MercyMe – Always Only Jesus

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Release Date: October 21st 2022

Reviewed by: Jonathan Andre

MercyMeAlways Only Jesus (Amazon mp3/iTunes)

Track Listing:

  1. Hands Up
  2. Better Days Coming
  3. Forgiveable
  4. To Not Worship You
  5. Always Only Jesus
  6. Heart Beats For Your Good
  7. Grace Amazing
  8. Lost In You
  9. Then Christ Came
  10. Nothing But The Blood

MercyMe are icons within Christian music. They just are. With their chart-topping song ‘I Can Only Imagine’ being the most #1 song of the 2000s, this five-piece with singer-songwriter Bart Millard at the helm, reminds us that CCM is not dead, that Christian music can still be good as it can also be ‘radio friendly’. A movie was made about Bart’s life in the 2018 biopic I Can Only Imagine, while we as a site reviewed not only the movie, but also their most recent album, 2021’s inhale (exhale)…these guys came agonisingly close to us writing about the band in our blog series about impactful and influential artists- ultimately, we wrote about Casting Crowns and Newsboys instead, but let me just say, that these men from Oklahoma are no joke. There’s nothing cookie-cutter about MercyMe, and evidenced by their songs and singles ‘I Can Only Imagine’, ‘Shake’, ‘Say I Won’t’, ‘Almost Home’, ‘So Long Self’, ‘You Reign’, ‘Even If’, and ‘Bring the Rain’ (to name a few); Bart and co. and their music, have reminded listeners over the years, of the joys and pains, and ultimately the peace that comes, from living a life for the Lord and His glory (and ultimately our good). With the band still riding high from their success of inhale (exhale)MercyMe are at it again, this time releasing another studio album Always Only Jesus. A ‘quick’ turnaround when it comes to albums these days (it’s assumed that artists release and unveil albums every 2-ish years, the turnaround between inhale (exhale) and Always Only Jesus is 1.5 years), Bart and co. have created a slimline 10 track album that is much more purposeful and intentional, compared to the 16 track somewhat-meandering album of 2021. While generally for me, 10 tracks for an album seemingly sounds way too short (for any artist), this 5-piece band nevertheless pull of the 10-track album trope pretty well, and this is no exception for Always Only Jesus. Comprising of their re-worked song ‘Then Christ Came’, alongside a modernised version of ‘Nothing But the Blood of Jesus’, this is a must-have if you’ve enjoyed various other MercyMe albums prior, as well as appreciating other similar-sounding CCM artists, from Casting Crowns and Newsboys, to Sanctus Real, Building 429 and Tenth Avenue North, to name a few.

‘Then Christ Came’, originally a demo track released in part on their most recent studio album, under the title ‘Then Christ Came (demo)’, is re-recorded and reworked, and comes in at track #9 on Always Only Jesus.  Back when we reviewed inhale (exhale), we said this about the song- ‘…the too-short 55 second demo “Then Christ Came” should definitely be recorded as a full length song for maybe their next album, or even for another artist, with Bart passionately delivering a future modern hymn…’ Now in October 2022, we see our ‘wish’ come true- ‘Then Christ Came’ as a full-fledged song, and it was definitely worth the wait. A song about Christ coming into our lives and nothing ever being the same as a result of that drastic and life-altering change, ‘Then Christ Came’ is simply put, but also profoundly impacting as well. As written very well in a recent press release for the song, we see that, ‘…Two years in the making, “Then Christ Came” was originally slated for MercyMe’s 10th studio album, “inhale (exhale).” However, frontman Bart Millard and his co-writer, David Leonard, didn’t finish the track in time. Yet, knowing it was already a special song, the band included a brief, incomplete demo of the chorus on their latest project. Recently, Millard revisited the lyrics and finished the song with friends Jason Ingram and Phil Wickham…’ While the song was originally for inhale (exhale); this song definitely stands out on the band’s brand-new release, making this one of my own personal highlights on Always Only Jesus, and a song that I’ll continue to listen again and again, as I remind myself that ‘…then Christ came, changing everything, He took my sin and shame away, now every song I sing will be for Him, ever since the moment He walked in, then Christ came…’

Coming in at track #10, ‘Nothing But the Blood’ is a hymn that almost anyone who has grown up in and around Christian music (or people who are knowledgeable about old and sacred hymns of the centuries gone by) would know, myself included. It’s redone here by MercyMe, complete with a different melody and a unique way of delivering the hymn, so as to capture a new audience through its fresh and invigorating sound. Nothing against hymns in general, but this new generation won’t necessarily respond that favourably to songs whose roots run deep to centuries ago. Changing the melody of ‘Nothing But The Blood’ actually works in the songs favour- the message isn’t lost, and the song overall allows newer listeners to really soak in the words and allow God to come and speak to them as if He was speaking to them through a new song. ‘Nothing But The Blood’ is timeless, and yet, MercyMe have created a version that can hopefully allow more people to become more aware of the importance of songs like this. Yes, it’s not done to your traditional melodic undertone that we have heard in recordings in years gone by, but maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe redo more and more hymns, to remind listeners that these lyrics, even though they are set to different music, can still be applicable today, as well as whence they were initially recorded and written, eons and eons ago?

Throughout the rest of the album, Bart Millard and co. have crafted and created a concise, but equally emotive and compelling, album fit for listens in the car, but also for personal reflection and worship too. ‘Hands Up’ is a jovial and joyous first track about throwing your hands up in exclamation, declaring through a physical display of praise and surrender, how you feel about Christ coming and undertaking what He did so that we can be fully reconciled back to the Lord. At a song length of a little over 3 minutes, it’s the perfect way to become energised and enthusiastic, as we see the band show how a simple concept like raising your hands in surrender, can convey so much, to not just the fellow believer inside of the church, but also convey a lot when viewed and seen by people who may not go to church on a regular basis. Lifting up of hands is a way to allow Christ to work within us in a heartfelt and vulnerable way, while it’s also a way of us saying that we don’t have things altogether, acknowledging that it is He who has paved the way back to the Father, and not through anything we think we could’ve done. Well done Bart & co. for ‘Hands Up’…maybe a potential radio single down the line? Maybe.

‘Better Days Coming’ starts off with a powerful drum beat, over vocal effects and an anthemic build, as we begin to hear Bart implore to people who seemingly want to call it quits, encouraging them that ‘…there’ll be better days coming, don’t give up, the hands that are holding tomorrow, are still holding onto us, better days coming, watch and see, we’ll dance through the pain and the sorrow, knowing there’s gonna be better days…’, and while I know that sentimentally, and from a logical standpoint, this song is definitely correct, someone who has gone through something like cancer, or they’ve lost loved ones, or they can’t pay their rent on time, or they are suffering from anxiety, or they’ve had suicidal thoughts…these guys won’t be able to reconcile their own lives with the message portrayed through this MercyMe track (at least for this moment), no matter how true Bart and co. have declared this song to be. Yes, there’s a time and a place to declare truth, but then there are times and places to declare truth, in light of people’s circumstances. This song definitely isn’t necessarily as considerate (albeit unintentionally) to people who are going through a lot of things, so I’d say a disclaimer- that if you’re struggling in life at the moment, for whatever reason, then a song like ‘Better Days Coming’ may not be for this season. Doesn’t mean that anything said in the song isn’t true, but sometimes if you’re going through things that are deep and dark for you, then maybe a certain intention behind the song may not land as it was initially intended for you. And that’s ok.

‘…people say ‘unforgiveable’ a lot, but we don’t use the word ‘forgivable’ much. With all the craziness going on in the world today, sometimes it feels like that forgiveness and grace is the most insane thing, especially with cancel culture. We are very good at eating our wounded…in our perspective, we’ve seen a lot of division within the body of Christ, a lot of people drawing lines, taking different stances on things. And, man, if there was ever a time to remind ourselves that there is one thing we have in common and that’s Jesus, [it would be now]…’ This is the crux, message and heart behind ‘Forgiveable’, a song that I firmly believe has become one of my favourite songs on MercyMe’s new album. It’s a song that encourages us to be more compassionate and gracious, humble in our approach to loving people who seemingly look different compared to us. It’s a song that shows people that they aren’t as screwed up as the world tells them that they are, or better still, they aren’t as lost or too fargone that maybe even Christians them them that they are. ‘Forgiveable’ encourages all people to look for and seek forgiveness, and also encourages people to exercise forgiveness to others, even if they firmly believe that others most definitely don’t deserve it. ‘To Not Worship You’ is another standout song that I’ve enjoyed on the album, and is a hard-hitting song in response to what has been seen around the world over the last few years- people, for some reason or another (some reasons can seem valid, and other reasons seemingly absurd), deconstructing their own faith and really delving into a faith that maybe they have believed for years, but haven’t fully reconciled within them, if push comes to shove. ‘To Not Worship You’ was written in reflection of those who have questioned their faith, even in light of those who have walked away from it altogether. As Bart himself adds himself, ‘…the whole deconstructing of faith became like the flavor of the month. It felt like having conversations about all that, especially the deconstructing of faith, we know people have gone through it. I’m like, I think we’ve all asked the same kind of questions like why do bad things happen to good people? But I just didn’t get an Instagram account and start talking about it that much. I think we’ve always kicked the tires of our faith, but it doesn’t necessarily mean we’re stepping away from it. The song [“To Not Worship You”] for us, personally, it was like, ‘Oh, yeah, I have doubts, I wonder, I question a lot of things, but the one thing is it’s to stop and actually remember, ‘Oh, You’re the God that moves mountains.’ Eventually, it’s like, who am I to ever think of not worshiping you if I truly understand who You are?…’ ‘Always Only Jesus’ strips down the instrumentation at the start, as we see a song delivered through light acoustics (initially) and Bart’s own powerful vocals, as this song showcases the track’s vulnerable lyrics through the change in instrumentation. The song itself is the title track, and reminds us that it’s always only about Jesus, and if it’s about this one thing- then let Jesus be it. Even if we disagree politically, we ought to still be friends if we both declare Jesus on our lips, and even if we don’t, the love of Christ Jesus who lives in me, ought to compel me to not judge the person next to me (who may have a different viewpoint on just about everything, compared to me), but to hopefully sit across from him and have a dialogue and a discourse of ideas. Maybe we can become friends, maybe not. But at the very least, to not otherise that other person, who may believe everything different compared to me. That is what having Jesus in my life (and having it only about Jesus) should look like.

‘Heart Beats For Your Good’ is a powerful and perfect reminder of how the Lord always has our best interests in mind. His heart beats for my good, and that is reflected in this song. Even if we don’t understand (because there’ll be circumstances, situations, and scenarios where we won’t believe that He has our best interests at heart). Even if we don’t believe that what we’re singing is even true. That doesn’t change the truth. That because the Lord and His heart beats for our good, so too will our hearts beat for Him and focus on things that His heart aches and breaks over. We devote our lives to Him not because of what we can gain at the end of it, but because of what He has done for us, and our response to Him in light of that. The album is then rounded out with songs ‘Grace Amazing’ and ‘Lost in You’- the former is a song about this often misunderstood word and term called ‘grace’, and how Bart and co. attempt to highlight all the things that we know it is, thereby reminding us in turn, that ‘…grace, it always sets us free without letting go of me…everytime the Father runs to the one who can’t run fast enough, that’s grace…’, while the latter is a song that allows us all to sit and dwell in the dichotomous feeling and message of said track- the fact that, through ‘Lost In You’, we see the theme expressed, that we are found when we lose ourselves in Christ. That indeed is something to get our head around, and sometimes, we may never fully understand this message/theme 100%, but what we will know is this- that when we delve deeper into the love of Christ; and become overwhelmed (and maybe even a bit ‘lost’ in the enormity of it all) with His grace, kindness and mercy, we will become truly found, knowing who we are and our purpose. We are forever loved, forever treasured, and forever adored in Him. ‘Lost in You’ expresses this quite nicely through these two seemingly dichotomous lyric lines that would otherwise not make sense in a sentence…yet in ‘Lost in You’, it completely does.

So, there it is. Always Only Jesus. 10 tracks. No filler (no seriously, there’s no filler!). Songs that pack a punch. Songs that are upbeat and songs that are anthemic. Songs that allow us to ponder things in our own lives, and songs that allow us to express a worshipful spirit. Songs to get us into the mood, and songs to bring us into a reflective mood. An album that could be nominated for next year’s Dove Awards as Pop/Contemporary Album of the Year (alongside other standout albums like TobyMac’s Life After Death and Steven Curtis Chapman’s Still); MercyMe’s 10 track album is concise enough for us to reflect and ponder about life’s circumstances, especially in this day and age, where we don’t necessarily have time to reflect all that often. While it could’ve been better if the band recorded a couple more tracks for this release, what this album continues to excel at, is MercyMe’s general biblical approach to life’s questions. Sure, not all is answered within the confines of this ten-track album, but at least discussion around these things is encouraged and promoted. That ought to count for this album, right? Well done MercyMe for Always Only Jesus, an album that highlights the importance of Christ in our lives, and the lives of others. Here’s hoping the Lord continues to challenge our lives because of this album, in weeks and months to come.

4 songs to listen to: Heart Beats For Your Good, To Not Worship You, Then Christ Came, Forgiveable

Score: 4.5/5

RIYL: for KING AND COUNTRY, Casting Crowns, Building 429, Newsboys, Tenth Avenue North, Sanctus Real

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