Tony Cummings reports on the latest album by Australian modern worship pioneers HILLSONG UNITED
Seldom has the release of a new worship project generated such interest as Hillsong United's 'Wonder' album. Released tomorrow, some critics have already been falling over themselves to praise its innovative new sound and also to take a bit of a swipe at the Australian worshippers' old musical approach. Wrote Timothy Yap, "Creativity takes a front seat with United's sixth studio album 'Wonder'. Gone are the simplistic lyrics of recycled cliches guised by the clamorous sounds of arena-styled rock guitars and percussion. Rather, evidenced by the song titles such as 'Splinters And Stones', 'So I Will (100 Billion X)' and 'Glimmer In The Dust' there's more poetic creativity and intrigue woven into the crafting of these 12 newly written songs." CCM magazine wrote, "If 'Empires' was a black-and-white ball of potential energy waiting in the wings underneath layer upon layer of digital loops and keyboard padding, 'Wonder' boldly explodes with blinding colour and light, proclaiming the 'Jesus way' and the all of God's love for each and every one of us. . . Hillsong United beautifully marries lyric with music to create an unforgettable experience from song one to 12."
Not all the critics though are agreed. Cbn.com have written, "'Wonder' is no doubt a strong effort but on the heels of 2015's groundbreaking 'Empires' it doesn't quite have the awe-inspiring quality befitting its name."
When 'Wonder' was announced Hillsong United leader Joel Houston said, 'The hope, the imagination to dream, to believe, the tenderness to listen and lead first with mercy, the grace to empathise, the courage to trust, the fearlessness to love without response or condition, this is the challenge, and this is what worship - if worship can be summed up as an expression of art and music and story - is ultimately designed to do." And indeed 'Wonder' has succeeded in bringing together these elements. "Splinters And Stones" uses the image of a splinter ion the shoulders of Christ as he carried the cross. Similarly the EDM-influenced title track ponders the wonder of how God works in our cosmos.
It's been an intriguing few months for Hillsong United. Lead vocalist Taya Smith, whose haunting voice inspired the world Church on the classic "Oceans (Where Feet May Fail)", has come in for some heavy internet criticism for her decision to completely shave her head. But such trivialities pale into insignificance when experiencing the album's anthemic ballad "Glimmer" which brings the listener back to the crucifixion scene as both Taya and Joel portray the luminous hope shining from the darkness of such an atrocity.The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.