Release Date: October 5th 2018
Reviewed by: Joshua Andre
- God Only Knows
- Burn The Ships
- Fight On, Fighter
- Need You More
- Never Give Up
- Hold Her
- Pioneers (feat. Moriah & Courtney)
“…I think it is art’s job to poke at things that shouldn’t be poked. It’s provoking questions. I hope (the album) accompanies people on the journey of life, that they can put it on and they can say, ‘Man, I’m not alone in this.’ I think one of the greatest crimes of today is how many lonely people there are in the world — in a world that is so connected. And I think that art helps bridge the gap…” Joel and Luke Smallbone are brothers, are also Australian, and form the Christian pop duo for KING & COUNTRY (and there’s not much more I can say about the duo, without me going on and on for ages- so if you all want to read more about Joel and Luke’s history, you can check out Wikipedia, or my brother’s review of their single “joy.”). With many of their hit songs such as “Busted Heart”, “The Proof Of Your Love”, “Middle Of Your Heart”, “Shoulders”, “Fix My Eyes”, “It’s Not Over Yet”, “O God Forgive Us” and “Priceless” all winning over the hearts of many listeners- believers and non-believers alike; we are met with the most recent album Burn The Ships dropping this past week, on the heels of their successful 2012 and 2014 albums Crave and Run Wild Live Free Love Strong respectively. With the brothers releasing quite a few tracks (is it half the album?) as singles and promotional singles in the weeks leading up the release, as well as 5 music videos; Burn The Ships is highly anticipated, given the fact that it’s four years between studio albums from Joel and Luke. So how does the brilliantly produced track-list rate against other heavyweights such as Lauren Daigle (Look Up Child), Building 429 (Live The Journey) and Phil Wickham (Living Hope) to name a few?
Let me start off by saying that the front half of Burn The Ships is probably the best half of an album that I’ve ever heard in 2018. That’s no mean feat considering the strength of other albums- and goes to show you how much effort the brothers have put in the selection of their most impacting and punchiest tracks near the beginning to draw us listeners in. Though the back half isn’t that as engaging as the front half, Burn The Ships is nonetheless an inspiring and thoroughly enjoyable album that asks questions and is very confronting in terms of issues it brings up. With the record starting off with a seemingly unnecessary 1-minute strings and keys intro called “Introit”, we are next given the lead single “joy.”. one of the most challenging and thought-provoking melodies of the year, the 4-minute pop track driven by electronics and synth abound, asks the question of what are we choosing to believe each day when we wake up. Is it joy or another negative emotion? As we all live in today’s society where the news portrays so many negative aspects that we all can be depressed and down about; “joy.” encourages us to stand firm and not believe the lies that the devil spouts us, but instead cling onto the fact that we can and should be happy because of the fact that we are alive and Jesus has a perfect plan for us better than we could ever imagine. Musically very catchy and extremely danceable, “joy.” sets the tone for the rest of the album as we are introduced to a series of songs that have an overall happy and hopeful atmosphere.
The rest of the album has Joel and Luke tackling a wide array of issues and topics that aren’t often spoken about in modern media. “God Only Knows” tackles the often swept-under-the-rug taboo topic of suicide, and the notion that there is freedom and there is safety in the arms of the God who ‘…only knows what you’ve been through, God only knows what they say about you, God only knows the real you, but there’s a kind of love that God only knows…’. Once again led by electronics, the pop tune is probably one of the most well-received songs the band has recorded ever, as Joel relays to us that “…I think it’s the most dramatic — as far as comments are concerned — response that we’ve ever gotten. People are saying, ‘I’m on the edge, the precipice, and I watched this and this persuaded me.’ If there was a depth and a heart and a deep purpose of the record, this encapsulates it…”. “Amen” is also another standout, as we are presented with a poignant, personal melody about Luke’s baptism in his home church and all of the emotions and feeling that were associated with that. As Luke divulges in a Facebook “Amen” song story video, he was baptised, and then ‘…felt my soul almost coming out of the water like it signified something incredibly powerful to me- even when you talk about the concept of “Burn The Ships,” leaving some of these things behind and you’re coming out as just a different person, not ignoring the past, but different…we were in writing a song and I said, “Guys, I had this moment and I don’t know what it all means but I had this moment and it’s very precious to me, it’s very dear to me.” And I just told them the story and, you know, so basically that whole song is about baptism…’ Personally I have been baptised, and this song has made me think as to whether there was a sudden change in my spirit and soul when I was baptised, like the way Luke was changed. There wasn’t though- for me my faith is deepened every day through the reading of the Word and surrounding myself with other believers and people that will lift me up; yet it is songs like the two aforementioned melodies, that are sure to impact any who listen as we think more and more about our spiritual life and the God who loves us more than anything, who wants us to come alive in Him, from dead to life and from dark to light. While “Fight On, Fighter” is another melody within the first half of the album that is musically out of left field, as we are met with a track written by Joel for his wife Moriah, encouraging her to ‘…fight on, fighter, don’t let anyone steal your fire, fight on, fighter, the Spirit is alive inside ya, yeah…’– and musically it’s inventive and creative also, as we hear a slower tempo in the verses and dance party EDM in the chorus.
The title track is possibly one of the most vulnerable and personal tracks ever recorded from the band. Just like how “Without You” from Run Wild, Live Free, Love Strong delved into Luke’s sickness, “Burn The Ships” dives deep and details another intense medical issue- and that is Luke’s wife Courtney’s addiction to pills while she was pregnant in 2014. As said by Luke in a band newsletter that we received by email, “…The song was conceived in a moment when my wife Courtney was battling fear, shame, and addiction. While pregnant with our son Phoenix, she was taking an anti-nausea drug and became addicted to it. We went on this pilgrimage of figuring out how to overcome this – she went to outpatient therapy, but for the next year was still taking Benadryl and Tylenol PM. I came home one day and found her crying. She said, ‘I’m flushing all the pills. I want to be fully present for my life, not numb anymore. I’m not going back. It’s a new day.’ From that moment on she has no longer been bound by the shame and guilt from her past…”. It’s a surreal and powerful testimony, and one that is nothing short of miraculous and remarkable when you dwell upon the fact that God rescued Courtney from death during that time. Though I myself haven’t had a ‘burn the ship’ moment- a moment in my life that I abandoned something so drastic and something so consuming that wasn’t God and instead focused everything on Him; what the title track does remind us is that none of us are too far gone for Jesus. If you want to, whatever you’re doing doesn’t have to be what you’re doing for the rest of your life. You can turn around and burn the ship behind you, never looking back. Jesus has set you free, and all you have to do is believe into that, and take that sentiment for yourself, no matter how dire your situation is.
Just as how the first half of Burn The Ships is stellar, so too is the back half, but not in a grandiose or big way, but more in a subtle and under-the-radar type of way. “Control”, though not the same track as from Tenth Avenue North, is just as compelling and hopeful, as we hear an acoustic guitar led reflective ballad where both Joel and Luke reiterate that we need to give up control to our Creator and our Father, as only He knows the best for us- what we should strive for is for Jesus to make ‘…my eyes Your eyes, my ears Your ears, my tears Your tears, and won’t you make my hands Your hands, my feet Your feet, my dreams Your dreams…’; while the piano led structure-less “Need You More”, co-written with Joel and Luke’s sister Rebecca St. James, is as emotional a song as you can hear this year, as Luke fervently sings for his son Leo, who could have died within the first couple of months of his life- the song was birthed on many trips to and from the hospital.
The tempo moves up a notch with the impacting poppy “Never Give Up”, also co-written with Rebecca St. James, inspiring us to always work through the pain and keep our eyes fixed on the prize up ahead, not ever giving up- even though the chorus is repetitive, it’s extremely catchy. “Hold Her” is the last of the three songs written with Rebecca, as for KING & COUNTRY have created a timeless anthem for any loved one when we’re not there to comfort them or even just be with them. Written for the duo’s wives Moriah and Courtney in response to Joel and Luke not being at home and needing God to hold and comfort their wives, “Hold Her” extends to anyone, not just spouses, as we remember that God is the God of comfort and the God of refuge. Whenever we feel like we can’t go one, but our friends and family are elsewhere, God is there, and this song should help us remember this fact and bring us peace. The final track, with both Moriah and Courtney singing as guest vocals, is “Pioneers”, and is a fitting end to a near-flawless album, as all four vocalists sing about the sanctity of marriage and being a pioneer for a Biblical tradition that has somewhat gone out of fashion these days, as we remember that marriage takes work and it is in the hard times when the couple soldiers on that we see resilience on display and faith in Jesus deepen. Filled with plenty of imagery and motifs, and filmed against a serene backdrop of a picturesque landscape in Iceland, for KING & COUNTRY once again remind us of how much of an influence they have in the music industry today, in both the mainstream and the Christian music media.
“…there’s a lot going on. The amount of information that we’re absorbing in 2018 is crazy. It’s crazy. There’s a lot of questions in the record as a whole, and even in that song ‘joy.’ How do we keep finding our way forward? There’s another road and it leads to joy and the idea that’s more that unites us than divides us…it all kind of makes sense when these songs become other people’s songs. We’ve exposed our stories from our hearts. And the reason why we do that is because we believe that other people are going through similar things…” Though not as compelling as Run Wild, Live Free, Love Strong (which will always be my favourite album from Joel and Luke!), for KING & COUNTRY’s Burn The Ships is nonetheless captivating and powerful as the duo tackle plenty of issues that not that many CCM artists would ever touch upon in their whole career. Four years is a long time between releases, however I reckon Burn The Ships is worth the wait, despite a few mishaps such as “Introit” and the repetitive “Never Give Up”. Nitpicks aside, Joel and Luke should be proud of themselves, and I cannot wait for studio album #4! Now, I reckon it’s time for a Rebecca St. James comeback album…who’s with me?
4 songs to listen to: joy., Amen, Burn The Ships, Pioneers
RIYL: Andrew Peterson, Tenth Avenue North, Kevin Max, Newsboys, Crowder, Coldplay, Daughtry, Switchfoot, Jars Of Clay