Bethel Music – Simple

Bethel Music

Release Date: September 23rd 2022

Reviewed by: Joshua Andre

Bethel Music– Simple (Amazon mp3/iTunes)

Track Listing:

  1. The Blood (feat. Jenn Johnson & Mitch Wong)
  2. Tend (feat. Emmy Rose)
  3. Let My Life Be Worship (feat. Jenn Johnson & Michaela Gentile)
  4. In The Ordinary (Spontaneous) (feat. Jenn Johnson & Michaela Gentile)
  5. Our Jesus (feat. David Funk)
  6. Stand In Awe (feat. Paul McClure & Hannah McClure)
  7. I Still Believe (feat. Brian Johnson)
  8. Jesus My King (feat. Zach Vestnys & Abby Vestnys)
  9. Forever Be Praised (feat. John Wilds)
  10. Honesty (feat. Sydney Allen)
  11. Simple (feat. Brian Johnson & Jenn Johnson)

Over the past few years, and even going as so far back as the past decade, worship music has been vastly evolving at an exponential pace. Artists such as Baylor Wilson, Anne Wilson, Tasha Layton, Jordan Smith, and Sean Curran have risen in popularity and prowess musically, with them being recognised amongst veterans such as Chris Tomlin, Phil Wickham, Matt Redman, Tim Hughes, Paul Baloche, Crowder, Martin Smith and Stu G. Highly respected bands like Rend Collective, Leeland, and We Are Messengers, are also impressing critics and listeners, as are up and coming worship bands like We The Kingdom, Maverick City Music, and CAIN. Jesus Culture, Desperation Band, Elevation Worship, Mosiac MSC, Planetshakers and Hillsong UNITED and Young & Free are all injecting a new, unique and fresh musical and worshipful perspective into the worship industry as well. Now we come to Bethel Music, one such popular and influential band (more like worship movement) within the CCM industry, that is wowing the hearts and ears of many around the world currently, ensuring that the industry doesn’t become stale.

With the group delivering many of my favourite worship albums throughout the years, such as their most rounded and ‘complete’ album Victory, as well as others like TidesFor The Sake Of The WorldWithout WordsYou Make Me BraveStarlightHave It All and We Will Not Be Shaken; of late I haven’t actively heard much of their music aside from Peace and Peace Vol. IIRevival’s In The Air was an album I felt wasn’t fleshed out and as cohesive as I would’ve liked, from me listening to songs here and there; yet last year I decided to take the plunge and listen to their music once again. I reviewed Homecoming here; and with the track list consisting of 16 all-new corporate and personal worship songs, we are blessed to hear worship leaders such as Cory Asbury, Dante Bowe, Kristine DiMarco, Bethany Wohrle, Naomi Raine, Emmy Rose, Josh Baldwin, The McClures, Brian & Jenn Johnson, Brandon Lake and Zahriya Zachary to name a few, as they usher us into God’s presence and more of our Father, Saviour, Friend and Protector. Fast forward to this year, and now here we come to Simple. And in comparison to Homecoming which was probably much more musically grand, flash, majestic and imposing, Simple is by comparison… rather simple, in a good way. Only 11 tracks long, the project features vocalists from Brian & Jenn Johnson, Mitch Wong, Emmy Rose, Michaela Gentile, David Funk, Paul & Hannah McClure, Zach & Abby Vestnys, John Wilds and Sydney Allen; and though a number of tracks out of the 11, are indeed simplistic in their lyrics and music, and do not connect with me as much; there is no doubt that the Spirit of God is upon these songs, and that on the whole, these melodies are quite brilliant- this overall musical masterpiece is a treasure that is to be explored over and over. With the lead vocalists sharing their voices on the album in perfect harmony and unison; Bethel Music remind us of the power in their live worship anthems, unveiling a very layered and unique album. Simple, like Homecoming, is a must for fans of impacting and powerful worship music!

Opening the track list with the powerful acoustic guitar led “The Blood”, Jenn Johnson and Mitch Wong lead the stirring ballad that speaks about the blood of Jesus… but not much else. I was waiting for the full gospel to be sung, about how Jesus rose from the dead and about how it was the resurrection that sanctified us and made what He did for us so moving and impacting and life changing. But instead, I was left with nice platitudes (that are true, but still only nice). The gospel is that Jesus lived the live we couldn’t live, died the death we should have died, taking on all of the sin of the world, and then rose up from the grave three days later, so that we could believe in Him and be given eternal life- and while we’re here on Earth we cannot help but live a live in service to Jesus. Yet this song and its lyrics… they’re true. But they don’t go far enough. As Mitch and Jenn sing out that ‘…everything changed, it’s getting harder to recognize, the person I was before I encountered Christ, I don’t walk like I used to, I don’t talk like I used to, I’ve been washed from the inside, I’ve been washed from the inside out, hallelujah, hallelujah, I know it was the blood, could have only been the blood…’; I was agreeing with everything they said. But I was hoping for a much more punchy, intense, and bold opener- and this isn’t it. Carman’s “This Blood” is much more reflective of what Jesus went through… but if this song serves up an opening and avenue for healthy discussion, then I guess Bethel have done their job.

The rest of the album reminds us of our hope in Jesus and reminds us about how simple we should make our relationship with Jesus- it isn’t by works that we are saved but by our faith in Jesus Christ. “Tend”, a stirring, powerful, beautiful and inspiring piano ballad led by Emmy Rose, compares Jesus to a gardener, and speaks about God’s tendencies to mould us and shape us into the people we were meant to be, as she exuberantly sings out, asking God to ‘…be the gardener of my heart, tend the soil of my soul, break up the fallow ground, cut back the overgrown, and I won’t shy away, I will let the branches fall, so what You want can stay and what You love can grow…’; while another highlight of the album is the piano led melody “Let Me Life Be Worship”, where Jenn Johnson and Michela Gentile remind us all to live our lives wholly in service to Jesus, as if our lives itself was worship to Jesus (and not just our Sunday mornings at church!). Unfortunately, the spontaneous free-worship like “In The Ordinary” felt forced and didn’t fit on this album; yet “Our Jesus” with David Funk is another album highlight- the simple yet powerful, moving and poignant ballad eloquently reminding us that Jesus is worthy of our worship, and that ‘…how gracious is the God who came to us, how wonderful and righteous is His love, our Jesus, and oh, through the suffering and the hatred of the cross, He gathered every hope we thought was lost, our Jesus…’.

The solid, moving, inspiring, honest and vulnerable “Stand In Awe”, another piano ballad (are all of these songs piano ballads, and the album is called Simple because it is musically ‘simple’?), is led by The McClures, and speaks about wanting and longing to forever stand in awe in front of Jesus and in the presence of Jesus; while Bethel deliver the most powerful and moving song on the album with “I Still Believe” led by Brian Johnson. Lyrically and thematically, this is a very simple song, and to be fair, this theme is also prevalent in a song like “I Still Believe” from Jeremy Camp. But Brian’s enthusiasm and heart for Jesus is evident and on display here, and as he sings about still believing in Jesus during the trials and tribulations and the unfortunate situations and circumstances that we find ourselves in; I find this melody to be very authentic, relatable, and relevant.

“Jesus My King”, led by Zach and Abby Vestnys, similar in theme with the album opener, speaks about Jesus’ crucifixion but not about the resurrection (something I find odd that the whole gospel isn’t presented, but just half of it)- yet the melody still is valid and needed in society, as it’s one of these songs that promotes discussion amongst all types of believers and non-believers alike. And yes, these words are still true so I can’t really fault this melody too much. While “Forever Be Praised”, a hymn-like piano led melody, is led by John Wilds, and speaks about how Jesus is worthy to be praised because of who He is and because of everything He’s done for us. Newcomer Sydney Allen delivers probably the musically brightest spot on the album with the penultimate track “Honesty”, where we are presented with a song outlining that we all need to be honest with our Creator, and that ‘…honesty, You want honesty, not just part of me, You want everything, so all of me, I’ll bring You all of me, no more hide-and-seek, Jesus, I’m coming clean…’; while Simple then ends with the title track- the heartbeat of the album, as Brian and Jenn Johnson sing about wanting to go back to a child-like faith where everything was simple and that believing and trusting in Jesus wasn’t complicated at all.

Unlike anything that Bethel Music has ever recorded, Simple is a musically simple collection of acoustic songs (similar to Peace and Peace II), that I have surprisingly found refreshing and revitalising. On par in quality with the full-band recordings of Homecoming from last year; when I first heard of Simple, I inwardly groaned, as I thought that Bethel Music would be like Hillsong and Planetshakers- kind of like churning through the albums, flying everything up in the air and seeing what sticks. To be fair, I don’t agree with their theology sermon-wise; and I previously wasn’t feeling any live album from Bethel recently as well. However, the prowess of the team at Bethel Music have once again proved me wrong, with stellar and poignant worship leading, drawing people into communion with God. Bethel Music does have its critics- the church does have somewhat sketchy theology (see Ruslan’s dissection of a video clip of Bethel church using wizard staffs and quoting Gandalf to cast out demons, and Allen Parr and Ruslan’s discussion about a problematic Bethel song!); however I firmly believe that this does not change how we view Simple or any other Bethel album/song for that matter. We need to separate the art from the artist sometimes- and we definitely need to use our discernment with everything we see and hear. We cannot throw the baby out with the bathwater though; and so if we remove our preconceived ideas of Bethel, then this album in isolation… is a near-flawless album. Should you listen to this though if you have great reservations about Bethel, and there’s something in your spirit that says ‘no’? Well, I reckon then you shouldn’t listen. But let’s give these guys the benefit of the doubt. Let’s make decisions on a song-by-song basis. Does this track bring me closer to God or not? Furthermore, does this album on the whole bring me closer to God or not? And in that case, I have found that Simple does bring me closer to God, and it may bring someone else closer to God. It preaches the gospel wholeheartedly as well. And even if it doesn’t sit well with you… well God can turn bad outcomes into good outcomes. He is that powerful and good. So well done Jenn, Brian, and the whole team! A brilliant album, and a project I will listen to again and again and again. Even if I do have reservations about the church’s sermons.

4 songs to listen to: Tend, Our Jesus, Honestly, Simple

Score: 4.5/5

RIYL: Chris Tomlin, Casting Crowns, Phil Wickham, Matt Maher, Matt Redman, Crowder

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