Review Rating: Must Listen [5.0 / 5.0]
Hillsong UNITED is a multi-award-winning, platinum-selling band born from a youth ministry out of local church in Australia that touts a reach of over 10 million across all major social network platforms and has earned numerous #1 singles on Billboard’s Christian charts. With recent releases like Empires (2015) and Wonder (2017), UNITED seemed to take a step towards more of an electronic sound and elaborate production, adding further breadth to their impressive discography. Now, with this week's debut of their highly-anticipated PEOPLE album, UNITED has made a conscious effort to return to an arguably more simpler live music sound with familiar instruments that puts the spotlight on the important message of this collection.
The album opens quietly with piano sounds and the familiar vocals of frontman Joel Houston on "Ready Or Not." At a time when political division and hate crimes seem to dominate news headlines, the unifying message of this song, and album at large, feels much needed. "Come now / As you are or as you want to be / Tired broken, scared or just in need / Ready or not / Just come," Houston sings as the song paints a picture of a welcoming God with arms open wide inviting you into his presence. As the dynamics of the song build, listeners are encouraged to leave the weight of past experiences, mistakes and wounds behind and embrace the God who has already won the ultimate victory.
"As You Find Me" was offered as a pre-release track and it appears to be more impactful with every listen. The first few verses of the song seem to speak to human history, recalling the ups and downs of life. The pre-chorus strikes at the heart with a powerful reminder that despite our biggest accomplishments and failures, Jesus has already loved us and called us his own. "I was found / Before I was lost / I was Yours / Before I was not / Grace to spare / For all my mistakes / And that part just wrecks me." The chorus expands on this idea of the perfect love of God and the bridge spells out beautifully just how dependent we are on this perfect love. A powerful theme appears to emerge in this collection of realizing our imperfections, loosening the weight of them on our lives and then embracing the Savior with our full being. "If You want my heart / I won’t second guess / ‘Cause I need Your love / More than anything / I’m in / I’m Yours."
When listening to the album, "Clean" is a song that will stop you in your tracks. Taya Gaukrodger (née Smith) is accompanied by a beautiful blend of vocals in an otherwise acoustic sounding track. Although it is the shortest song on the record at 2 minutes and 29 seconds, it is quite impactful in large part due to its simplicity. A well suited Easter time track, the song reminds us of the inconceivable impact of the resurrection. "Because of Jesus / My heart is clean," Taya repeats throughout the track, calling our attention to Christ conquering death.
UNITED pulls out all the stops in "Good Grace," which feels like the title track of the collection and is a contender for the anthem of the year. The opening lyrics are another powerful call for unity: "People come together / Strange as neighbours / Our blood is one / Children of generations / Of every nation / Of kingdom come." The song quickly builds louder with lyrics that describe the open gates of Heaven and the power that comes with the love of Jesus. You will be singing along by the end of your first listen to this track and more importantly, instantly feel the invitation to a connection with God. Prior to the closing of this song, we hear repeated several times a collection of lyrics that is my favorite of the album, and that paints a beautiful picture of Heaven and Earth. "Let the praise go up / As the walls come down / All creation / Everything with breath / Repeat the sound / All His children / Clean hands pure hearts / Good grace good God / His name is Jesus."
Hillsong UNITED holds true to its name with an impressive collection of songs deeply rooted in a call for unity of all of God's peoples. Time and time again, we are reminded to leave behind our mistakes and our differences and join together in the Father's love. UNITED has released a collection of songs so perfectly timed with the needs of the world at large. With songs that may make you dance, others that may bring you to tears and all that will point the human heart to Jesus, UNITED has released a genre-defining album. PEOPLE is composed of masterfully written lyrics, compelling arrangements and impactful vocals that is an awe-inspiring example of the work of Spirit inspired people.