Music at Mars Hill is a weekly column by Luke Larsen that seeks to find God amidst the newest trends in both mainstream music and independent music.
“Sing to Him a new song; play skillfully, and shout for joy.” (Psalms 33:3)
It seems that Hillsong Australia has been living out its prolific worship music career under the careful instruction of this psalm. For twenty years now, Hillsong has written and released a live album of brand new songs every year, each featuring a host of different songwriters and worship leaders. On top of that, the church’s youth group band, Hillsong United, has released 13 live albums and 2 studio albums of their own. To say that’s a lot of new songs is a bit of an understatement.
God Is Able is Hillsong LIVE’s 20th album and is in many ways more of the same for this worship group. There are the usual emotional, slow songs like “Unending Love” and “Cry of the Broken” and upbeat rockers like “Rise” and “The Difference”. Ultimately, standouts like “God Is Able” and “With Us” will be picked up by churches around the world while many of the others will be left behind. The musical formulas present in these songs are far from transparent on this album. Everything from the structure and instrumentation to the chord progressions and melodies of these songs come from is to be expected in worship music. In fact, with each album of songs these formulas become more engrained in the music. The stadium-sized, Brit-rock style of Hillsong is so apparent and distinct that its characteristics and idiosyncrasies have become the dominant style of Contemporary Christian worship (especially among youth-oriented churches).
These song formulas are an easy place for both Christians and non-Christians alike to criticize the music of Hillsong and many similar worship bands. To a certain extent I agree with a lot of the criticism. Because of my opinion that the music itself is as important to a song’s worshipful function as the lyrics, the artistic direction of worship music is a serious concern of mine. Should the new song we should be singing to the Lord be one of artistic integrity or one of rehashed musical tendencies and tired lyrical devices?
While I don’t know the answer to that question, there are a few things I would say. First of all, check out the psalms. This beautiful collection of music and poetry is full of repetition and keyword God descriptors. Secondly, it’s important not to forget where these formulas and styles come from. Any music that lifts our souls and emotions and pulls us toward God can never be without its own set of particular musical triggers and styles. Whether its a certain chord progression or places where drums cut out or build up, its only once our relationship with God become dependent on the triggers and styles themselves is there room for warning.
God is Able is a predictably good followup to Hillsong’s consistent track record of albums. While the songs of the record are rather unchanged, they still work and Hillsong is still doing what they do best: churning out albums of songs made for corporate worship that call the Church at wide to praising God.