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.

#EMPIRES  #FLYBY

Twitter: @HillsongUnited
 
Instagram: @HillsongUnited
 
 
Check them out on tour this summer: http://outcrytour.com/
 
Official website: http://smarturl.it/Empires
Disclosure (in accordance with the FTC’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising”): Many thanks to Propeller Consulting, LLC for providing this prize for the giveaway. Choice of winners and opinions are 100% my own and NOT influenced by monetary compensation. I did receive a sample of the product in exchange for this review and post.
Only one entrant per mailing address, per giveaway.  If you have won a prize from our sponsor Propeller / FlyBy Promotions in the last 30 days, you are not eligible to win.  Or if you have won the same prize on another blog, you are not eligible to win it again. Winner is subject to eligibility verification.”
 

Country Music vs. Rap Music

There are two kinds of people in the world- those who are more prone to listen to Country, and those who are more prone to listen to Rap.  Either way, I do think that those who equally like them both are kinda weird.

My hometown is Fort Payne, Alabama.  When I was born, the town wasn’t even on the map yet.  But Fort Payne had a secret weapon that would shortly change that for us- a country music band that by 1983 would be a force to be reckoned with: Alabama.  The lead singer’s son was in my grade (192 graduating seniors for the entire city) and Randy Owen and the other band members would often drop off their kids at school themselves.  And even today, my parents’ house is only a few miles away from a few of the band member’s houses.

Needless to say, I grew up listening to Country music.  Not only Country music though- it was just something that got thrown in the mix with everything else.  Sort of like the way country music is perceived in Australia and other foreign countries that have a large country music fan base.  It’s not so much a mindset that Country music is its own entity- instead, it’s just American music that happens to be recorded in Nashville and Southern-flavored.

The Closer You Get (1983)

And that’s what Country music is to me.  Just like any other genre of music- some of it’s really good, some of it’s okay, and some of it is pretty horrible.  Some artists are classier, like George Strait and Lady Antebellum; while there are also the self-proclaimed rednecks like Hank Williams, Jr. and Toby Keith.  And just for the record, I like certain Country artists from each level of the spectrum.  I’m not too sophisticated for “Let’s Talk about Me”, assuming the song is meant to be funny.

Something I have observed is that when you ask a person what kind of music they like, you’ll generally get an answer like this: “Oh, I like pretty much all of it- classic rock, oldies, Motown, hard rock, alternative.  I even like a little (Country or Rap), but definitely not (Country or Rap).”

The people who like a little Country music tend to be the ones that will not listen to Rap; the ones that tend to like a little Rap music typically won’t listen to Country.  In other words, both Country and Rap music are polar opposites of each other, but the thing they both have in common is that they are both on the edges of mainstream.  Of course, there are people out there who pretty much only listen to Country, or only listen to Rap, but I’m talking about everyone else- people like me.

Downtown Fort Payne

Of the two examples I mentioned, I personally am the kind of person that will say, “I even like a little Country, but definitely not Rap.”  It’s not that I don’t think Rap sounds good or that rappers don’t have real talent because they typically don’t play instruments.  It doesn’t even bother me that Rap songs often use the choruses of hits from the ‘80’s, instead of coming up with their own.

For me personally, the lyrical content of Rap music is largely irrelevant to my life.  It comes across angry, violent, degrading to women, and obsessed with material possessions (I’m overaware I’m not the first person to say that).  But for all the millions of Rap fans in the world, there are obviously themes that ring true and connect to their listeners.  Rap music is relevant to millions; I’ve just not one of them.

South End of Fort Payne

While I didn’t grow up on a farm and wear Wranglers, there is much I can relate to in Country music, like its common themes of love, family, God, and simple living.  And as content as I am to listen to John Mayer and Guster and Phil Collins on a 4 hour road trip, it’s always a given that I have to slip in a Brad Paisley album into the mix.  Country music provides a lyrical grounding for me in the midst of rock songs which I love, but are better left vague in their meaning (like pretty much anything by Stone Temple Pilots or Smashing Pumpkins).

So there’s my biased opinion.  Which is it for you, though?  Which musical extreme do you identify with most- Country or Rap?  (You can either answer quietly to yourself or in the form of a passionate and/or angry comment below.) I think it’s a pretty interesting and revealing question to ask someone.  Like simply asking a person “Batman or Superman?

Hey Jealousy (A Retrospective Look Back at Grunge and Alternative Rock Music)

I’m gonna say it.  Despite the cliché, because it’s true: Music today just ain’t what it used to be.

I was born in 1981.  Junior high for me was 1993 to 1995.  High school was from 1995 to 1999.  And I say in all confidence that compared to the current generic decency of Nickelback and the outright douchebaggery of bands like Godsmack and Buckcherry, my generation of rock music was far superior.

Not that I have anything against the stuff they play on Jack FM (Phil Collins, Eddie Money, The Police, etc.) or my parents’ music (The Beatles, The Eagles, The Grateful Dead, Creedence Clearwater Revival, etc.) because I’m a huge classic music fan.  Just as I’m a Movie Guy, I’m absolutely a Music Guy as well.

I get it.  Every music lover out there seems to hold a warm place in their heart for the music that was popular when they were a teenager.  Here I am doing the same thing; I’m no different.  Those bands and songs are all attached to places, people, and stories from a time where I was “discovering who I was”.  Grunge and alternative rock makes up the soundtrack of my teenage years.

I clearly remember in 8th grade, after school getting off the bus several blocks too soon to visit the local music store (that coincidently was only open that year and the following year, when alternative music ruled the music scene) to purchase the groundbreaking Green Day album, Dookie (at the time, I was still buying cassettes, not CD’s).  From Janis Joplin to Santana to Dinosaur Jr. to Blind Melon, they had it all in stock.  Along with several racks of appropriate signs-of-the-times jewelry including, but not limited to, clay “shroom” necklaces.

What I remember most about that music store isn’t the name, being that I have no clue what it was called, but the smell.  Incense.  A sweeter smell than patchouli.  I can’t help but assume that the constantly burning incense had something to do with the store owners covering up a different smoke smell of their own.

When I hear “Ironic” or “Hand in My Pocket” or “You Learn” by Alanis Morissette, or “Today” by The Smashing Pumpkins (which I would have to declare as the official song of my teenage years), an emotional spark ignites in my brain, causing me to simultaneously travel back to 1995 and feel a rush of euphoria.

So maybe what exactly constitutes as grunge or alternative is a bit blurry.  Typically, the lyrics are abstract, weird, and sometimes bit creepy.  The guitars are layered with both “staticky” and “crystallized” effects.  Whatever it was and is, it makes me happy.  Long live grunge and alternative!

Since I released my top 25 favorite movies this week (Movie Guy, at Your Service: My Top Ten Favorites), I might as well attempt to release my top twenty favorite bands of the grunge and alternative rock era.  Yes, it is controversial, but on my list, Nirvana is not present.  Like Soundgarden, they were too depressing for me.  I’m judging these by their relevance of grunge and alternative music in my personal life.  This is not a list of my favorite bands of all time- that’s a different list altogether.

My Top Twenty Favorite Bands of the Grunge and Alternative Rock Era

1)     Smashing Pumpkins

2)     Oasis

3)     Green Day

4)     Third Eye Blind

5)     Live

6)     The Wallflowers

7)     Alanis Morissette

8)     R.E.M.

9)     Bush

10) Gin Blossoms

11) Counting Crows

12) The Cranberries

13) Matchbox Twenty

14) Weezer

15) Collective Soul

16) Red Hot Chili Peppers

17) Foo Fighters

18) Everclear

19) Pearl Jam

20) Better Than Ezra

Do you want to share your list with me?  Then do it!

Me in 1995, AKA "The Grunge Days"