Review of Hillsong United’s New Album: Empires

I would have to say that one of the most influential, relevant, and touching songs I have ever known is Hillsong United’s “Oceans” from their 2013 Zion album.

Review of Hillsong United's New Album: Empires

So when I was asked if I would like to receive an advance copy of the Australian worship group’s newest album, Empires, to review, it was an easy decision for me.

Empires, (which was released today on May 26, 2015)has been playing in my car for more than a solid week now. My process of reviewing it has been to refrain from paying attention to which individual track I was listening to; instead, only investigating the song after it really stood out to me as the album played as a whole.

I love this album.

It’s the kind of album that just flows in a cerebral experience, like ColdPlay’s Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends; as if there were not 12 individual songs, but instead a never-ending trip to a different, higher place. I would almost refer to it as an out of body experience.

Though I absolutely am obsessed with the the entire album, my favorite songs from Empires are the 6th and 7th tracks: “When I Lost My Heart to You (Hallelujah)”, a seemingly romantic song (which it is not, actually) that reminds me of the 1970’s Peter Gabriel era of the progressive rock group Genesis; and “Even When It Hurts (Praise Song)”, a track which might actually deem too honest and real for some members of an American audience.

Here’s an excerpt from the “When I Lost My Heart to You (Hallelujah)”:

Love laid its breath against my chest

My skin was thick but You breathed down all my walls

Love like the fire steals the cold

The ice wore thin as Your light tore through my door

You have my heart

As for “Even When It Hurts (Praise Song)”, I predict the honesty of the raw lyrics will distract some listeners from hearing the true meaning:

Even when the fight seems lost I’ll praise You

Even when it hurts like hell I’ll praise You

Even when it makes no sense to sing

Louder then I’ll sing Your praise

Here in America, we think nothing of the word “bloody” as an adjective, as we reference what we think as a thoughtless British adjective. However, I hear it serves as profanity in England.

I think it’s a similar case with the American use of “hell.” Unless someone is literally referring to hell in a Biblical manner, many Americans deem it as profanity; though that doesn’t quite seem the case overseas.

Either way, it’s safe to say that  “hurts like hell” isn’t something I’d let my 4 and a half year-old go around saying. After all, with this being Family Friendly Daddy Blog, part of what I do is screen for potential offensive content.

However, the Bible itself isn’t rated G or even PG; and neither is real life. And this album isn’t targeted for children. It’s for people who are seeking God, from a place of humility, desperation, and honesty.

Despite it being a “worship album,” it’s not “churchy”. It’s real.

So if you’re able to get past the culture shock of that phrase and try to understand the possible place in life that the songwriter Joel Houston was referring to, it can be a deep and meaningful way to illustrate from what depths of despair (hell) we can “choose joy” by deciding to praise God in the most unthinkable times.

I think that “Even When It Hurts (Praise Song)” may even contain the ability to unintentionally expose how easy it is to praise God in a church setting but not when you or someone who know is actually going through “hell on Earth”.

From divorce, to loss of a steady job, to experiencing a miscarriage, these are times when it’s not so practical to want to praise God.

As the song says, “when it hurts like hell… when it makes no sense, I’ll praise You.”

And that goes back to the track before it, “When I Lost My Heart to You (Hallelujah)”: “You have my heart.”

If Christ truly has our hearts, we will grasp on to straws to keep our faith in Him, if that’s what it takes; not just in the midst of a worship service at church… but when life is too real, when it seems the furthest from Heaven… “when it hurts like hell.”

That’s why this album is personally challenging for me. Beyond its well-produced, well-polished “spa rock” sound, it’s definitely the most brutally honest worship album I’ve ever been exposed to.

Thanks for reading my review today. I hope you found it helpful.


Twitter: @HillsongUnited
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Why Tap Dancing is Officially Masculine (And Most Other Kinds of Dancing are Feminine)

Le tap dance; la clog.

Unlike the French and Spanish languages, English doesn’t have masculine and feminine nouns.  Yet still, there are subtle gender clues and accents if we look closely enough for them.  Like the way that Coldplay is masculine, while The Fray is feminine (because they got famous by having their songs featured on Grey’s Anatomy). And the way a Dodge Dakota is masculine; while a Nissan X-Terra is feminine (this was referenced in an episode of The Office).

During dinner a few weeks ago I happened to catch 20 minutes of So You Think You Can Dance.  It was a results episode so they were mainly filling the air time with professional tap dancers, all of which were male.  Mainly dancing solo, but there were a few duos.  Interestingly, after each of them danced, they were briefly interviewed.  I couldn’t help but notice that none of these male tap dancers were the least bit effeminate or sexually questionable in any way- they were ordinary, straight dudes.

I’m okay with being politically incorrect in stating this fact that we already know and recognize: It’s common for professional male dancers (especially on reality TV shows) to not be straight.  Which is ironic because as we watch these couples dance, the male is being represented by a man who in reality may not be sexually attracted to women.  Typically, straight men are not the ones representing the guy in the relationship in these dances.

Why are straight men typically inclined not to be good dancers?  Because group dancing and dancing in pairs, as a whole, are more of feminine acts.  Dancing as we know it today is free-spirited and emotionally expressive.  It often shows the ups and downs of relationships and/or life in general.  That doesn’t work for most men, because a man’s mind is wired to be formulaic and often emotionally repressive.  Most men have to “learn to dance”.  Tell me what to do so I can get this right. It’s more about straight memorization for a straight guy to learn to dance.  He’s learning to dance to make his girlfriend or wife happy- not to express himself in a new exciting way.

When I think of famous tap dancers throughout American history, I think of classy Italian, Jewish, and African-American men wearing black suits like Fred Astaire, Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis, Jr., Gregory Hines, and of course, the legendary Tony Danza.  Although, this isn’t to say that all or even most tap-dancing men are straight.  But what I do recognize is 1) that because tap dancing is simply based on rhythm and formula (which are masculine elements- famous female drummers are a rare thing), and 2) that tap dancing only really evokes one basic emotional feel, which is always positive and upbeat.  I never remember seeing a tap dancing routine which went from happy, to sad, to angry, back to happy, to a feeling of loss, to happy, to acceptance of grief, to contentment, the way a typical 2 minute dance song on Dancing with the Stars or So You Think You Can Dance typically does.

Clogging, on the other hand, though similar to tap-dancing, is not masculine.  It often involves groups, costumes, and festive music- therefore making it a feminine art form, since there is room for “artistic expression”.  But square dancing is masculine because, like in tap-dancing, the mood is always the same (upbeat) and there is no guesswork on how to do it, since the instructions are typically spoken to music.

So how could a man and a woman dance to music and it realistically represent them and their relationship?  I’m picturing a guy tap dancing in his own little world while the woman ballet dances around him, and the guy is seemingly oblivious to what is going on.