Capitol CMG / Hillsong Music Australia / Sparrow Records
Release Date: February 25th 2022
Reviewed by: Jonathan Andre
- Ancient Gates
- A Thousand Hallelujahs
- Communion (Meditation)
- Honey in the Rock (feat. Brandon Lake)
- I Belong to Jesus (Dylan’s Song)
- King Jesus
Known professionally in the mainstream circle, as Brooke Fraser (her maiden last name), for most of her career in music thus far; Brooke Ligertwood (her married last name) recently released her 7th studio album this year, aptly and maybe even appropriately titling it SEVEN– with albums under her belt as ‘Brooke Fraser’, from What to Do With Daylight, Flags and Albertine, to A-Sides, B-Sides and Brutal Romantic, Brooke’s presence in both mainstream and Christian music, needs not to be overlooked- her impact is far beyond unparalleled for any Christian artist over the last decade or so. An international act of sorts (she is born and bred in New Zealand; but has been the lead worship leader/singer-songwriter for Hillsong Worship for quite some time), Brooke has always trod the fine line of making music that appeals to both lovers of pop/indie music as well, as those who enjoy Christian music, ever since her debut album in 2004, What to Do With Daylight. She has also been a part of the Hillsong Worship ministry team for a similar duration of time as well, contributing to songs like “Desert Song”, “His Glory Appears”, “Hosanna”, “I Will Exalt You”, “Lead Me to the Cross”, “None But Jesus”, “Soon”, “You’ll Come”… you get the picture, her presence within the Hillsong community is paramount. ‘What a Beautiful Name’, from Hillsong Worship’s 2016 album Let There Be Light, is perhaps one of Brooke’s most famous worship songs ever (maybe alongside ‘Lead Me To the Cross’ and ‘Hosanna’, in my opinion), while songs like ‘Deciphering Me’, ‘Shadowfeet’, ‘Lifeline’, ‘Saving the World’, ‘Albertine’ and ‘C.S. Lewis Song’ are just some of the many standout tracks in Brooke’s mainstream music discography thus far.
Since Brooke’s last solo albums A Sides (a best-of compilation-style album encompassing her greatest hits across her four studio albums to date) and B Sides (all of her demos and alternate tracks that were also from that period as well); she’s been leading and serving the church with her contributions to Hillsong Worship’s albums over the last few years- contributing songs like ‘Awake My Soul’, ‘King of Kings’, ‘Who You Say I Am’ and ‘Fresh Wind’, to name a few. Brooke’s impact and influence within the realms of Hillsong Worship has been paramount for quite some time, and her solo material, no matter how ‘mainstrem’ it has been perceived to be (by her Christian audience), is equally as impactful over the years. Now, 8 years since her most recent full-length album of original material (Brutal Romantic), comes Brooke’s first solo music album in 8 years, and here, she’s marrying the two worlds she knows very well- worship music, and solo music: to deliver SEVEN, a collection of 10 worship songs, under her married name Brooke Ligertwood. While it’s not clear cut, as to if she’s going to release music under Brooke Ligertwood now and into the future (or if she’ll revert back to Brooke Fraser later on in another album release into the future) or even the content of her music as well (will it be worshipful, or more mainstream-esque?); what does remain true is this. SEVEN is a great album full of worshipful songs that make this worship album arguably my favourite I’ve heard since Phil Wickham’s Hymn of Heaven last year. And while the popularity of SEVEN could be massively dampened because of what has been happening to Hillsong Church within the last few years, Brooke Ligertwood and SEVEN, ought not to be punished in light of things that are happening behind the scenes. But in all brutal honesty, that’s not now people work…they see things behind the scenes, about anything they deem ‘sus’, well, they just vote with their dollars and won’t stream anything affiliated with Hillsong for the foreseeable future…and that unfortunately includes SEVEN, as much as it pains me to say this unfortunate fact.
Regardless of any musings of things behind the scenes, Brooke Ligertwood’s SEVEN is objectively one of my favourite worship albums of 2022 thus far, and while I won’t delve into every song on the album and my thoughts about each and every track (there are publications like JesusFreakHideout and NewReleaseToday that expound on the tracks more heavily that I am going to), I will talk about some, that have stood out for me from the album, as a whole (songs like ‘A Thousand Hallelujahs’, ‘Ninevah’, ‘I Belong to You’ and ‘Honey in the Rock’). ‘A Thousand Hallelujahs’, co-written with Phil Wickham, is about the magnificence and glory of God, and how there is none other than God to whom the rocks, us, and everyone else, would cry out to Him. A passionate declaration of our allegiance to Christ, it’s a perfect representation of a ‘modern hymn’, a worship song for the church that has become a joy to listen to (and sing along with); and is perhaps my favourite worship song I’ve heard since Phil Wickham’s ‘Reason I Sing’, and Sean Curran’s ‘1000 Names’. As relayed by Brooke herself, ‘…we actually only live an hour up the road from Phil [co-writer of ‘A Thousand Hallelujahs’], so we’re practically neighbors (Scott and I have lived in the US for many years). We have so many mutual friends and had heard about each other for years but only met and became friends relatively recently. Our kids are similar ages and absolutely love each other, so that family connection is very sweet. What Phil and ourselves have in common is that we honestly just truly love the local church. We literally wrote “A Thousand Hallelujahs” in Phil’s church, inspired by the generations who had gathered to worship in that little church hall, offering their thousands of hallelujahs to the Lord. We all shed a tear when we found out the congregation that meets there sang “A Thousand Hallelujahs” in that very room a few weeks ago. What a stunning full circle moment…’ Another poignant and heartfelt song on the album is ‘I Belong to You (Dylan’s Song)’, a song Brooke wrote with fellow Hillsong songwriter Chris Davenport, about Brooke’s daughter Dylan’s decision to follow Jesus. The song itself is written by Brooke for Dylan, all the things that she wants Dylan to know and understand, so that she can boldly declare for herself at an older age when she understands the complexities of life, and in turn the grace, mercy and love of God, all the more- ‘…our eldest daughter gave her heart to Jesus last year and when I shared the story of how it happened with my friend Chris Davenport, he went and wrote a chorus inspired by the story, then showed me the chorus and asked if we could write it together for her, which I’m so grateful for. So the lyrics are all the things I want Dylan to know and be able to confess about what it means to belong to Jesus as she journeys through the complexities of life and community…’
‘Ninevah’ recounts the story of Jonah from the Old Testament, as this song was created with the story from the Old Testament in mind, but was given a spin of its own, as we see this track as delivering a mirror unto ourselves as we see many of our own traits through this song as well. Revealing and confronting, but hopefully encouraging and compelling, Brooke reveals the story behind the song- ‘…“Nineveh” sticks closely to the narrative of the Biblical book of Jonah, but the bridge takes us into the New Testament and turns the lens on ourselves. It’s the prayer that Jonah, in his rebellion, never managed to pray. He ran from telling Nineveh the truth, begrudgingly obeyed in the end, but never confronted the “Nineveh” within himself. He obeyed, but he never really surrendered. “Nineveh” encourages us to learn from his error…’ ‘Honey in the Rock’ is perhaps the most ‘CCM’/radio friendly song on the album, as the song, co-sung with Bethel Music’s Brandon Lake, reminds everyone that there’s ‘…honey in the rock, water in the stone, manna on the ground, no matter where I go, I don’t need to worry, now that I know everything I need You’ve got, there’s honey in the rock, purpose in Your plan, power in the blood, healing in Your hands, started flowing when You said it is done, everything You did’s enough…’ It’s a song that encourages us that God supplies everything we need, and that even in the direst of circumstances, He still has all we need, that just as the rock and stone aren’t meant to give out honey and water respectively, God will use the unlikeliest of circumstances to bring about great things within us and through us, as we trust the Lord with our lives and allow Him to use anything in our lives, even the times where we feel as though we only have stones to give; for His glory and our good. The song was even sung by Brooke on the Kelly Clarkson Show, earlier on during the year- that’s how much this song (and maybe this album, as well) has crossover appeal? Well done Brooke for this track, a song that that can hopefully break down boundaries between CCM and…well, everything else. Maybe, CCM won’t get such a bad rapt, because of Brooke’s appearance on The Kelly Clarkson Show not too long ago?
SEVEN features a lot more songs than just the four I’ve delved deep into (see reviews from JFH and NRT for more info), but what I will say about SEVEN as a whole is this- that Brooke’s ability to create songs that stand out and become great irrespective of what is happening behind the scenes, is what is happening here. For too long have I viewed Brooke Fraser as a separate entity compared with Hillsong (because it’s only in recent years, since ‘What a Beautiful Name’ onward, where she’s become more affiliated with the Hillsong brand), that I’ve come into listening this album, being able to do the same. Not once since hearing SEVEN did I actually think about anything to do with Hillsong…as it should be. But I can understand, if someone doesn’t want to hear Brooke’s new album, because of Hillsong, full stop. I wouldn’t blame them. But I hope that they wouldn’t judge Brooke’s whole album, just on what is happening behind the scenes…because frankly, Brooke isn’t everything that Hillsong, nor is Hillsong everything that Brooke embodies, either. This is where we need to ask the question, of if the art (Brooke’s album) can be appreciated in spite of the artist (Hillsong, on a global scale). Art should be appreciated and enjoyed regardless, but I don’t know if that can be a possibility now that Hillsong’s dirty laundry (everything with Brian Houston and Carl Lentz) has been aired over the last few years. Nevertheless, I firmly believe that SEVEN tries to distance itself from Hillsong as much as it can…maybe to save her brand, Brooke needs to release music under ‘Brooke Fraser’ from now on, to avoid distinction between her and Hillsong anyway? Regardless of what happens in the future, one thing’s for certain, now. That SEVEN is one of my favourites of 2022 thus far, and needs to be listened to, at least once, by anyone who’s a fan of Brooke, worship music, or both. Well done Brooke for SEVEN. Looking forward to what the Lord has in store for this album, in the upcoming weeks and months ahead.
‘…my lived-in, wrestled with and walked-around-in faith in Christ shapes and colors every part of my life and thus anything I create—whether a conversation or a song. I think when it comes to songwriting, people of faith who practice spiritual disciplines have a regularly exercised awareness of their interior life, which is a very handy muscle to have mobile and agile when it comes to lyric writing. I think faith also adds appropriate humility and wonder to the equation. I don’t approach a writing session believing that I am the source of the creativity, but that I am an explorer of it. It takes the pressure off and makes it an adventure…Through my solo work under “Brooke Fraser,” I explored a lot of sonic approaches over the vast length of time that catalog accumulated. SEVEN can’t really be put in context to that catalog because it isn’t remotely meant to be a Brooke Fraser record or anything like a Brooke Fraser record. SEVEN is a collection of songs for the church, which is the reason for the title—the fact it’s technically my seventh solo record was not deliberate. I have had the great honor of serving the church through song, in parallel to my Brooke Fraser for 17 years or so now through my church — under my married name for 14 of those years.
I never had a desire to release an album of worship songs for the church under my own name, and still don’t. But SEVEN had to be this way because of how the songs came about and the way I knew it needed to be made and released into the world…I’m trying to find the right words to explain it to people reading who aren’t necessarily people of faith [about the decision to record this album live] or who have a reference point for worship in church (if that’s you, thanks for reading). It’s challenging when it comes to explaining this album, but I’ll try. This album is not primarily about the music — the music was and is always an entry point or an on-ramp, let’s say, to something much more. That’s not to say the music isn’t important – it’s incredibly important, and we obsessed over every detail. We spent three full days just writing the choir parts.
Because every note, lyric, interval, beat, and swell in the music is an invitation. This album had to be a live record because it was for and about, so it’s hard to do that without the sound of the church. The church is not a crowd of music enthusiasts; it’s a vast congregation of diverse generations, backgrounds, experiences. When the church gathers to worship and that beautiful diversity all focuses on one target and unites around one trajectory, the sound is unlike anything else I’ve heard on this earth. That sound is the sound that would define this record—hence, it had to be live…’
3 songs to listen to: Nineveh, A Thousand Hallelujahs, Honey in the Rock
RIYL: Hillsong Worship, Sara Groves, Andrew Peterson, UNITED, Rachel Platten