Hillsong UNITED has always impressed listeners with their harmonious serenity of gospel music, and that quality production continued in Of Dirt and Grace. Despite a lack of energy in this album, their incorporation of biblical references, imagery, and insight truly makes this album beautiful. Although Christian/ Gospel music isn’t always a best seller on iTunes or Billboard, it is unique in its own creation.
For one, this album does not have a single second of any synthesized elements. Everything is genuine and glorifying to God. Whether it’s smooth acoustic guitars like in “Touch the Sky” or “Scandal of Grace” that carry the melody throughout or the methodical tapping of drums and cymbals in “Here Now” or “Closer Than You Know”, the songs are all a cohesive collection that speak true to our hearts. On the topic of speaking true, every song in Of Dirt and Grace alludes to a Christian concept or biblical book in the bible.
“Say the Word”, the second song in the album, reflects passages in the books of Genesis and Luke with its lyrics “Say the word and there is light/ Say the word and dead bones rise”. The two-time Billboard Music award winners passionately sing about the power of God and how his words alone were able to develop the beautiful world we live in. The second part of the lyrics reflect the resurrection of Jesus and that “every word that [God says] will remain” forever. “Heart Like Heaven” is the third piece in this album and it embodies the Christian faith principle of surrendering our hearts to God to live our lives through him and nobody else. The incorporation of the message “falling to my knees”, a prayer position, further depicts the ideal of giving our hearts to God as well.
Two more biblical references that I would like to adamantly discuss are in “Even When it Hurts” and “Empires”. Accompanied by an undertone of bell/xylophone and harmonic orchestrations, Hillsong UNITED vocalist Joel Houston writes “Even when it hurts I will sing your praise” which reflects 1 Peter 4:16: “Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name”. The soulful tone in this beautiful song carries heartfelt emotions and is unlike most Sunday Morning sing-alongs. It carries a very somber and lonely mood, but it’s driven by a desire to praise God and thank him for his grace. “Empires”, the ninth song in Hillsong UNITED’s album, also contains a powerful message as the words “Beneath our skin a new creation/ When night is done the chains are broken/The time has come the wait is over/The king is here and his name is Jesus” derive from the book of Revelation. Specifically Revelation 21:3-4, which reads “He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” Hillsong UNITED interjects a strong sensation of hope and prosperity, which is what makes this song so powerful, special, and heartwarming to followers of Christ.
As mentioned earlier, this album is among the least enthusiastic productions that HU has produced, which is why this album can be difficult to listen to at times. I really enjoyed a quiet and blissful listen in my car, but when I want to go walking or working out and need some blood-pumping tunes, this album has hardly any. Also, the quiet and lower registers of some of the singers take away from the message somewhat, as “Here Now”, “Rule”, and “Oceans” have very delicate background instrumentals and vocals which conceals the diction. In addition to inconsistent diction and low energy, the instruments do not have much variety to go around. It is quite unusual to see such a minimum of guitar and drum variation, but unfortunately the rhythms and melodies frequently amplify the same tunes throughout the album.
If Hillsong United were to adjust these kinks in their armor, they would be around an 8 or 8.5, but at the end of the day, this album just needs some spicing up. The biblical references to Christian ideals and passages are resourceful and gorgeous, but Of Dirt and Grace needs some more variation in order to stand out.
Christian/Gospel l Hillsong Music Australia