Capitol Christian Music Group
Release Date: September 23rd 2022
Reviewed by: Joshua Andre
- American Dream
- Million Ways (feat. Riley Clemmons)
- Does Anybody Else Feel Like Me
- Keep Your Word
- High Hopes
Hillsong Young & Free, well actually Hillsong in all of its 3 facets (Worship, UNITED, Young & Free), need no introduction. If you haven’t heard of them, then you better stop reading this review/article right now, and then check out their discography pronto! You can check out their discographies here, here and here– and you can read about all of our posts on Hillsong Worship, UNITED, and Young and Free in the links here, here and here, and when you’ve finished, you can then read my brother Jon’s Momentous Mondays post about all things Hillsong here! Then, and only then, maybe can gain a bit more perspective and knowledge of the worship movement that’s been around for decades!
Whether you believe in Jesus Christ or not, chances are that you would have definitely heard about this previously small Australian church group now turned global megachurch worship movement, spanning 3 incarnations (Worship, UNITED and Young & Free) and counting, plenty of inspiring singles, no 1 top hits on both Christian and mainstream charts and a plethora of studio and live albums. If you don’t know the name of the group, I am sure some songs will be familiar. With the UNITED branch of the worship ministry originating in 1998, we have been blessed to hear so far 11 live albums (inclusive of the recent People) and 6 studio albums (All Of The Above, Aftermath, ZION, Empires, Wonder, Are We There Yet?). With Hillsong being one of the most popular, respected, prolific and inventive worship movements of all time; their music has touched the lives of many locally and globally. Since its inception, this young worship team have carried on the church’s mission and vision to lift the name of Jesus above all others. Right now though, Hillsong isn’t that popular at the moment because of everything going on with the scandals of Brian Houston and Carl Lentz, and the public deconstruction and deconversion of Marty Sampson. Yet to me, that doesn’t discourage me from listening to any Hillsong song- because more than ever, we need to separate the art from the artist.
As for Hillsong Young & Free, their latest album All Of My Best Friends released in 2020, and it’s extremely evident that these passionate young group of worship leaders are not afraid to expand and reinvent the worship genre by infusing dance, pop, electronica and worship together, and are also unafraid and unashamed to speak the word of Jesus in the world. So now… with Alexander Pappas (one of the lead vocalists for Hillsong Young & Free) branching out and creating a solo release- a solo career as well as continuing to stay in the band; how does this latest release sit in relation to the rest of Hillsong Young & Free’s discography? As much as I don’t like comparing solo endeavours to band material, I guess it’s human nature to compare; and thus, how does American Dream the EP live up to the successes of the rest of Hillsong Young & Free’s discography- in particular to III which I believe is the band’s most impacting album? Well firstly, the lead single “Older” is so, so inspiring and moving- and to me none of the 7 tracks are ‘filler’. The sequel of sorts to Alexander’s debut EP Idaho; I reckon that Alexander’s songs here- on their own merit- warrant many listens. Can you listen to the project without knowledge of Hillsong Young & Free? Yes, of course. Which brings me to the question- is Alexander’s solo material that different to Y&F? And if it is the same or similar, then what is the purpose of going solo? Further than that, is it any different to Idaho, and how is Alexander’s music evolving and changing with the current music landscape?
Musically and sonically, American Dream from Alexander, isn’t all that different from anything from Hillsong Young & Free, nor his first EP Idaho. However, the solo effort… I don’t know, sounds deeper, more mature, more honest, and personal, while lyrically this is indeed a step up from Idaho. Opening with the lead single “Older”, the poppy, electronic and dance melody speaks about a serious and melancholy lyrical theme- about aging and getting older and having all of these responsibilities that you may or may not be able to handle. With Alexander being vulnerable here and speaking about how he sometimes gets ahead of himself and overthinks all of his future decisions; here he also lays down his troubles and worries and concerns to Jesus Christ. Alexander wants to live more in the moment and in the present, and he wants to be concerned with showing the kingdom of God to people in the here and now; and this vibrant and eclectic melody brilliantly conveys Alexander’s line of thinking.
The rest of the EP carries on from “Older” melodically and lyrically, as Alexander imparts to us truths and wisdoms from the viewpoint of Jesus Christ. The title track, a powerful, heart-warming mid-tempo ballad, is essentially the heartbeat of the album, as Alexander delivers to us a melody which isn’t a patriotic track, but rather a song that declares that Jesus Christ is more than the American dream. With Alexander being as vulnerable and honest as ever; this song inspires us and encourages us to build bridges with those who think differently to us- because after all, God is above political party alliances and other petty issues we break friendships and relationships over, isn’t He? And as Alexander cries out that ‘…freedom comes and freedom goes, but who You free is free for sure, until You come and make it right, we’ll sing it out into the night, empires of flags, they rise and they fall, but Yours is the kingdom they can’t overthrow…’; we can’t help but sing a song of thanks and praise to Jesus as well for being the One above it all. “A Million Ways”, an exemplary and exquisite EDM/pop/jazzy duet with Riley Clemmons, is a definite EP standout, with Alexander and Riley declaring in perfect harmony, the truth that Jesus loves us immensely and that ‘…no one loves me like You, all my life I looked a million ways, now I’m holding to Your grace, and You, You fought for my wrongs, fought for me, showing a million ways that nothing could keep Your love from me…’; while the acoustic guitar ballad “Does Anybody Else Feel Like Me” speaks about Alexanders fears, insecurities and vulnerabilities, as he probes and asks the question of whether anyone else feels helpless and as powerless as he does. There isn’t really a clear-cut solution in this track, but no doubt this song will provide reassurance and comfort to all of us that we aren’t’ alone in this fight of making it through this life.
“Keep Your Word”, as close as a worship song as we are going to get, speaks about how Jesus is always faithful and keeps His promises, that ‘…every time Your word goes out, it won’t come back empty, I know that it will be done ‘cause I know the One who spoke and I know You’re always going to keep Your word, and I’ll trust in You…’; while “High Hopes” is a contemplative and reflective ballad as Alexander sings out that he has ‘…high hopes that the best is up ahead, I’m gonna dream again, chasing Your promises, because I know You’ll be waiting round the bend, nothing to second guess, there’s nothing to lose…’. American Dream then ends with the emotive and moving melody “Goodbyes”, where Alexander reiterates that Jesus never says goodbye to us, and that he’s always holding onto us even when we are like the prodigal son and momentarily leave, wanting to do things our own way.
With IDAHO and now American Dream firmly placing Alexander Pappas the solo artist at the forefront of the already stratospheric heights of the US Christian market; Hillsong Young & Free’s latest album is a joy to listen to, as we are blessed with the immense heart for Jesus of all the vocalists and personnel involved. Even though I do enjoy the Hillsong United albums better than any other counterpart (inclusive of Young & Free), a few more listens to this collection of songs might reverse my stance. Nevertheless, the megachurch, regardless on your thoughts about the Houston’s, are still a force to be reckoned with, both in CCM and worship. They make the on average 3-4-albums-a-year (in all formats!) aspect work, and if they stick with what they know, then it will definitely work for them in the future! And as for Alexander’s songs on this EP, I reckon it’s a breath of fresh air. These tracks are as good as Hillsong Young & Free have ever been (does this mean that Alexander’s solo material is just as good as Hillsong Young & Free?), and I’ll be eagerly awaiting whatever comes next from Alexander, be it another solo project or something with Y&F. Well done to this humble and young Aussie artist whose ministry is guaranteed to touch many lives! Maybe a full-length solo album or a Christmas album next?
3 songs to listen to: American Dream, Million Ways, Does Anybody Else Feel Like Me?
RIYL: Hillsong Worship, Hillsong UNITED, Jesus Culture, Bethel Music, Kari Jobe, Meredith Andrews, Chris Tomlin