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Phil Wickham’s “Children of God” Invokes Praise Through Pop

Synopsis:

Apart from being a lengthy album with a total count of 12 tracks each averaging 4-5 minutes, this album struck me as… expected, I guess? What I mean is that there is some change, as far as having new songs go, but there is also a lot of standardization about this album with it having mostly up-tempo pop beats, accompanied by repetitive lyrics, accompanied by pop synth melodies, accompanied by lightly distorted guitar. Not that there is anything particularly wrong with up-tempo pop songs, mind you. And I think that what Phil Wickham is doing through his music is very biblical, in that he is trying to reach out to the younger generation through his music. Let’s be honest, this album and many others like it are a very good example of how the youth of the world can be drawn to Christ through pop music but with scriptural lyrics. Although, we have go back to the bible to see if such worship and praise is “okayed” by God. Ecclesiastes 1:3-8 is very clear that there is a time and a place for everything. That there is a time and a place for this kind of music, but that we shouldn’t only use this music (or any other genre) to reach out to the world.

Though, it would seem appropriate to clarify that praise can be a part of worship, but worship is separate from praise. Praise is easy. Worship is difficult. As worship cuts through to the center of who we really are, and goes well beyond praise, which praise is nothing more than a simple “thank you”.To truly worship God we must let go of ourselves through a genuinely deep understanding and a genuine acceptance of who we are in light of who God is, and not of just what He’s done. Which with songs on this album like “Doxology/Amen”, Phil Wickham captures in a very refreshing but nuanced manner.

So to conclude, praise is uninhibited, but respectful. Worship is surrender, but not on our terms. Look at the words and life of Christ, and you will see that worship is more than just an idea, or a feeling. Worship is a lifestyle, and Christ is seeking after those who would treat worship of the true God as such (John 4:23).

Songs on Album:

1.“Doxology/Amen”
Not only a wonderful rendition of a classic hymn, but a wonderful tune to kick off the album… minus the repetitive vocal trills. Going into this album, I was unsure if I would like it, but after listening to this track, I couldn’t wait to hear more. Phil Wickham captured the essence of how traditional hymns can, and in some cases, should, be modernized.

2. “Better than Life”
This song reminded me of an 80s pop ballad with having a consistent and solid drum beat, pulsing keyboard, and catchy chorus distorted guitar. An image of a crowd pulsating to the line “Your love is better than life, better than life, better than life!” of this song, with a light show as the backdrop to the stage is what came to mind when I first listened to this song.

3. “Your Love Awakens Me”
Again, this song reminded me of a throwback to an 80s pop ballad. Pounding drums, but with more emphasis on a slower, two handed, 16th note hi hat beat with a nice back beat on the snare. Pulsing keyboard that kind of reminded me of a japanese ongaku dance, only slower and more mellow. It’s a three and half minute song of nothing but pure bliss.

4. “The Secret Place (feat. Madison Cunningham)”
Not my “cup of tea”, but was very attention getting with the autotuned vocals at the very beginning of the song, and with the interesting synth track throughout the song. It seemed like there were parts of this song that could have been used to describe any sort of love based relationship with lines like, “Better is a moment that is spent with you, than a million other days spent away”. And because of that, this song was… “okay”.

5. “Wide Awake”
Everything you could ever need or expect for a hit club ballad, plus the fact that this song speaks so passionately on desiring a closeness to the heart of God made this song really stand out, in it’s own right.

6. “My All in All”
This song couldn’t have been done better what with the slowly rising volume and intensity that peaks at the chorus and then drops down only to peak at the second repetition of the chorus only to end with an intense mix of synth, guitar, and drums with the repetition of the line “[Jesus] You are my all in all”. The mellowness of the instruments, and the sort of “browsing” tempo makes this a very subtle but enjoyable tune.

7. “Starmaker (High Above the Earth)”
Listening to this song, it seemed that it was meant as a very personal love letter from Wickham to God. As was stated, lyrical content is paramount in any Christian song, and the richness of theology in this song was very apparent. Not to mention the single piano chords were a very good compliment to the subtle and simple drum beat. Overall, I really liked this song and am thankful to God because of it. Well done, Mr. Wickham.

8. “Children of God”
The title track of this album was kind of… bleh, I guess. Not that it was a bad sounding song or lyrically heretical or anything. I mean, the musical aspect didn’t seem to have much difference from most of the other songs. Although, the lyrics did captivate in a very good light the nature of being a follower of Christ.

9. “Stand in Awe”
And that’s just what this song brought my heart and mind to do before Almighty God; stand in awe. Again, the instruments were not that much different than most of the rest of the album, apart from the drum track which had some very interesting fills and rhythms. Most notable was the fact that song seemed to end too soon, even though it has a run time of 4:05, because of the repetitive lyrics that just felt like filler after the first couple of minutes. Not my favorite, but I have heard worse from better known artists.

10. “Body, Mind, & Soul”
Driving beat with interesting hi hat fills as the song ends, loud guitar that switches up its chord structure as the song progresses, progressive synth that stays pretty safe throughout the song, soaring vocals, and simple lyrics is pretty much this song in a nutshell. It’s good, but again, sounds similar to every other song before it.

11. “As it is in Heaven”
A nice break from the repetitive nature of the few songs prior, with its groovy but relaxed drum beat, vocals that seem to push through the rest, and throwback to an 80s synth and guitar part.

12. “Spirit of God”
Somber, but not sad. Joyful, but not fake. Thankful, but not hollow. I really liked the warmth and smoothness of the drums, but was, again, reminded me of an 80s pop ballad with the guitar and synth tracks. Wickham’s vocals didn’t seem that noticeably different from any other song on the album, but they weren’t exactly terrible. His vocal range doesn’t seem to change all that much, but that doesn’t mean that he is a bad singer, necessarily. Overall this was a pleasant track to end the album on.

Positives:

“Doxology/Amen”, “Starmaker”, and “Stand in Awe” jumped out at me as having the best lyrical content. Wickham’s handling of the joy of life in Christ as expressed in those three songs was very well done, thus placing him in a category that very few modern Christian musicians are a part of. Overall, the positives of this album are few and far between, but when you find them, they greatly overshadow the negatives and are, therefore, well worth finding.

Negatives:

Instrumentally, two things: 1. Every other song seemed to sound the exact same as the one before it (the songs became increasingly repetitive as the album progressed), and 2. There didn’t seem to be any trace of a bass track in any of the songs. Which I wasn’t expecting, but wasn’t very excited about, either. Having a noticeable bass track wouldn’t have added too much, but it would have been nice to have gotten a feel for the… pulse of the music, rather than just the beat.

Regardless that I really liked a few tracks on this album, as well as its general perkiness, the one lingering thought in my mind while listening to this album was, “What is the point of making any person (saved or not) feel a relationship with God; what’s the point of popularizing that which is naturally unpopular?” Christianity was never meant to be popular (1 Corinthians 1:27), so why try to make it so? It just doesn’t seem to make sense to write a new album about the joy of life in Christ (which seemed to be the whole point of this album) when you use the same instruments, similar chorus hooks, and similar bridge lines, that worldly musicians coined, and still use, to get people worked up into a type of absent minded feeling, over and over and over again.

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