Release Date: October 6th 2017
Reviewed by: Jonathan Andre
- What A Beautiful Name (Hillsong Worship)
- Chain Breaker (Zach Williams)
- Home (Chris Tomlin)
- Oh My Soul (Casting Crowns)
- Thy Will (Hillary Scott & The Scott Family)
- The Lion And The Lamb (Big Daddy Weave)
- Broken Things (Matthew West)
- I Have This Hope (Tenth Avenue North)
- King Of The World (Natalie Grant)
- Great Are You Lord (One Sonic Society)
- Word Of Life (Jeremy Camp)
- Let Your Glory Fall (Kari Jobe)
- Your Love Defends Me (Matt Maher)
- Giants Fall (Francesca Battistelli)
- Come To The Table (Sidewalk Prophets)
- Now (Mallary Hope) BONUS
- Revival [Radio Mix] (Third Day) BONUS DELUXE
- Glorious Day [Radio Version] (Passion – feat. Kristian Stanfill) BONUS DELUXE
- Whole Heart (Brandon Heath) BONUS DELUXE
- Priceless (for KING & COUNTRY)
- Stars (Skillet)
- Love Broke Thru (TobyMac)
- Testify (NEEDTOBREATHE)
- Come Alive [Dry Bones] (Lauren Daigle)
- Eye Of The Storm [Radio Mix] (Ryan Stevenson – feat. GabeReal)
- Wonder (Hillsong UNITED)
- Hills And Valleys (Tauren Wells)
- Unfinished (Mandisa)
- Rise (Danny Gokey)
- Beloved (Jordan Feliz)
- Magnify (We Are Messengers)
- Through Your Eyes (Britt Nicole)
- Forgiven (Crowder)
- O Come To The Altar (Elevation Worship)
- Tremble [Radio Mix] (Mosaic MSC) BONUS
- The Cross Has The Final Word (Cody Carnes) BONUS
- Throne Room (Kim Walker-Smith) BONUS DELUXE
- Ever Be (Aaron Shust) BONUS DELUXE
- All That Matters (Colton Dixon) BONUS DELUXE
You can never really make a ‘perfect’ WOW Hits album right? Not with 2 discs. That’s what I’ve figured out over the years. Some artists would miss out completely. Some selections would either be too dated, too new, or even just plain mind boggling. While other tracks, artists and even labels are shunned altogether. Whatever the case may be, it’s always fun to predict what songs would be chosen as being within the 36 of the ‘best’ songs that have charted on Christian radio over that year (and the year previous). So when WOW Hits 2017 released last year, up until now, we as a site have fervently discussed our own fantasy WOW Hits 2018…until now that is. WOW hasn’t really officially released the track listing for WOW Hits 2018, but somehow, amazon.com got wind of the track listing and decided to unveil it instead. Maybe in a few days WOW and their facebook page would officially release the tracklisting right?
Each year Capitol Christian Music Group, Word Label Group and Provident Label Group come together to deliver a supposed ‘must-have’ album, and one that’ll always have its critics and compliments, depending on who you’d ask. I tend to be excited, or at least intrigued, whenever the song list for a WOW Hits album releases. WOW has been in circulation since 1995, rivalling its mainstream counterpart NOW That Is What I Call Music!, and while the WOW brand briefly decided to abandon its yearly compilation to move towards a three year album with WOW Hits 1, it quickly abandoned that project too, and released WOW Hits 2009 that year as well. Why they did something like that, I’m not sure. And as I glance through this year’s WOW Hits, I stop to wonder. Maybe if they did stick with the original plan, and released WOW Hits 2 after WOW Hits 1 like it was originally planned, maybe, just maybe, songs would be more timely, and the album would be more about actual hits throughout the year than years before, artists would be recognised that were previously overlooked, and the same artists that have been on WOW albums for an eternity would make way for newer lesser known artists.
I know I can sound ominous when I state that the WOW brand has been always a step or two behind what current radio hits are at the moment, but when I look at this year’s song list for WOW Hits 2018, supposedly the best 39 tracks of this year, I smile to myself and think- sure this album is a great album, and looking at songs alone and keeping the tag of ‘the best songs of the year’ out of my mind, I’d give this album a 4.5/5. Yet with the claim that this album is the one-stop album for any Christian music fan, the album sadly falls short, just a tad. With the influx of new artists and the departure of others, the question of whether WOW gives us relevant hits and timely songs to serve each listeners genre preference is a matter of opinion. Nevertheless, WOW Hits 2018 does make a solid attempt at delivering some of Christian music’s powerful songs and hits, even if a fair few of them aren’t as timely as even I would like. While I could accept that WOW Hits don’t expose certain artists to the compilation because of favouritism of others, WOW Hits 2018 sadly feels like WOW Hits 2017/18, which is unfortunate. A WOW Hits list won’t serve everyone’s genre preference, and while this year’s double disc collection of WOW Hits is on par with my personal standout albums WOW Hits 2015, WOW Hits 2007 and WOW Hits 2005; WOW has a long way to go if they want to call themselves a compilation that gives us the best songs Christian music has to offer.
A quick snapshot of Disc 1 of this new compilation show us that WOW is moving into the right direction when it comes to current radio hits. Disc 1 of WOW Hits 2018 is ever increasingly becoming more worshipful, as opposed to the AC/pop atmosphere of WOW albums previously. Chris Tomlin’s ‘Home’ reminds us all about our heavenly home and the peace and contentment we feel knowing that we will be with our Father, while Hillsong Worship has its first WOW Hits inclusion with ‘What a Beautiful Name’, arguably the group’s most popular single ever since ‘Mighty To Save’ back in the day. Current worship hits ‘Let Your Glory Fall’ (Kari Jobe), ‘Your Love Defends Me’ (Matt Maher) and ‘Glorious Day’ (Kristian Stanfill) are all present on this compilation while the brand new song ‘Word of Life’ from Jeremy Camp (featured on his upcoming October 2017 album The Answer) is a big bolter. The song, speaking about how God is our life source as we breathe Him in and out each day, was sadly a little short and a little bit cliché lyrically, but…WOW loves Jeremy Camp right?
It could be forgiven to think that, upon seeing that ‘Just Be Held’ from Thrive was on WOW Hits 2017, Casting Crowns would be present on this compilation with ‘One Step Away’, the first radio single from The Very Next Thing…yet, WOW finally got something right. Current radio single ‘Oh My Soul’, inspired by lead singer Mark Hall’s cancer battle and his wrestling and thoughts with God throughout his journey, is welcomed on Disc 1…as it should. Current radio single ‘Come To the Table’ from quintet Sidewalk Prophets made a surprise inclusion as well (considering that most of this year the single was ‘Impossible’), as the song speaks about how all are welcome at the table of God, while the piano prominent ‘I Have This Hope’, quite possibly the most emotive and poignant track Tenth Avenue North have created, ever, was a certain shoe-in on WOW Hits 2018, as is ‘Broken Things’, the first radio single from Matthew West, on his new album All In releasing September 22nd. Both these songs speak of how God leads us through fire and flood as He teaches us more about Himself and ourselves through tragedy and adversity (‘I Have This Hope’), and that even God can use broken ‘things’ like us, people hardest hit through tragedy, to bring forth encouragement to those who may need it, healing ourselves in the process as we’re humble enough to receive from the Lord whatever He longs for us to undertake in our own ‘broken’ yet vulnerable and humble states (‘Broken Things’).
With more of a Pop/Rock focus compared to the AC/Insp Disc 1, Disc 2 continues to bring the year’s highlights, from the synth/worshipful ‘Stars’, a declaratory anthem that God, the maker of the stars, can calm the stormy hearts inside of us, from rock crossover band Skillet, to Danny Gokey’s radio friendly ‘Rise’ (an encouragement to rise out of our own personal pits, knowing that Christ is within us placing people and circumstances in our path so that we can learn from such experiences), ‘Beloved’, a life-affirming identity building anthem from overnight success Jordan Feliz, and ‘Magnify’ from Irish band We Are Messengers, and how we are presented with a prayer, that the Lord take away everything that is not of Him til only He remains, to break us down so that we can magnify Him and no one else (though ‘Point to You’ is the current radio single from the group, ‘Magnify’ was on radio for a longer period of time, hence a more realistic option for WOW Hits 2018…maybe ‘Point to You’ for WOW Hits 2019?). ‘All That Matters’, the current radio single from American Idol alum Colton Dixon, reminds us all that it is indeed the Lord and only the Lord who ought to matter to us- our minds need to grasp the truth that we, as insignificant and miniscule as we are, matter enough to the Lord so that He even came down and made Himself God incarnate, to die on a cross for us to come back to Him; while ex-Royal Tailor frontman Tauren Wells enriches our lives with his own heartfelt single ‘Hills and Valleys’, a look of how our outlook on life and God ought not to change whether we are in the peaks or the lows of life, and how He is God of the hills- the high moments, the up times where nothing can go wrong, and is also God of the valleys, the low moments when all we just want to do is hide ourselves away from the world.
Southern Rockers NEEDTOBREATHE show us arguably their most worshipful song of their career after “Multiplied”, ‘TESTIFY’, while Ryan Stevenson, never on a WOW Hits before, makes a surprise addition with “Eye of the Storm’ feat. DiverseCity band member GabeReal, and though a bit dated (the song would’ve been more timely on WOW Hits 2017 than on WOW Hits 2018), the song nevertheless deserves recognition, encouraging the listener that even during the darkest of valleys, we can find peace and comfort in Jesus, knowing that ‘…in the eye of the storm, You remain in control, in the middle of the war, You guard my soul, You alone are my anchor when my sails are torn, Your love surrounds me in the eye of the storm…’ UNITED dropped their surprise album WONDER in June of this year, and the title track, released to radio a month prior, makes a surprise addition on WOW Hits 2018 as the track speaks of how we as Christians ought to see the wonder of God is every moment of life, whilst the powers at be bypass radio singles ‘Run Devil Run’ and ‘My Victory’ and fittingly place the timely ‘Forgiven’ from Crowder on WOW Hits 2018 (a song that speaks about forgiveness and more specifically, God forgiving us even when we don’t deserve it).
Both Mandisa and Britt Nicole, absent for a few WOW Hits albums these last few years, are back with ‘Unfinished’ and ‘Through Your Eyes’ respectively, while it is the inclusion of ‘Priceless’ from Aussie duo (also Rebecca St. James’ brothers) for KING AND COUNTRY that is the most pleasing. While the song is sadly very much dated- the song released as part of the expanded edition of RUN WILD LIVE FREE LOVE STRONG in 2015, and should’ve been on WOW Hits 2017; to not have the song on WOW Hits 2018, even if ‘O God Forgive Us’ was a more timely track, would’ve been criminal. The song itself is impactful and insightful, as the band have used this song of late to champion the worth and respect of women around the world. A song that reminds us that every person is priceless in the sight of the Lord, we see the brothers sing from God’s point of view (or it can be viewed as a man singing to a women) as we know what the Lord sings over us, that ‘…I see you dressed in white, every wrong made right, I see a rose in bloom at the sight of you, oh so priceless, irreplaceable, unmistakable, incomparable, darling, it’s beautiful, I see it all in you…’ And with indie pop group Cimorelli covering the song recently on their own youtube page, maybe, just maybe, it will allow more listeners of Christian music to check out Cimorelli’s music, and vice versa, and the reach a song can have- from Christian radio into the depths of youtube covers.
Bonus songs on WOW Hits albums are always fun to enjoy- with songs from up and coming artists that hopefully attract interest in not only these artists but in the WOW brand as well, it is the assertion that these new artists ought to be on our radar in the near future that makes WOW albums interesting. Mosiac MSC, Cody Carnes and Mallary Hope, on Reunion Records, Sparrow Records and Curb Records respectively, are the artists WOW wants us to take notice of throughout 2017 and into 2018, each of them giving us unique songs about our relationship with Christ. While the radio mix for ‘Tremble’ by Mosaic MSC hasn’t released on any digital format as of yet, the live track from their album Glory and Wonder that released late last year speaks of how God makes the darkness tremble, that who He is and what He stands for will cause any and all those who oppose Him to fall upon their knees and acknowledge Him as Saviour (perhaps the radio version of the song is releasing soon, before WOW Hits 2018, or maybe on the day itself!), while up and coming new artist and Kari Jobe’s husband, Cody Carnes, shows us his new song (and contender for one of my favourite songs of 2017 thus far), ‘The Cross Has the Final Word’. Already covered by the Newsboys, Cody’s song gives us a clear and timely reminder, that what God did on the cross through Jesus is finite- there’s nothing that needs to be added when we come to Him, no prayer or mantra, no confession or doing more and trying harder, will make Him love us any more or less- that ‘…the cross has the final word, our Saviour has come in the morning light, the cross has the final word…’
While I actually expected the Newsboys’ version of the song to be present on WOW Hits 2018 (and thus Cody present with a song like ‘Til the End of Time’), this song from Cody is a pleasant surprise, as we see that Mallary Hope (country singer turned CCM musician) is the final selection to be added in the bonus category for WOW Hits 2018. This 3:20, country-infused pop-CCM anthem casts my mind back to Hillary and her chart topping hit “Thy Will” last year (also present on WOW Hits 2018…though I reckon a song like ‘Still’ would’ve been more timely). Maybe there is such a trend where country artists venture into Christian music for a season as the years roll by? Possibly, we shall see. Mallary’s track is full of hope and encouragement, that it doesn’t really matter what her musical background is, the song speaks for itself, that the same God who was with us in our pasts is currently with us now in this very moment. And while many new and up and coming artists were overlooked in favour of these three (Micah Tyler, Grayson Reed, GAWVI, Iron Bell Music, Branan Murphy, Matty Mullins, Stephen Christian, Hannah Kerr, Social Club Misfits, Jimi Cravity, Bonray, Vertical Worship, The New Respects, North Point InsideOut, For All Seasons, Jasmine Murray, to name a few), Mosiac MSC, Cody and Mallary nevertheless give us a great snapshot of new artists in the given year of 2017, as we are continuously reminded of the music out there that ought to demand our attention if we want to support the up and coming artist just as much as the seasoned veteran.
With every good thing comes a bad, and this isn’t any different regarding song choices on WOW Hits 2018. While there have been many good and timely choices regarding which songs to consider when amassing a 39 song album full of standout melodies that have charted successfully throughout the year, I can’t help but wonder- whether the executives at WOW Hits are favouring certain artists above others, or they just don’t like certain labels, because frankly, with every great 39 tracks, there are another 39 that didn’t make it. As much as ‘Ever Be’ by Aaron Shust is enjoyable (to be honest, it is a worship cover by Aaron- the original by Bethel Music released officially in 2015), the song is sadly a year too late, with Aaron releasing a brand-new studio album this year with radio single ‘You Redeem’…is that song reserved for WOW Hits 2019? The same can be said of songs “Giants Fall” and “Come Alive” by Francesca Battistelli and Lauren Daigle respectively. I mean, sure these songs are good, but to place them on WOW Hits 2018 when both these songs were recorded in 2014 (yes, I know Lauren’s debut album released in 2015, but ‘Come Alive’ was part of the EP that released in 2014…)? Strange, if you ask me. Switchfoot, Hollyn and Love & The Outcome were all on Disc 2 of WOW Hits 2017- and this time, you would’ve thought that with their singles of “I Won’t Let You Go”, “Can’t Live Without” and “If I Don’t Have You” respectively, they’d be automatic shoe-ins into the WOW list- alas, this was not the case.
And then there are artists that are just bypassed altogether. Jason Gray (yes, remember Jason whose song ‘Good To Be Alive’ landed him a spot on WOW Hits 2014…and never again) deservingly should be on WOW Hits albums each and every year, and this is still the case with his new song ‘I Will Rise Again’…but sadly, Jason wasn’t there, then again, so wasn’t artists like For All Seasons (‘Higher’), Grayson Reed (‘Fight For You’), North Point InsideOut (‘Death Was Arrested’), Unspoken (‘The Cure’), Carrollton (‘Tell Me’), Jonny Diaz (‘Joy’) and JJ Weeks Band (‘Count Them All’). Strange, right? I guess, maybe if your name isn’t Lauren Daigle or Jordan Feliz, then any artist on Centricity isn’t considered- am I correct? Same with Gotee Records- Ryan Stevenson is the lone representation on WOW Hits 2018- even though Hollyn (‘Can’t Live Without’ or ‘Love With Your Life’), Finding Favour (‘It is Well’) and Capital Kings (‘Love is On Our Side’) all showed us radio singles throughout 2017. Ever reliable Laura Story, of former hits “Blessings”, “Indescribable”, “What A Saviour” and “I Can Just Be Me”, released her new album Open Hands in March, and her first single, the title track? Present on WOW Hits 2018? Nope, nada. In fact, with Laura neither on WOW Hits 2017 as well, I fear her time on the compilation may be coming to a close…which is sad.
Steven Curtis Chapman’s current radio single “More Than Conquerors”, as anthemic as they come, is as deserving as any other…yet with songs like “The Lion and the Lamb” (Big Daddy Weave) and “Great Are You Lord” (One Sonic Society) released on this compilation, both of which were hits from last year, maybe this year’s WOW Hits should be titled WOW Hits 2017/18…seems like a more appropriate title, right? Then there’s the real kickers. Songs that are in fact unforgivable that they weren’t included on WOW Hits 2018. Songs that have received a fair amount of airplay throughout the year on radio that you would’ve thought should’ve and must’ve been included…til you read the track list and found out they weren’t. ‘Battles’ by The Afters. ‘Bulletproof’ from Citizen Way. ‘I Wanna Go Back’ from newer artist David Dunn. And then here’s the real, real interesting issue…drum roll. ‘Even If’ by MercyMe. Yes, if you are an avid Christian fan like myself, you’ve heard these four aforementioned songs playing either on Air1 or K-Love this year. So, are they on WOW Hits 2018 like they should be? No. A shame? Yes. Criminal? Yes. Is there a reason why they weren’t considered? Probably not! You start to wonder who’s making the WOW albums each year, and whether they have bias to certain artists and labels ahead of others.
Looking at the track list for WOW Hits 2018, there is a trend- be signed to a label (one of Capitol CMG, Provident or Word Label Group) and you could have a chance at being on the most controversial, celebrated, talked about CCM album of the year. Despite all my grievances of WOW Hits 2018; one thing is clear- in its own right, WOW Hits 2018 is a good album- with songs that uplift, and others that give us an atmosphere of pop/rock, all of which have been circulating radio the last year or so. Yet when we look deeper into the process of selection, and see which songs were omitted, which songs were chosen, and which songs were bypassed altogether, you start to see that WOW Hits sadly advocates sameness ahead of bold decisions.
Enough griping though. Seriously, listen to WOW Hits 2018. Check it out. These songs on there are great. Yet to call this album this year’s best, isn’t necessarily the case. I will once again quote from my WOW Hits 2013 album review that I wrote for IVM, that I stand by, even now- There are good songs on this album, and each song has its merit, but claiming that this album is the best of the year like WOW always does is far from the truth. This album does not serve the CCM itch that everyone has. With similar artists across multiple WOW discs, there doesn’t seem to be much experimentation with artists and songs- the listener not receiving exposure to melodies that may possibly be even more ‘worthy’ of their spot. Regardless, if anyone does purchase this album (even if they do have it on iTunes!), then know that these songs aren’t the best 39- rather they are certainly the most publicised 39! There is a big difference, and if the WOW brand really wants to live up to their name, they must consider overhauling the whole franchise, consider dropping a few big artists from their roster (or using them less frequently) as well as adding some fringe artists to remind listeners of the great variety of Christian songs out in the Christian music marketplace.
I still stand by this comment today. That’s not to take away anything from these songs. But it is to say that more intentional decision making needs to be made about actually choosing songs that are timely on WOW Hits, rather than songs that have just charted on the radio. For the casual listener, this does provide a snapshot of 2016 and 2017 in Christian radio. But not in Christian music. And definitely not in 2017. Like I mentioned in previous reviews for IVM and here on this site, WOW should think of giving us the best 39, not the most popular or publicised 39. Maybe a rebranding is necessary. That being said, I will still buy the album, if only to play in the CD player of the car. Now…off to my iTunes to listen to songs from artists that are not on WOW Hits 2018! Maybe I should start lobbying for WOW Hits 2? (WOW Hits 1 was published April 2008!).
6 songs to listen to: I Have This Hope, Oh My Soul, What a Beautiful Name, The Cross Has the Final Word, Hills & Valleys, Unfinished
RIYL: Mandisa, Britt Nicole, for KING AND COUNTRY, Casting Crowns, Natalie Grant, Brandon Heath