Colombia Records/Sony Music Entertainment
Release Date: October 27th 2017
Reviewed by: Jonathan Andre
- Perfect For You
- Whole Heart
- Keep Up
- Broken Glass
- Loose Ends
- Fooling You
- Good Life
Everyone knows ‘Fight Song’. Even if you haven’t heard of Rachel Platten (the writer of said song) before, everyone would know the song, which, in my opinion, ought to be one of the most influential songs I’ve heard of throughout the last decade or so of music. I’m serious. Since hearing this song in 2015 (May I think, when it released), I have continued to listen to Rachel’s music. And while on the whole, 365 Days of Inspiring Media delves mostly into music of an inspirational/CCM nature, in early 2016, we reviewed her debut album, (which contained ‘Fight Song’, ‘Stand By You’- another single, among others). The album was heartfelt, hopeful, honest, raw, at times encouraging and at others just full of pain and sorrow. It was an album that could relate to a variety of different people from various walks of life. And so even though Rachel came a little late to the party of the music industry and creating music overall (she has been making music and creating independently for 13 years prior to her 2016 Wildfire release), it is her sense of encouragement and hope through music that is taking the mainstream industry by storm. And sometimes, maybe God uses the different, the quirky, the things from left field, the moments that we don’t quite expect, to speak to us the most, about ourselves and Himself. And this is certainly true when it comes to Wildfire and Rachel’s music in general.
Fast forward a year and 10 months, and Rachel’s second album Waves released in October 2017. Yes, I myself am a year too late to the party- I’m reviewing this album in 2018 instead of 2017, yet, even so, such an album like Waves deservingly needed to be mulled over for such a thorough and well-thought out review to be even written, and given the year to reflect upon such a release, I am to assert what I initially did, that Rachel and her music is perhaps some of the most underrated in the last few years. Aside from ‘Fight Song’ (and to some lesser extent ‘Stand By You’), Rachel and her music is barely even noticed, which is a shame. Nevertheless, Rachel powers on, delivering an album full of hope and heart, as Waves, if it was reviewed and enjoyed by myself in 2017 (instead of here in November 2018), then the album would’ve made my top albums of 2017, for sure. Still, this is a must-have for anyone who has been a fan of Rachel previously, or if you enjoy pop music with an inspirational edge, a la Cimorelli or Tori Kelly!
Released in August 2017 as her first single from the album, ‘Broken Glass’ is an empowerment song if ever there was any. Sure it doesn’t say anything about Jesus or God or remind us all about the power that we have when we call upon Jesus and allow Him to move in areas of our life where He believes we need refining in, however, what ‘Broken Glass’ does remind us of is this- that knowing our limitations and being aware of what we can and can’t do, we can accomplish whatever is set upon our hearts to undertake during this life that we lead, regardless of whatever is said to us or even about us. As what Rachel says about the song herself, ‘…feeling suffocated by limitations, and striving to overcome them, is not just a struggle we face alone. We feel this collectively, too, and it’s bigger than any single one of us. So is our ability to connect, unite, work together, cheer each other on, and ultimately, break through. That’s what makes us so powerful and unshakable…“Broken Glass” is for all the people who are facing adversity and willing themselves to see the other side of it. It’s for the women who will not be silenced, who are changing the landscape of our country and world without fear. It’s for the young girls out there, dancing without a care in the world and embracing their truest, most authentic selves. We don’t just shatter ceilings. We dance on the broken glass. Here we go…’ This is an empowerment melody, a song to declare when adversity and despair seems like the most logical way to go. It is a reminder that coming together and fighting through the difficulties as a unit is far more effective than flying solo (which we as humans so often choose, because, who really, really understands our problems anyway?). Delving into the realm of Caribbean-style music with this song, with eerie piano riffs and synths, she declares through the song that she’s not waiting for permission to break through the stereotypes and the stigma surrounding achieving goals, but rather, she’s going to pursue such dreams herself, on her own terms. The song is a timely reminder to take action proactively about one’s own future, that if we leave things and wait for the ‘right’ time, we’d be waiting for the better part of our lives!
Throughout the rest of the album, we see Rachel unveil to us moments of vulnerability and encouragement, hope and just plain frustration, as we see themes relevant to our society come to the fore in the remaining 12 songs on Waves. ‘Perfect For You’, the other pre-release song that was released prior to the official release of Waves, starts off as a light percussion melody, as Rachel invites us to view inside her world of frustration, if you will. The song itself is a response to all the pressure of perfection I’m sure she was receiving after her powerful radio hit ‘Fight Song’- after that song blew up, expectations were high. ‘Perfect for You’ just states that yes, the stakes are high, but in reality, she can’t be perfect, for no-one. The insecurity that often comes when there are expectations placed upon you either by people around you or yourself, can be detrimental, and this opening song is a stand against pressuring situations like chasing after perfection, for the sake of pleasing the other. ‘Whole Heart’ follows as track #2, and enters with xylophones and eerily unique vocal reverbs as Rachel takes on the theme of opening up to your significant other, giving them your whole heart, knowing full well that they won’t look upon you with judgement or condemnation, but rather, they will love you at your current state, or even at your best or worst. ‘Whole Heart’ is a challenge, for us as listeners to find people around ourselves that will love us for as we are- no questions asked, but also love us too much to allow us to stay that way, as we strive to consciously and consistently become a better version of ourselves each day!
‘Collide’ is a track that I’m sure was meant for couples (or at least fiancés) when Rachel was writing it, with its message being one of being fully known and loved by your partner (to the point of not wanting to turn the lights off when being intimate), and knowing that having the light on means to have nowhere to run or hide, and that’s ok; while ‘Keep Up’ delivers an honest and real portrayal of emotions and feelings when someone is in a relationship that is rocky. While the song isn’t really a happy one- cue the lyrics ‘…keep up cause you’re always breaking down and I’m fed up and I really need someone who lifts me up, feels like I’m the only one who’s trying…’, Rachel nevertheless invites us all to be real about our relationships as well, as we express our feelings of hurt, anger, disappointment, knowing that out of such emotions, there’ll hopefully come healing, perspective, happiness, hope, encouragement and a greater sense of empathy to others in such dire circumstances. ‘Shivers’ is perhaps the only mis-step on the album, as this three minute attempt of a love song to her husband seems a little short, rushed and even the lyrics make it a rather generic track- the song itself talks about how Rachel’s significant other (or the persona’s, whomever they may be) gives her shivers…but beyond that? Being in love and being loved fully and comprehensively is more than just the physical ‘shivers’ we may long for as humans, yet this song fails to expound upon this. People may connect with this song…but it’s not me!
‘Loose Ends’ is a relationship song where the personas depicted are in a failed one (sort of like a sequel to Taylor Swift’s ‘Bad Blood’), as Rachel declares in the melody for the other person to not bother tying up loose ends with her because ‘…I know what you’re doing, and your sorry’s are too little and too late, so go fool all your new friends who don’t know where you’ve been…’ It’s at times sad, lonely and even depressing, but if this song can hopefully wake people up from abusive or even parasitic relationships, then ‘Loose Ends’ has fulfilled its purpose. ‘Labels’ offers to us the questions of whether we as a country, the world or even we as individuals label things to a fault- so why should we even label things in the first place? For to label something or someone means to judge, means that there are limits and confines around the thing in question, meaning there is something wrong with the labels we place on the thing we analyse, if the thing we analyse goes outside of the label, for whatever reason. In essence, a song like ‘Labels’ is humbling, as we realise that with labels comes judging, and that as a believer in Christ, I am reminded, often on a daily basis, that judgement is God’s alone, and that it is my responsibility to love without reservation or questioning.
If ever there is a song about unconditional love, ‘Loveback’ is it, as Rachel depicts a love that is very, very Christ-like, except that she’s describing the love between two people who are in a committed relationship. Yes, the song is about a love between two humans. Yet looking deeper, the song can also be a reminder of the love Christ has for us as humans, as we’re reminded through ‘Loveback’ that as much as we see love shown in this melody between two people, God’s love for us is so much more, because creation is made in the creator’s image! ‘Hands’ is a very emotional track about the loss of Rachel’s grandmother, and the reflection Rachel has of how effortlessly and tirelessly Rachel’s grandmother felt love for her whole family (a mainstream version of Newsboys’ ‘That Home’), while ‘Good Life’ is a song about appreciation, and how Rachel doesn’t take for granted the opportunity she has to make music and live the good life by influencing and impacting the people around her in the smallest aspects of life.
‘Fooling You’ is again delving into unconditional love, and even though this song (or even this album for that matter) is not Christian one (or dare I say, a ‘religious’ one), the song still speaks, and reminds us all that God loves us and sees us at our worst, and still stays. Even if we believe on the good and bad days that we’re fooling Him by pretending, and living life contrary to what we even declare, He still sticks by us, reminding us that unconditional love is not based upon what we do or don’t do, it just is. ‘Grace’ continues this ‘religious’ theme (intentionally or not!), as Rachel unveils dare I say her best song on the album till last. A song that vulnerably unveils the shortcomings of Rachel as a person, we are met with a plea and a prayer, of Rachel asking for grace ‘…to step inside my mind and help me be a better person, release the better version of me cause right now, what I wanna do is scream it, I need grace cause I’m running low on faith and I really wanna change my heart cause I’m falling apart these days and what I really need is grace…’ If these above lyrics aren’t a prayer (whether Rachel knows it or not!), then I don’t know what is. Vulnerable and cathartic, hopeful and encouraging, ‘Grace’ is a moment when we realise we can’t do life alone, and we need the grace of God to come in and cover the mistakes that are, in our minds, too big for us to handle!
‘…it wasn’t such a singles market before. It was about albums. Now I don’t know that people even know necessarily the artist connected to the song. So that’s changed a lot; it’s way more about the song than about the artist. I also think the way we have to keep up with social media as artists changes how we write and how we view ourselves. Before, you didn’t have to be so focused on how you were perceived every minute. Our Instagram feeds have become highlight reels that are sometimes a lie. It’s pretty exhausting. Honestly, it can be at the expense of your art. This year I deleted all the social media from my phone while I was in the studio. I watched my numbers on social media drop because of it. That was scary, but I was like, that doesn’t matter. My job right now is to create the realest, most true thing that I can…’ Authenticity and vulnerability can be a hard thing to champion and associate with in an industry that seemingly values sales and image more than what is actually being said. Herein lies the issue- that artists like Rachel Platten can be a rare breed, with is a little sad. Nevertheless, her above quote continues to give testament to the hope and poignancy that this album is oozing with, as we’re reminded to make ‘waves’ ourselves wherever we are, and even if we’re the only one standing one way when everyone else is another, we can and ought to be assured that Christ stands with us also. This album isn’t for the faint-hearted, nor is it for people who just want to listen to a bouncy pop album. This album is deep, especially songs like ‘Fooling You’ and the album ender ‘Grace’- easily some of my favourite Rachel Platten songs ever! Rachel’s heart to make music that makes listeners feel emotions and connects them together in hope, love and encouragement is evident in the music she makes, Waves included. And though there seems to be a quick turnaround between her debut album and this one, the messages and musical arrangements reflect it’s anything but. Much thought and care, emotion and articulateness has been invested in a project like Waves, and this collection of 13 songs is a result. Well done Rachel for such a powerful and emotive album, one that will hopefully stir us up to take action and live our lives with a purpose and zeal, rather than passively every day!
5 songs to listen to: Grace, Broken Glass, Fooling You, Hands, Loveback
RIYL: Britt Nicole, 1GN, Carmen Justice, Blanca, Cimorelli, Tori Kelly, Taylor Swift