It’s rare for even the most prolific worship leaders and bands to release two original albums in one year. So when Elevation Worship released Wake Up the Wonder last month I was more than a little surprised.
Last January, Elevation released Only King Forever which is one of my favorite worship albums of the year. No only was the album filled with well written worship songs, including “Only King Forever” and “Grace So Glorious,” both of which I introduced to my congregation this year, but Elevation Worship is one of the few worship bands that provides free training resources to help local church musicians learn to play their songs well. Their albums are a literal Godsend for worship pastors like me.
With all that in mind, the release of Wake Up the Wonder made me more than a little excited. So does this new album live up to its recently released predecessor? Read my review below.
Elevation’s Style Preserved
Elevation Worship is known for writing simple, accessible music that appeals to Christians with a more contemporary leaning. They’re definitely on the leading edge of worship music stylistically. This album once again pushes that envelope, incorporating more electronic influences into their rock style. Of course the driving force behind almost every song on the album is the presence of multiple electric guitar parts, but now synths and electronica give a new dimension to the sound. This is clear from the opener “Already Won” where effected guitars and synths lead the way throughout.
Another unique element of Elevation Worship’s style is their inclusion of piano on most of their songs. While many worship bands have moved away from the piano in favor of synth or pad sounds, Elevation incorporates it in a subtle yet effective way.* “Your Promises” is great example of how piano can not just work, but also add substance within a rock style. Unfortunately, there are also times where the piano becomes overbearing on this album. Specifically, the low chord clusters in the beginning of “I Love You Lord” are pretty distracting and take away from the truly meaningful lyrics of this song.
*(For those looking to figure out how to incorporate piano in a more contemporary style, the demo videos in the free resources section of Elevation’s website are invaluable.)
Simple Songwriting…For Better And Worse
Of course the most important part of any worship album is the songwriting. In this case the writers on the album followed well worn conventions. Chord progressions and arrangements are fairly predictable and simple. This makes them easy to learn as a musician, but not especially fun to listen to. By about halfway through the album, the songs start to run together and it ends up hard to differentiate between tracks. The one exception to this on the album is the song “The King is Among Us,” cowritten with Matt Redman. Led by piano throughout, the chord progression and arrangement draws on Urban Gospel influences fused with rock that give it a fresh and intriguing sound (though I really could have done without the auto-tune portion at the end of this 9 minute arrangement). I would have loved to have heard that type of creativity on more of the songs on this album.
Likewise, lyrically the songs don’t offer much in the way of creativity either. The lyrics are mostly composed of short phrases, the majority of which are familiar cliches in worship music. For instance here’s one of the verses in “Ever Glorious”:
You were crowned with my sin and shame
You’re enthroned in the highest praise
You have always been
You will always be
There’s nothing particularly wrong with many of these phrases, but they’re well worn and at this point mostly forgettable. There are a couple of exceptions though, including the song “Great Things (Worth It All)” which is all about praising God for the difficult times in life. The strong personal focus of this songs probably makes it a little awkward to sing as a congregation, but it would make for a great special music piece.
Accessible But Not Particularly Inspiring
A few other songs stand out on this album. The hymn structure of “For the Lamb” is reminiscent of “Grace So Glorious”, but it lacks the depth and power both lyrically and melodically of the latter. The two instrumental pieces, “The First Light” and “The Road”, are interesting, but there’s not enough musical substance to make them true standalone pieces (though they could certainly be used as transition pieces between songs). One of the best songs on the album, “Let Us Adore”, is a beautiful worship reflection perfect for the Advent or Christmas Seasons. Unfortunately, the arrangement on the original recording obscures the beauty of the song instead of enhancing it (I strongly recommend checking out the acoustic version instead).
All in all, Elevation Worship has released another solid worship album with songs that are very accessible for most congregations. But due to the cliche lyrics, uncreative musical progressions, and at times contrived arrangements, this album lacks the inspirational heights that made Only King Forever one of the best worship albums of the year.
Recommended Songs for Worship: “The King is Among Us”, “Let Us Adore”, “Great Things (Worth It All)” (special music)