Tranquility is one of the most perfect feelings to ever enter my body. When I am at peace with myself, my day is brighter, the people around me are happier and I feel closer to my values and to the Lord. Singing to God and hearing others praise his name is a glowing reminder to me and to followers of Christ that we owe him everything. Hillsong United just released their fifth album, Wonder, and it’s full of glowing, tranquil feelings that harness spiritual power and strength.
The title track is all about how we see the world through God’s eyes. “Walking in the light” and seeing the world “bursting with living color” are mesmerizing details backed by drums and guitars hooked to a box. Together, these details combine to reflect the divine impact that God has on his disciples. “Future Marches In” is another track with the same message and mentality.
Here, Hillsong United calls followers of Christ to take the gifts and sacrifices God has given us and to praise his name. On top of a remarkable drum-filled chorus and fast tempo, the vocals are full of vigor. While head worship singers Joel Houston and Matt Crocker lead with their uplifting voices, the background vocals really add to the track’s inspiration. Dazzling harmonies echo in the background as they invite all who “have been set free” to lift their voices and rejoice in the strength and eternal life God offers. This is best expressed by Psalms 5:11: “Let all who take refuge in you rejoice; let them ever sing for joy, and spread your protection over them…”
In addition to addressing how God impacts our world, HSU spotlights the Lord’s eternal presence. “So Will I (100 Billion X)” creatively pieces together aspects of Genesis to represent God’s timelessness. The beginning sounds like a blend of an electric guitar with a bit of a technological tune up. (Think something along the lines of the start to “What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger” by Kelly Clarkson). Nevertheless, its smooth start enables Hillsong to sing about how God “spoke to the dark and fleshed out the wonder of life.” With each verse, more musical components enter which coincide with the lyrics that address the creation of the universe. Harmonies, synthesized horns, and drums combine to create majestic interludes between verses and choruses. Without a doubt, this was my favorite piece of the album.
“Shadow Step” and “Greatest of These” also represent the eternal presence of the Lord and his love. Supported by a methodical electric guitar, the former peacefully represents how God’s voice has been there from the beginning and it continues to draw people to him. In the latter, Hillsong sings about how living without love is meaningless. The piece’s timing drags towards the final chorus, but the message is still as strong as “Shadow Step”. Breathy female vocals remind listeners that God’s love will never die and neither should theirs.
Biblical references are the final piece that makes this album one of Hillsong United’s best to date. “Water to Wine” is an allusion to the book of John where he captures a written account of Jesus, who transformed pots of water into wine. Lyrics “So I’ll Stay/ Fixed within your life/ A branch within your vine” highlight the importance of this miracle to the Christian faith. What Hillsong created here, however – which I found to be a very unique avenue- was a message about the importance of the wine itself. Not only does the wine stand for a miraculous phenomenon of Jesus, but the transformation is also a testament to Jesus’ power and importance.
“Life” is another example of Hillsong United’s usage of powerful biblical references. This track is musically characterized by long echoing from synthesizers, a bass, off and on drum beats, and a grand piano. In terms of its lyricism, Hillsong United connects a message similar to Galatians 2:20. This bible verse reads,”…it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God.” Throughout its six minutes, “Life” does the exact same thing. Its singers lift up their voices and celebrate surrendering to their savior.
While Hillsong United’s newest album possesses strong biblically based references and central ideals of Christianity, it has a few holes throughout its production. Primarily, the music. Whether it is the duration of the songs or a fixation on the text, the instruments were the primary downfall.
Timing wise, some of the songs are simply too long. Pieces like “Rain/ Reign” and “Glimmer in the Dust” range from 6.5 minutes to eight minutes long. The time it takes for the first verse to begin is excessive and the melodies tend to drag as well.
On top of that, Hillsong overuses the element of their harmonious echoes with their keyboards and guitars. Almost every song begins with some type of humming from their instruments and a large portion of the songs end on them too. “Wonder” and “Future Marches In” are two of the most upbeat tracks on this album, yet their start is significantly slower than its overall tempo. Altogether though, the songs still sound eloquent, but a little creativity would have been ideal. Adding strings like a violin or a cello could have added more emotion and contributed more to the key changes between verses.
Compared with past releases of theirs like Empires and Zion, Hillsong United went above and beyond the expectations that I had for this album. Aside from some aspects of the musical arrangements, Hillsong produced a quality gospel album.
Christian & Gospel l Hillsong Church T/A