Hillsong United - Empires

Published Wednesday 16th March 2016
Hillsong United - Empires
Hillsong United - Empires

RATING 10 10 10 10 10 10 10 10 10 10
OUR PRODUCT CODE: 156560-23268
LABEL: Hillsong Music HMACD299
RELEASE DATE: 2015-05-25
RRP: £13.00

Reviewed by Tony Cummings

Although I didn't care for the minimalist, black and white sleeve design I'll concede that's down to my personal taste. As it turns out, everything else about this album is top quality (in my opinion of course). And clearly the 'Empires' artwork hasn't stopped it selling by the cartload. Released in May 2015 many in the worldwide Church, and indeed some outside it, have acknowledged that this is a gem, being an international hit reaching number one on Australia's mainstream album charts, number five in the USA and number 34 in the UK pop charts. The success is richly deserved. Having long held the belief that music would one day be a spearhead for revival and having seen these musical revivalists move, down the years, from being adequate-but-no-more performers of congregational worship songs to creators of music that is still largely intended for congregational singing but performed with prog rock technicality and art rock intentions I can understand why this album has sold so well. If you are still a little put off by some of the simplistic worship ditties which in the past poured out the youth arm of the Hillsong Church give a good listen to the songs on this set. Here's an example picked at random from Joel Houston's lyric book: "Word made flesh, you wrote in grace/Promise kept through cross and grave/Words of stone you spelled-out love/And when you say it is done, it is done." Or if that's a bit metaphysical for you try these lines from "Touch The Sky" - the first hit single from 'Empires': "My heart beating, my soul breathing/I felt my life when I laid it down/Upward falling, spirit soaring/I touch the sky when my knees hit the ground." To make an album as good as this one they needed a truly exceptional singer. Hillsong United's main male singer is good (as good as, say, Chris Quilala, the main man in another bunch of travelling revivalists, Jesus Culture). But in Taya Smith Hillsong United have their Kim Walker-Smith. Now don't get me wrong. It can be hard to imagine female voices more different than Taya's and Kim's. While the renowned Jesus Culture lady is soulful, swooping passion, Taya is all brittle, purring poignancy. But great bands need great singers with voices that become instantly recognisable and whose timber and inflections can add depth and cadence to every melody line. In Taya the Australian worshippers have such a lady. When Joel Houston decided to up the anti with his lyric writing and switch the musical emphasis of the increasingly predictable Britpop/stadium rock sound to instead allow piano and keys to dominate, it was a somewhat risky step. Indeed I expect there were a few of United's own supporters who complained that not every song on 'Empires' is suitable for congregational singing. But then the notion that all worship has to be sung worship isn't a biblical idea anyway. As it turns out the long (nine minutes, 30 seconds) final track "Closer Than You Know" is as enveloping and worshipful a piece of music you'll hear from any band whether they have 'art rock', 'prog rock' or any other tags. United have produced a classic album with the potential to change tens of thousands of lives. How many acts can say that?Cummings

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.

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Product Description
The new studio album from Hillsong United.

Empires is the story of two worlds. Our prayer and desire has been to simply create the most honest project we could. Songs that seek to listen first and then with God's breath speak the good news reality of Jesus and His grace into the dichotomy, tension and hopeful-collision of this broken and fragile world we see here and now and the unshakable and mysterious reality of the Kingdom we can't see, but no-less know is here - and now.

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