song sets, "Ready or Not" and "Here's to the One" are perfect set openers. Since there are fewer and fewer uptempo worship songs that are both theological meaty as well as melodious, these two cuts fit the bill on both fronts. A little more trite and pedantic are the lyrics of "Holy Ground." But things pick up with the brooding ballad "Another in the Fire." The lyrics are based on Daniel 3:24-25 where an angel protected Daniel's three friends from the furnace fire. Likewise, the song rightly argues, Christ is the "other" who walks with us in our fires.
"Echoes" is the ultimate party song of all time. Nevertheless, this is not a party of wasted booze and mindless debauchery, but this party celebrates the second coming of the King with such jubilant anticipation. In a way, this album is mis-titled. Rather, "Good Grace" would more apropos. This is because every song here develops upon the Gospel storyline, from the Cross all the way to Christ's second coming where good grace is a major player in the unfolding of history's greatest and best story.