Empires by Hillsong United

unitedHillsong United is responsible for Oceans, Hosanna, Lead Me To the Cross, The Stand, The Desert Song and others that have for some defined the last decade or so of Christian Worship. The question is how does Empires stack up as a worship album? For me, I’m not sure.

Hillsong United
May 2015

In my opinion, this album is a mixed bag of a few really good songs and a lot of mediocre songs that don’t resonate for various reasons, like, some low key performances, issues with lyrics, and a performance focus.

Many of the songs fail to find crescendo after build up for several minutes of slow, deliberate and low key singing. Very introspective but after a long time – and many songs on this album are very long – they fail to pay off. The music tends to build, but the singing really doesn’t. Other songs are excellent in this regard. Touch the Sky, Prince of Peace, and Even When It Hurts all build and pay off and are the best songs on the album in my opinion.

Many songs have complicated, non-rhyming verses. I’m all for this for songs I listen to. But for songs I want to sing along to, I prefer ones I can anticipate the next verse and learn after hearing only a few times. See Prince of Peace for a very popular song on this album that exemplifies this. It’s gonna take a while to learn all the words and even more if you try to translate this for church service. This is a problem for several songs: they are catchy but ultimately not something easily translatable to a church setting in my opinion because they are too heavily produced with electronic noise to make the jump to Sundays. Great performances, but tough to sing along to and play along with. We’ll end up with acoustic versions if at all. (For an example of what I mean, search YouTube for “Touch the Sky acoustic.” It was recorded in Nashville and has several plugged in electronic devices needed to give the song its produced sound. It’s not acoustic at all.)

One song SHOULD be the big single but may fail to find a place in church: Even When It Hurts (Praise Song). This is a song that has a message that fits very well in American churches, a sort of updated worshipful Praise You in the Storm. It builds to a satisfying conclusion. It has a great beat. The words are easy to learn and fun to sing. And it cusses. Yeah, it cusses on the album version. Most of us won’t have an issue with this in our cars or homes singing along, but in a church service we tend to be more conservative than when we step outside the walls.

(Check it out here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d8tvOKMp5u4 – the live version is much easier to listen to than the album version, which has a lot more electronic noise that can at times make it hard to hear. The live version is also a clean version. Yeah, a clean version of a worship song. I didn’t think I’d ever say that.)

Every album has hits and misses. This one has several hits and time will tell if any of them rise to the level of the great United songs.

@ashertopia is the Managing Editor of BookGateway.com. He is an avid reader and a lifetime learner. His favorite genres include science fiction, fantasy, as well as theology and Christian living. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people.

This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.