The nostalgia of Pre pandemic world hits global worship powerhouses
A review for Hillsong’s and Bethel’s new albums
It’s that wonderful time of the year. Hillsong Worship’s and Bethel Music’s new albums are out. The first live recordings since pandemic hit captures the lost longing for corporate worship and the excitement of a not so normal world again. It triggers the best in me to desire loud multitudes of worshipers one more time (but I’m Brazilian and those guys still support this shitty government — another time then).
So what’s really new in worship for the new world we’re living in? Not much. Bethel’s Homecoming is the perfect follow up to the excellent (and better) Revival is in the Air, and even tries to capture the same momentum of the 2020 mid-pandemic release. It fails to grasp what the previous one did best, but emulates to the highest notes. The highlights go for the ingenuity in retelling the prodigal son parable through (surprise) welcome home like songs, but both Homecoming and Ring and Robe fail to reach something more than exciting shouting lyrics. Musically there’s not much new. Kristene DiMarco’s Wherever you Lead is a highlight, but follows the same style premise as her (better) song in the previous album. Jenn Johnson and Chris Quilala deliver a nice 2010’s vibe ballad in Send Me, but it doesn’t rise above the rest. The new take on 2017’s All Hail King Jesus finds a good moment, but is cut short for any unknown reason, though Bethany Worle sounds amazing for the song. Dante Bowe shines best in his Weathered duo with Hannah McClure, and though it is no Champion, it is the best new sound in the album, so, it deserved the hype it didn’t get though. Emmy Rose also steals the show in Standing in Miracles, though the song can’t stand by its own to be remembered. David Funke’s debut take on a live album is blend and disappears on the sea of singles of Easter past, and brings nothing new to the table – and partnering with worship legend Matt Maher might seem like a good idea, but just tossed the new kid aside even more. The Helser’s I Believe sounds alright and true to their character over the years, but far from their high points. Zahriya Zachary’s debut as well, is a good and blend song that repeat tropes but sounds pretty fresh in her voice. And our own Brian Johnson delivers the string based Hymn of Heaven, and who shines in it is Zachary, although it’s no Seas of Crimson. The whole album seems to follow a premise of come to Christ and go for him, for some of the right and other wrong reasons. It plays for its own disservice, and even though it sounds amazing and brings back our favorite take on communal worship after months home, it will only be remembered as the first album after pandemic.
On the same note, Hillsong delivers a good follow up to their best album, the studio take on 2019’s Awake, and follows a lot of the precedence they created with 2020’s Take Heart (Again). Recorded on a single night back in September, These Same Skies finds its strength in the previously released singles, including Hope of the Ages, Never Walk Alone and their best song since What a Beautiful Name (though not as big) That’s the Power. Everything before and after serves as filler for what might have been a very exciting live worship night that was better on paper. Reuben Morgan delivers a new and forgettable Freedom song, not better than the 2013 one. Brooke Lighterwood brings some new exciting lyrics in Ressurender, but it doesn’t really sound fresh beyond the made up name. Secret Place is somehow a highlight, being the first time in years since a song from the team has no chorus. Chris Davenport wrote six verses and they get stronger when they join with Brooke’s spontaneous Waiting. But the best written song is All to Him, that Joel and Brooke bring to life in the best way possible, though not the best closing song ever, finds its strength in Joel’s unique talent to write in parallelism and more than other moments sound honest and heavenly.
But then, nothing explains why Fresh Wind is not in the nine-songs album, as well as the absence of Taya, Dave Ware, Ben Fielding, Matt Crocker, Jad Gillies and other lead singers that doesn’t show up this time. Yes, the album was recorded in California and not Sydney, and many of their people were not able to go to the US at the time of recording due to covid restrictions, but still. How many times they made the Sydney-London thing and included everyone? I’ll say it: twice, and for lesser albums and leads. They could have recorded the Sydney guys in Sydney and put it in the mix easily. And I understand the urge of having a single worship night translated to album, but then letting the album suffer for it makes no sense whatsoever. Although, respectful towards Dave Ware not having someone else sing his song. Maybe following some of the same trends as Bethel (everyone is under these same skies), Hillsong team also features their strongest assets with slightly new talents, even leaving to voices like Ben Hastings and Mi-kaisha Rose the weight of making it as relevant as their predecessors, and then big failure, These Same Skies is far away of the relevance of better albums like Awake or Let there be Light. And at some moments, it doesn’t feel like an album or even a worship night, just a random collection of not so exciting songs.
It is pretty upsetting that the two most important post-pandemic worship albums find themselves either so attached to past trends and incapable of bringing something truly new or trying and failing to be as relevant as they could have been. It’s almost like they’re suffering of the same nostalgia as Disney and other pop culture mainstream giants. What might save is the fact that both live albums feature video versions as well, as what’s really new is the way they were recorded, both featuring nice sets with no back screens, which sadly is the full extent of “novelty” (and nostalgia) they really have to offer. And as if it is a competition, conceptually, Bethel brings a better designed cover and product to the table, literally at the time Hillsong changed their head designer. And that says a lot coming from me.
Best moments: Weathered, Homecoming, All Hail King Jesus
These Same Skies: 2,5/5
Best moments: That’s the Power, Secret Place+Waiting, All to Him.