Great Album! Still room for some theological improvement | Posted October 26, 2010
Hillsong continues to prove itself to be a juggernaut in the worship music industry. Now long ago in modern worship years, worship leader Darlene Zschech put Hillsong on the international map with "Shout to the Lord," and they have never since faded in influence over Western evangelical worship (and they have decidedly broken into non-Western international contexts, as well). Hillsong is a Pentecostal megachurch, so all their worship music is colored by their charismatic heritage.
Worth Getting It?
Yes. With each passing listen, it ministers to my heart more and more. It blesses me most when I am listening to it with devotional intention. Unlike some past Hillsong albums, I'm finding much less to raise an eyebrow at theologically. Modern worship songwriting still needs to understand the difference between songs and expressions which are a part of private, devotional worship and songs which are intended for congregations. So, again, for the personal listener the album is great, but not every song translates into the corporate worship experience (I recognize that all these songs have for Hillsong, but I respectfully disagree that some should.)
Songs I Would Most Likely Lead in Worship:
Tier 1: "Our God is Love," "The One Who Saves," "Thank You"
Tier 2: "Open My Eyes," "Like Incense / Sometimes By Step," "The Father's Heart"
(Read comments in the song-by-song analysis below for further explanation)
The New Face of Hillsong. This album is a testament to what is happening in the worship leadership down in Sydney. With the maturation of the first generation of Hillsong United worship leaders (United is Hillsong's youth, college, and young adult expression)--Joel Houston, Brooke (Fraser) Ligertwood, Jad Gillies, and Matt Crocker--we're seeing them graduate into Hillsong-main and appear on albums like this one. This transfer was also evident when I saw Hillsong United here in Loveland, CO several months back. Houston and Ligertwood were there, but they were also giving air time to some newer, younger faces. But personnel is not the only thing transferring from Hillsong United to Hillsong-main.
Musicality. This album witnesses a stylistic blend of the more adult-contemporary, mainstream sound of Hillsong with the gritty, adolescent fervor of Hillsong United. You could either call it a more pumped-up Hillsong or a more mellowed Hillsong United. Pick your poison. The clues are in the more edgy electric guitar work (e.g. the more punk-style opening measures of "Open My Eyes" or the detuned, feedbacky outro to "Believe"), the more aggressive United-style drumming (lots of tom-work and a more constant use of the kick drum on solid eighths or sixteenths), and a lot more ambient, "experimental" sounds from the guitars and keys. However, the regular Hillsong vibe penetrates in many of the melody lines, vocal harmonies, and familiar chord progressions. Musically speaking, then, the album is beautiful...
Accessibility. To my ear, Hillsong has always been more accessible for congregations than Hillsong United. If they're highly synchopated in their vocal rhythms, there's enough consistency to make it catchable in short order. A Beautiful Exchange is a very singable album (with the caveat that every song could be transposed down a few steps). Vocal lines are melismatic, without too many leaps in awkward places. If there are leaps, they are textually appropriate. However, it's one thing to sing these songs, and it's another thing to play these songs. I regularly underestimate how hard it is to reproduce the dynamic and ambient fullness of their musical sound in our worship context...
Theological Depth. Theologically, Hillsong has always focused on the basics...the essentials. Therefore, in every album including this one, we'll hear a lot about the cross, salvation, healing, and its interpersonal intersection with the individual Christian. This is a beautiful thing! Though I don't feel anything is flat out erroneous, I have commented in the past my discomfort with Hillsong's triumphalism--victorious proclamations of what I can do with my faith for God. Of course triumph is a reality of the Christian faith, but we must never put our stock there. We must put our stock in the Gospel...
For the full review and a song-by-song analysis, visit: http://www.zachicks.com/blog/2010/7/5/album-review-of-a-beautiful-exchange-by-hillsong.html