It all sounds the same.
There’s actually a deeper, most specific message in that short complaint. Dig a little deeper into what drives a negative response to most mainstream Christian music and you’ll probably find something more nuanced. It’s not necessarily an issue that Christian radio all sounds the same. (Most of us know that typical radio is and forever will be fairly tame and similar). No, when someone complains about the drab nature of music of faith, they are often saying that there are no risks. In our day and age, our phones and computers and mp3 players hold such a varied collection of music, that we’re completely comfortable with those artists that bravely struggle for something fresh. In fact, for many of us, failure isn’t near as terrible as resignation.
Charlie Hall’s new record, The Rising, has all the good risk you could want. Let’s break it down…
There are plenty of Charlie Hall staples – big, distorted-guitar overdriven anthems and cool, ethereal acoustic ballads. But there’s also some new explorations for the Charlie and crew. First off, synth has been promoted from softly-mixed background noise to much more important riffing. Parts that might otherwise be designated for the guitar player are given new life with cool, ringing synth and keyboard textures. There’s also stylistic challenge here…the rock songs aren’t quite so soft/loud/soft/loud/soft/loud on The Rising. The songs sound more like a band playing music than a tame remix album (which a lot of modern worship projects are becoming these days.) There’s also more punk rock, folk and singer-songwriter influence on the record.
There are quite a few standouts: “Rising,” is nice mix of straight-ahead rock and techno-flavored furor; “Lamp” is a fantastic prayer that retains musical subtlety and allows the lyrical clarity to take center stage. “Ransom” is a strange country-tinged rocker that perfectly expresses the joy and seriousness of God’s deliverance. The majority of the songs do seem ambitious…Charlie Hall hasn’t phoned it in.
Make no mistake – Charlie Hall writes worship songs. There are no story songs here. These songs are obviously written for the church as they endeavor to explain/understand/relish what God’s good grace has done for our fallen states. That being said, these songs aren’t accessible.
Once again, we’re bumping up against the fact that “worship” records are no longer a guaranteed resource for churches. These songs require a band wherein each member is abundantly gifted. (There’s no trusting the drummer to make it cool…everybody would have to step up.) Your typical praise team could probably utilize some of these if worship leaders/music directors were willing to normalize them a bit. “Younger” churches that might be more comfortable with new wave or ambient influences would probably dig the tunes.
The Rising is one of those records that I really enjoy on a personal level but can’t necessarily use as a worship leader. Which is fine. Understanding that has allowed me to dig into this record and just appreciate the vision and execution of these themes. I think Charlie has made a great album here. If you dig folks who take risks and make bold, love-it-or-hate-it music, check out Charlie Hall’s The Rising.