Jesus Culture Music/Capitol Christian Music Group
Release Date: August 31st 2018
Reviewed by: Joshua Andre
- Move (feat. Chris McClarney) [Live]
- Awe (feat. Chris Quilala) [Live]
- Not Afraid (feat. Kim Walker-Smith) [Live]
- Living with a Fire (feat. Chris Quilala) [Live]
- Defender (feat. Katie Torwalt) [Live]
- Center of Your Love (feat. Kim Walker-Smith) [Live]
- Freedom (feat. Kim Walker-Smith) [Live]
- Anointing (feat. Chris Quilala) [Live]
- Be Crowned (feat. Bryan Torwalt) [Live]
- Yes and Amen (feat. Chris McClarney) [Live]
- Beautiful Day (feat. Derek Johnson) [Live]
- Let Love (feat. Chris McClarney & Kim Walker-Smith) [Live]
- How Amazing (feat. Kim Walker-Smith) [Live]
- For No Other Reason (feat. Chris Quilala) [Live]
Kim Walker-Smith. Chris Quilala, Bryan and Katie Torwalt, Derek Johnson. Chris McClarney. What do these artists have in common? Yep, they’re all a part of Jesus Culture, the worship movement that’s similar to Passion, in that they release annual live albums, all with the intention of creating accessible worshipful anthems for the church. While we as a site missed reviewing Love Has A Name from last year, we did review Chris and Kim’s respective solo studio albums Spilt The Sky and On My Side, and reviewed each very highly with plenty of standout tracks amongst them. Now, the time has come to take a listen to Living With A Fire, and assess whether these 14 tracks (standing at a whopping 100 minutes!) resonate with me currently, or whether I need to let these songs sit on my iTunes for a while yet before I revisit them.
Well, simply put, let me just say this- I don’t normally write harsh reviews. Every time I find a song that is lacking, most of the time I write a reason why I didn’t like the song, and also something that I reckon the artist can undertake in order to improve their craft in the future. After all, constructive criticisms is what artists want to hear, right? Yet because I am a lover of all things CCM, most pop and worship music does resonate with me, and I usually do not have much to complain about. Yet Living With A Fire changes all of that. First of all- the album is way too long, with every track bar one over 5 minutes, and 2 over 10 minutes. Now I know and understand that since this is a live album, and the recordings were taken directly from one of the concert nights; you can’t really alter anything that happened on the night, if you want it to be authentic. If songs did in fact go for greater than 5 minutes, and some more than 10 on the night (aka The Holy Spirit moved and there were some spontaneous worship parts!), I guess for the sake of giving the listener who didn’t go to the concert a real experience; changing the length to make it shorter, so that listeners and worshippers aren’t bored, would be like giving the listener a B-side project rather than an A-side project. But in the case of Living With A Fire, I found that my interest and enthusiasm was waning the more and more I listened to the project because of these absurdly long tracks and increasingly ‘forced’ and ‘shoe-horned’ spontaneous parts, which at times I found irritating.
For some reason, Living With A Fire plays out more like a CCM album than another other Jesus Culture album, and this isn’t a good thing, considering that other worship albums this year were much more engaging, passionate, and compelling; even with seemingly lower production costs (Michael W. Smith’s Surrounded, ZEALAND’s Liberated, Phil Wickham’s Living Hope and I Am They’s Trial And Triumph come to mind!). That’s not to say that Jesus Culture’s album is bad outright- there are some enjoyable songs such as “Move”, “Let Love” and “Yes And Amen” from Chris McClarney; “Freedom” and “Not Afraid” from Kim Walker-Smith; and the title track and “For No Other Reason” from Chris Quilala. Yet while at a single moment in time every song on Living With A Fire are accessible and able to be sung at any church service- I find that the impact of the songs on my life aren’t much, if any. There are so many worship albums that release every year, and for Jesus Culture to release annual albums of all new songs, with maybe every song being somewhat repetitive and long-ish (average of 5 minutes or more!); what does that say about worship saturation? I reckon we’ve all reached breaking point, and in my mind and opinion, Jesus Culture is still where it was 5 years ago musically and lyrically, and that’s not a good thing.
Now you may vehemently argue that I’m biased against Jesus Culture and bias towards other worship artists (after all, almost every other worship release we’ve reviewed as a site this year we’ve rated quite high, inclusive of Passion’s Whole Heart, another annual release!), however let me just stop all of you there. This is not Jesus Culture v everyone else, and I’m not crucifying these guys. Chris, Kim and the rest of the Jesus Culture team are freakishly talented in their song-writing and their worship leading- past songs like “Your Love Never Fails”, “Come Away”, “Rooftops”, “I Want To Know You”, “Show Me Your Glory”, “Burning Ones”, “Holy Spirit”, “Pursuit”, “My Soul Longs”, “One Thing Remains”, “Miracles”, “Alive In You” and “Fierce” to name a few, remind us all that when the team put their mind to it, their songs can be nothing short of brilliant, as all of the aforementioned tracks are all inspiring, engaging, moving and impacting to me, both at the time they were recorded and now.
But as it stands Living With A Fire is lacking- there’s something that I can’t put my finger on right at this moment, yet as a whole, the album isn’t that enjoyable as something I can revisit 5 years down the track, and go ‘wow, that was good’. This album is more like ‘meh’, and I guess right now that’s where Jesus Culture is right now. I’ve heard in the past the band be great and blow my mind several times, so I know they can write good songs if they maybe took more time (and not release albums every year!). Perhaps Living With A Fire will be a ‘wow’ album for me if I do revisit it 5 years or so later, yet right now, I am still waiting for that wow moment. Living With A Fire isn’t it in 2018, even though the band does try their hardest here. Perhaps releasing albums every 2-3 years and having shorter tracks would refine the album and make it much more dynamic and fuller, and only time will tell as to what Jesus Culture do musically in the future. Maybe an acoustic, studio or covers album- something other than the live project to add variety and break up the sameness- is required, or something radically different like rock or rap. But if these guys still release something like Living With A Fire next year, maybe it’s time to step off the bandwagon, which is a shame. Chris, Kim, if you’re reading this, please change up something quick. I love your music guys, however if next year’s material is like this year’s, you may find that me and other listeners only listening to your earlier melodies…
3 songs to listen to: Move, Freedom, Yes And Amen
RIYL: Passion, Hillsong UNITED, Bethel Music, Kari Jobe, Cody Carnes, All Sons And Daughters