Word Label Group
Release Date: October 26th 2018
Reviewed by: Jonathan Andre
- The Breakup Song
- The Very Best
- Love Somebody
- The Could Change Everything
- You Belong
- As Good As It Gets
- Let the Light In
- Defender (feat. Steffany Gretzinger)
Everyone knows Francesca Battistelli…or they should. Considering the amount and sheer size of radio hits she’s acquired over the years, from songs like ‘Beautiful, Beautiful’, ‘I’m Letting Go’, ‘Free to Be Me’, and ‘Angel By Your Side’, to ‘If We’re Honest’, ‘Giants Fall’, ‘Write Your Story’ and ‘Strangely Dim’, to name a few; we have been blessed to hear this New Yorker wear her heart on her sleeve in every album release she has delivered to us since her debut project My Paper Heart way back in 2008. One of my favourite female Christian artists, ever, this powerful emotive, heartfelt, singer-songwriter, with Italian heritage, is now back in 2018, with a brand-new studio album titled Own It, her first full-length album full of new songs, since her 2014 chart-topper If We’re Honest. Yes, you’re right- 4 years, maybe even more than that, between albums. Maybe even the same time it took between Britt Nicole’s Gold and her self-titled album release in 2016. And yet, her success and continual praise throughout her more than 10 year career, on Curb/Word/Fervent, and also in an industry that is dominated by men, is something to be celebrated, even now as we see a continual rise in the amount of women entering into CCM, namely artists like Lauren Daigle, Kari Jobe, Mandisa, Dara Maclean, Tori Kelly, Riley Clemmons, Sarah Reeves and Jasmine Murray, to name a few (I’m sure there are loads more female artists). Francesca is a role model to many teen and young girls, and in some ways, a role model to me as well (a male in my 20s!). And so does Own It live up to it’s hype that has surrounded the album for quite some time (a few months!)? From the Motown inspired ‘The Breakup Song’ to the 1980s style ‘Love Somebody’ and the worshipful duet ‘Defender’ (with Steffany Gretzinger), as well as the powerful pop anthem ‘This Could Change Everything’- a song that can also succeed very well in mainstream radio as well as Christian radio; this is must-have album for anyone who loves Francesca and her music of the past, or anyone who loves a little inspirational motivational album with a faith edge. If anyone who is reading that hasn’t heard of Francesca or her music before- I’d recommend you start off not with Own It but rather, The First 10 Years that encompasses the vast majority of her radio hits. Then listen to Own It– there’s a better appreciation that way, than the other way around!
‘…I’ve been making my new album for a long time; and have had two babies since my last album. I wrote this song a couple of years ago with Bart Millard and David Garcia. Bart loves throw-back style music and I think he would be a Motown style artist if he could. They were playing this old-fashioned musical vibe on the piano and I had this idea of writing a song about breaking up with fear. It is needed in my life and so many people’s lives. How often do we let fear affect us and choke out the things that God has put on our hearts? We jokingly called it “The Breakup Song” and it stuck for me and I thought that was exactly what we were calling it. I remember about a year later telling them that I was getting ready to record the song and they were surprised that I was actually using that title. You can’t have a relationship with fear and be casual about it. You need to get it out of your life for good. It’s the perfect metaphor for ending a relationship and breaking up with fear…’ And the above quote, is the story behind…yes, you guessed it, ‘The Breakup Song’- first song off of Own It, and the first single from the album (and a welcomed inclusion on WOW Hits 2019 as well!). With record player and vinyl sounds, alongside special effects that make the song sound like it was literally recorded in the 1980s or so; Francesca has delivered a song that can be easily sung in situations that aren’t necessarily as faith-based, and still gain a positive reaction from whomever is hearing the song. Francesca is never one to shy away from or hide her faith, yet such a song like ‘The Breakup Song’ shows us a melody that I’m sure will equally divide as well as unite people of different beliefs…and that’s ok. The song itself is powerful and heartfelt, and even though the name of Jesus is never uttered, Francesca’s message she wants to convey to listeners of this song and the album, is one of boldness, intentionality, hope and breaking up with things in life that aren’t as helpful in the grand scheme of things. As the song harkens back to many bible verses, like Philippians 4:6-7 (do not be anxious about anything etc.), 1 John 4:18-19 (perfect love casts out fear) as well as 2 Timothy 1:7 (God not giving us a spirit of fear); ‘The Breakup Song’ is a reminder that fear has no place in the life of…well, anyone. A song to boldly claim as a reminder that it is the Lord that breaks things off, rather than ourselves in our own strength; this is a bold yet necessary decision, as such a song like this can hopefully facilitate a few break-ups in the near future!
Throughout the rest of the album (albeit a short one- only 10 songs, previous albums If We’re Honest was 15, Hundred More Years was 13 and My Paper Heart was also 13), we see Francesca deliver themes that are as poignant as much as they are filled with fun and passion as these melodies offer a broader spectrum of musical styles that Francesca has delved into from her last album release until now. ‘The Very Best’ stands at 2:52, and is a fun pop moment of declaration as we realise that we (i.e.: Christians) ‘…are the start of a moment, we do the things worth doing, we know this is our moment so we own it, we are the next generation, we got the words worth saying, we have the spark to inspire, to start a fire…’, as Francesca utilises vibrant pulsating drum kicks and percussion as its musical backdrop to showcase a track that could be used as an anthem in many situations- singing competitions, Olympics, even conferences and personal moments of reflection. ‘Love Somebody’ follows, and utilises a 1980s style as the song itself and all its throwback musical atmosphere brings me back to 1980s artists like The Police, Duran Duran, David Bowie, Michael Jackson and Amy Grant- the music that in some ways, is a lot more interesting and emotive, compared to whatever is popular right now. For Francesca to portray a song that feels like it could’ve been made in another decade, and deliver the moment and song, very well; then we know that this artist is as influential as they are needed for society as a whole. Lyrically, the song is very strong, as Francesca reminds us that loving people without condition is sure to bring people to the Lord, rather than any other argument we could think is crucial to us ‘saving’ our friends from an eternity without God!
Certain to become maybe her official second single in the near future (if ‘Royalty’ does not become a single, I’d be baffled!), Francesca unveils ‘Royalty’, a song that tells us of who we are and what we’re heirs of, as we’re reminded in this 3:23 melody that ‘…from rejected to accepted, from forgotten to remembered, from the victim to the victor, who we are is not the same and it changes night and day…’, that we are in fact royalty, in the eyes of the Lord. What a song to be encouraged by, as we continue to dwell in the themes, that we are royalty even if we don’t think we are. Released as a music video just this last week, ‘This Could Change Everything’ could receive as much backlash as it could receive praise, as this song in all it’s mainstream-sounding atmosphere remind us to act and make a difference. Because all we know, what we undertake and do, will have consequences and where we end up; yet a song like Francesca’s is one to have on repeat for a while- despite the lack of Biblical moments with this song, Francesca’s lack of Biblical justification to present topics, she makes up for with enthusiasm and emotive power, things that cannot be recreated in any artist, no matter how heard they work.
Francesca also presents to us ‘You Belong’, ‘As Good as it Gets’ and ‘Freedom’; the former being a melody encouraging us that we fit into Jesus’ family, even if at the moment, we believe we don’t; while we see Francesca undertake her best ‘country-style Carrie Underwood impersonation’ in ‘As Good as it Gets’, listeners realising and being encouraged, that God takes our eyes from the future and allows us to live in the now, without the worry that can often consume us never-ending, as we passionately declare that ‘…You lead my heart out of the past, You are the promise here in the moment where I find my rest, You are as good as it gets…’ ‘Defender’ showcases Steffany Gretzinger on backing vocals- Francesca offering yet another worshipful hit after 2014’s ‘Holy Spirit’. Maybe, just maybe, this song will do well on Own It, maybe it won’t, nevertheless, ‘Defender’ (originally on Chris McClarney’s album released this year is a song that declares who God is- our defender during moments we may not see or comprehend. At a towering 7:04; ‘Defender’ segues into album ender ‘Freedom’, a joyous tad-before-3-minute melody that shows Francesca praising the Lord for freedom, full stop! While the song itself feels a little out of place against the long worship song ‘Defender’, ‘Freedom’ and the lyrical moments are touching and heartfelt, as we realise the freedom that was bought for us to share His light and power to others.
Which leaves us with I reckon is the most impacting song on Own It – ‘Let The Light In’. One of my favourite songs from Francesca…ever; the song itself touches on a theme hardly talked and sung about in songs before- the effect, especially the negative one, of social media and the comparison thief that steals our joy and hope that we have about our own lives when compared to others. We scroll through our Instagram, facebook and twitter feeds and compare, intentionally or not, to others- we see the highlight reel of their lives and think they are more ‘perfect’ than ourselves. There is an illusion to present a near-flawless state of being as we look through everyone’s facebook feed, and often, it causes us to feel inadequate when we don’t measure up. Yet this song calls us to be real and vulnerable, to let the light in and expose the lies and issues we cling to at this very moment. A great song to reflect upon, as Francesca channels her own inner Rebecca St. James, particularly in this song; ‘Let the Light In’ hopefully encourages people to bring out the secrets we have into the light, knowing full well that our God never condemns, but restores and comforts during times of trouble!
‘…I thought I had a handle on what this album was going to be, but my husband and I prayed before every songwriting session, and God gave me a completely different set of songs than I was expecting. These songs are so empowering. What they represent to me is my desire to own my identity in Christ, to kick fear out of my life, to own the present moment and not live in the past or even the future. I don’t want to walk in half of what God has for me. I want to walk in all of it. I want to own it! And I want that for everyone who listens too…’ Own It is by far one of Francesca’s most unique, musically ingenious, emotively uplifting, and even confronting and truthful, albums she has ever done in her career thus far. While her wait between albums was over four years (and we may never really know why there was such a hiatus), Own It was well worth it. From her inception into CCM more than 10 years ago, this mother of four has given such an album that has continuous replay value, as many of the songs are standouts, ‘The Breakup Song’ included. This new album from Francesca is sure to impact people, even if her music isn’t necessarily their first style of choice. With many of the 10 tracks standing out both musically and lyrically, Francesca’s relevant and invigorating musical undertone has translating into something unique and relevant, as she nevertheless still holds onto her musical roots of the New York City flavour that has been evident in much of her musical career thus far. While the music and atmosphere of the album is certainly fun, much of the subject material can be hard hitting, with topics like fear and the combating of that, the act of loving someone outside our comfort zone, as well as unveiling of secrets and letting the light in and exposing some of the habits we often keep towards ourselves. As lyrical development continues to be brought to the fore as every new album releases, Own It sets the bar very high for whatever album comes next from Francesca. Well done Francesca for this powerful and realistic album, one of my favourites of 2018 (alongside Lauren Daigle’s Look Up Child, TobMac’s The Elements, for KING AND COUNTRY’s Burn the Ships and Sarah Reeves’ Easy Never Needed You). Here’s hoping this album will be on many other people’s favourites for 2018, in the upcoming weeks and months ahead!
3 songs to listen to: Love Somebody, You Belong, Let The Light In
RIYL: Kerrie Roberts, Britt Nicole, Natalie Grant, Nichole Nordeman