Release Date: October 26th 2018
Reviewed by: Joshua Andre
- Holy Roar
- Nobody Loves Me Like You
- Resurrection Power
- Goodness, Love And Mercy
- Praise Him Forever
- Is He Worthy?
- Forever Young
- I Stand In Awe (feat. Nicole Serrano)
- Praise Is The Highway
- How Sweet It Is (feat. Pat Barrett)
“…With songwriting, it never turns off for me. I keep a collection of songs and try to find the best songs for each record…when I write songs or want to record them, that’s the lenses I see it through. Is this a song people can really sing to God? That’s what I’ve always wanted to do, is just write songs that people can sing to God. I hope these songs will find play in all these different kinds of places and go beyond me as an artist, and just become songs that people will worship with…” There’s no need for me to write an introduction on Chris Tomlin. If you’re reading this review, then chances are that you know exactly who Chris is. If you don’t…then check him out on Wikpedia, or you can read all of our reviews on Chris here. Seriously, go ahead- he’s who I would say is probably the founder or father of modern worship music. Even if you haven’t been immersed in worship music for as long as I probably have; everyone knows “How Great Is Our God”, right? If not then…I’m not really sure what to say right now!
So let me quickly break down a few hit songs from Chris to jog your memory if you are still forgetful! Chris has written probably some of the most meaningful and sought after (by the church) worship melodies- songs like “Forever”, “Jesus”, “Home”, “We Fall Down”, “The Wonderful Cross”, “Our God”, “Amazing Grace My Chains Are Gone”, “Indescribable”, “Holy Is The Lord”, “Famous One”, “Enough”, “Jesus Messiah”, “I Will Rise”, “I Lift My Hands”, “God’s Great Dance Floor”, “Whom Shall I Fear?”, “Jesus Loves Me”, “Waterfall”, the aforementioned “How Great Is Our God”…the list goes on and on. With these songs being just a snapshot of his most impacting and influential global hits; something you’re guaranteed to hear is lyrics which are heavily rooted in scripture- meaning that they may be sounding a bit musically generic, yet it is the lyrics that are rich in biblical truth. At times, Chris’ music can sound a bit too CCM-ish and cliché, yet he still has that uncanny ability with his written words and his distinct singing voice to draw us in, and to get us singing along to even the simplest of tunes.
This certainly was the case with “Resurrection Power” when it released in January this year, and the same goes for the rest of the 11 tracks on Holy Roar which releases today worldwide. A few of the twelve songs though sound rather Tomlin-ish- meaning that it sounds like Chris is covering old ground and not really stretching himself to create something new. Though this is my initial impressions of these new songs overall may change after listening to the project more and more in the coming weeks and months. However, at this point in time, this album is just ok (you’ll love them if you’re a die-hard Chris Tomlin fan)- and I prefer albums such as Hello Love, And If Our God Is For Us… and Burning Lights! However Holy Roar isn’t bad by any means at all, it’s just that only a few songs stand out.
Let me start off with the weakest song on the album. It’s “Nobody Loves Me Like You”, the second single off the album, which contains a lot of lazy rhyming (morning rhyming with morning, story with story, mountains with mountains…really? Has it come to this?)- no offence to the Cash brothers (Ed and Scott), but I for one don’t really connect with this song currently. Someone else may, but that someone isn’t me right now. With guitars and light keys present in this mid-tempo CCM pop melody, we are presented with a heartfelt anthem with Chris ardently declaring that no one loves us as much as Jesus, yet while this song screams out ‘radio’, to me it doesn’t scream out ‘creativity’ or ‘originality’, and that’s a shame, because Chris is so much better than this. On the flipside, “Resurrection Power”, though still musically too CCM-ish, succeeds in the thought-provoking lyrics, as the melody starts in typical Tomlin fashion, as Chris reiterates across light acoustic guitar and soothing piano that ‘…You called me from the grave by name, You called me out of all my shame, I see the old has passed away, the new has come…’.
Though some critics may believe that compared with their own invariably high standards, the lyrics of “Resurrection Power” is unacceptable lyrics for someone who’s been doing this for the better part of 15 years and counting; I am more of the viewpoint that every songwriter cannot be like Andrew Peterson, and that Chris is only writing what God is placing on his heart, and to his strengths. His strengths are as a worship leader first, then a songwriter. And having seen him live 10 years ago in Sydney on the Passion World Tour in 2008, and hearing him ardently and fervently sing out God’s praises album after album; I can unequivocally say that “Resurrection Power”, though something that we’ve all heard before, is needed now more than ever in 2018, as we remember that we have ‘…resurrection power, living on this inside, Jesus, You have given us freedom…’. Through Jesus, we have been given the most prized possession, our freedom, and that alone is reason enough to celebrate and jump for joy.
Yet even though compared with “Nobody Loves Me Like You”, “Resurrection Power” is lyrically strong; these first two singles aren’t that strong at all when compared to Chris’ hit songs over the years on albums previous. Thankfully Holy Roar gets better from here, though as a whole album, Chris still has work to do if he wants to stay relevant in a market where young Christians are yearning for songs that praise Jesus, but sound out of the box musically in a good way. One step forward from Chris is “Satisfied”, a pop/country infused bouncy 3-minute melody co-written with Jason Ingram, that gets me tapping my toes and bobbing my head along to the infectious and contagious melody. Thematically similar to “Counting Every Blessing” from Rend Collective and “Satisfied” from About A Mile; Chris fervently relays to us that Jesus satisfies us just by being in our lives and by our side, and that’s enough for us to praise Him- and it is this assuredness of the sentiment that encourages us to declare this ever true statement in the near future, claiming it for our lives as we truly are satisfied. While one of the true album highlights is the acoustic guitar driven scripture-in-song Psalm 23 inspired “Goodness Love And Mercy”, cowritten by brothers Bo and Bear Rinehart from Needtobreathe (complete with a gospel inspired bridge where Chris declares ‘…I’m gonna dwell in the house of the Lord forever…’); and let’s hope that Needtobreathe will record this song in the future, cause that would sound so cool! “Impact” though takes Tomlin a couple of steps back with your typical corporate worship song that would do pretty good on radio (though it’s nothing memorable- and other artists such as Kristian Stanfill from Passion or Matt Redman or Tim Hughes, would all do a much more engaging version if they had the chance- sorry Chris!).
Out of all of the other ‘newer’ tracks aka songs that we have only heard today as opposed to at various points this year, the title track is as engaging as an album opener from Chris since 2013’s “Awake My Soul” on Burning Lights. Driven by pulsating bass and hard hitting acoustic guitar strumming, we are met with a vulnerable and inspiring melody where Chris fervently relays to us that because of everything that Jesus has done for us, we owe it to ourselves and to Jesus to give Him a holy roar, a song of celebration, and a total surrender of our lives- simply because we have breath and He has a perfect plan for our lives. While “Praise Him Forever” is your standard worship song from Tomlin, but nevertheless is still moving and enjoyable, as Chris outlines many things on this earth that praise Jesus, and subsequently directs us to praise Jesus as well; simply because we exist. We can sing with a shout, with dancing, with prayer, with falling on our knees in reverence- there is no shortage of ways to praise our Father, and this powerful melody lets us know that we can in fact, and should, so those things and more.
“Forever Young”, exquisitely led by vibrant and pulsating drums, though lyrically is safe, is musically quite creative and daring, and invites us to sing to Jesus in praise, because of the fact that in Him we are indeed forever young, as ‘…You breathe rivers in my soul, You are the fire in my bones…’; while the country inspired “Praise Is The Highway” lets us know the importance of worshipping God being likened to ‘…a highway to the throne of God…to the heart of God…to the move of God…’. Holy Roar then ends with two duets- “I Stand In Awe”, a piano led heartfelt and honest ballad with Nicole Serrano (who actually leads the song!), declaring that all the glory, power and honour is God’s alone and God’s always (similar in theme to Matt Redman’s “Let My Words Be Few”); and “How Sweet It Is” with Pat Barrett, which may be mistaken for a cover of the hit mainstream song from Marvin Gaye, but is actually an acoustic guitar driven original piece, essentially declaring that being loved by God and known by God is very sweet, and very appreciative, as we offer up our lives to the One who has paid the ultimate price. Yet if you had to pick one song that I reckon will blow up in terms of impact on Holy Roar, then it’d have to be “Is He Worthy?”
“…I will go on the record to say this is the song that could be remembered off this record, long after this record is done. Every record has had a song like that, whether it’s ‘Good Good Father’ or ‘How Great Is Our God,’ something that lasts, and this could be it. I find it very powerful, you sing all these questions and the congregation, wherever you are singing the song, they sing it back to you. This world is broken and messed up and everybody longs for it to be fixed. Another line ‘Is anyone whole?’ I find that to be a very powerful thing because it’s interesting that we run to other broken things to fix our own brokenness. Everybody is hurting, everybody has things that hold us back in life and it’s asking that question of ‘Is there anybody out there who is not broken that I can go to?’ Yes, there is one. This song is one of those that the first time I heard it, it just puts you in your place, not in a derogatory way, but it magnifies the greatness of Jesus so much…” There’s nothing much I can say about Chris’ rendition of Andrew Peterson’s hit song. Though I myself love both versions equally, other listeners and critics aren’t that forgiving, as a few weeks ago, Andrew Peterson had to write a post on his facebook and Instagram outlining how much he supports Chris’ version of the track, and how much he advocates others doing the same- the negative comments about Chris’ version were indeed so bad- at one point Chris was accused of bringing the song into disrepute and shame by CCM-ifying it. I’m not sure where I read the comment, or whether it’s still online anymore, but that was the essence of it. Sort of a ‘if you love Andrew’s version, you cannot like Chris’ one’, and ‘if you love Chris’ one more than Andrew’s, then you aren’t that cultured in music period’. However all of that is water under the bridge, and despite the controversy surrounding the song’s release- I do reckon that it is this song that will transcend borders and go into churches everywhere- “Is He Worthy?” no doubt will be the song of the album, and that’s ok. I’m cool with that, and others need to be too. I think they will after watching the video and listening to the song a few more times though. As Chris uses a simple concept and reiterates to us over and over that Jesus is worthy, we are met with a vulnerable admission of Jesus’ sovereignty, and a implied and inferred sense of devotion to the One who has saved our souls.
Over the course of his ten plus years as a singer and a worship leader, Chris Tomlin has given us great and powerful songs that many churches are singing right now all around the world. And now, we are given the chance to hear Chris sing some more powerful worship tunes, starting with “Resurrection Power”, and then with Holy Roar. Though Chris Tomlin is absent from the upcoming live Passion album Whole Heart (who’d have conceived this 10 years ago, that Chris would be phased out of Passion by 2018?), this doesn’t mean that these songs are irrelevant or out of touch with today’s wants, hopes and dreams of young people. Rather the opposite. I reckon there is enough heart and passion on all of these songs on Holy Roar to have us up on our feet and praising God for who He is. Though there are a few missteps (“Nobody Loves Me Like You”, “Impact”, and even “Resurrection Power”), we are still blessed to hear the heart of a worship leader that has been, is and will be influential in the music industry. Holy Roar isn’t perfect, however the album nonetheless deserves our attention. If not for any song, then for “Is He Worthy?”! Holy Roar may not be the most inventive, but you still may find your next worship anthem for the year!
3 songs to listen to: Goodness Love & Mercy, I Stand In Awe, Is He Worthy?
RIYL: Matt Redman, Tim Hughes, Crowder, Jimi Cravity, Hillsong Worship, Elevation Worship, Kristian Stanfill