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Release Date: May 10th 2019
Reviewed by: Jonathan Andre
Newsboys United – UNITED (Deluxe) (Amazon mp3/iTunes)
- Greatness of Our God
- The Cross Has the Final Word
- Love One Another (feat. Kevin Max)
- Greatness of Our God (Doug Weier Remix)
- Never Setting Sun
- Beautiful Story
- Only The Son
- Worth Fighting For
- This I Know
- Only The Son (Yeshua) (Doug Weier Remix)
- Set Me Ablaze
- UNITED: The Story Behind the Album
It’s no stranger to people who are a fan of music in general, that the Newsboys, a band that originated in Australia and that are now global impacting around the world with their catchy pop-rock anthems that inspire hope and encouragement in many who hear the music (myself included); are going through yet another reshuffle and transition. As you can read about it all in my most recent review of Newsboys’ first single in around 2 years, ‘Greatness Of Our God’; what I can say about this new supergroup aptly and most appropriately called Newsboys UNITED, is that both Peter and Phil add a great nostalgia feel and dynamic to an already powerful and emotive group, one that has, I reckon, only risen in popularity since Michael Tait took the lead vocal helm when Peter stepped away from the band in 2009. Because what once was just a guesting vocal on a song a couple of years ago (‘The Cross Has the Final Word’) has now turned into an unofficial return of both Peter and Phil to the band. Whether their ‘solo’ efforts- Peter Furler Band and Zealand Worship, respectively, will continue or not is another story. But what I do know is this- Newsboys UNITED, as unprecented and even unplanned as it was, is nevertheless welcomed by myself as this new supergroup as I say it, release an album aptly and fittingly titled UNITED, comprising of new songs and covers, songs that we have heard over the last couple of years, and songs that harken back to the Peter Furler-led Adoration-Devotion-Thrive days, and blends them with the ever-reliable Tait-led worshipful atmosphere that was evident on much of Newsboys’ later material. UNITED is a treasure for longtime fans, and while the quirkiness that was evident in much of the Furler-led material in Take Me To Your Leader, Step Up To the Microphone, Go and Love Liberty Disco seem to be at bay; what these six men have undertaken is something that I reckon can be comparable to the comeback of Audio Adrenaline in 2012.
Released in early 2017, ‘The Cross Has the Final Word’ was the first song to surface that led onto the road of Peter (and Phil) being part of Newsboys UNITED. Back then, we didn’t really know whether Peter was coming back in an official capacity or not, and thus, the song was ever the more special. As I wrote in my previous review on the song, and I quote- ‘…what is even more interesting about this new track from Michael and co. is this- Peter Furler is a guest vocal on the track. With no press release (thus far) about the song, we have no idea whether Peter is just guesting on the track or whether he is joining the band again in some capacity (considering that Peter’s last solo effort was Sun and Shield in 2014). Nevertheless, it is nice to hear Peter’s vocals again on a track, it’s been a while since I’ve heard Peter, who I reckon is one of CCM’s most passionate and enthusiastic singer-songwriters of this generation. Even though Michael has made the Newsboys his own since 2009, the band hasn’t been the same since Peter left. Who knows what may happen in the future. If this collaboration is just a one-off, then fair enough. If it is anything more, then…let us be prepared for what could be one of the biggest stories in Christian music ever since Audio Adrenaline reformed in 2013…’ And indeed it was something more than just a one-off guest vocal. The song itself was great- it’s message Biblical and foundational in that we are reminded as listeners that the cross was where the transaction happened- where sin died and everything we ever did was given over to Jesus in such a way that we don’t have to be worried or even ashamed at our own insecurities and hurts, our own failures and shortcomings, well, ever, I guess. As I wrote a couple of years ago, ‘…we are reminded of the power of music, and the power of a song. One song can spark so much, which is what I reckon ‘The Cross Has the Final Word’ could do in the upcoming months ahead. So for the Newsboys to cover it is only fitting. Will the song become more popular because of the band? Most definitely. But I reckon the real talking point won’t be the song at all. It’ll be the presence of Peter Furler in the track…’ Well done to both Peter and Michael for such a poignant and powerful, and in hindsight, a poetically fitting song for them to start upon this beautiful venture which is now birthed into this band called Newsboys UNITED!
‘Greatness Of Our God’ released in January 2019, and though I initially thought it was a One Sonic Society cover, thankfully it wasn’t. With both Michael and Peter at the helm, their newly unveilved pseudonym Newsboys UNITED was credited for the release of this track. Musically, the song is something out of the era of Adoration/Devotion/Thrive, and that’s ok. It is nostalgia but also a new thing. It is unique and different, and maybe at times uncertain how to navigate with two lead singers, but with the release of this new single, we are reminded that often, it works. We don’t know how the dynamics of the band are going to be moving forward, but, considering the critical acclaim of this song over the last few months; UNITED the album had big shoes to fill. Nevertheless, ‘Greatness of Our God’ is a reminder of God’s greatness and though some, if not most, of the lyrics can sound cliché, the passion and enthusiasm of Peter’s voice, and the nostalgia that Phil and Peter bring, should and ought to be impetus for us to listen to the song, at least once. Many bands come and go, and many have many incarnations. Newsboys 3.0 (with the inclusion of both Peter Furler and Phil Joel) may be just for this album, or it could be a longer partnership. Whatever the case, we all welcome Peter back with open arms, as we journey alongside, and see what he does best, create music in a similar vein to ‘Shine’, ‘Breakfast’, ‘I Am Free’, ‘Wherever We Go’, ‘Devotion’ and ‘Joy’, to name a few. With the band also unveiling to us a remix version of ‘Greatness Of Our God’, with parts during the song given more to Michael Tait and Phil Joel to showcase their stamp on the song, compared to the original recording that was more Peter-Furler-influenced; Furler, Joel, Tait and co. have showcased arguably one of my own favourite songs of the 2019 period. Well done Newsboys UNITED for this new song- one that we all need to be reminded, that God’s greatness is something we should be actively thanking Him for, within this busy schedule that we lead!
Both ‘Symphony’, ‘Only The Son (Yeshua)’ and ‘This I Know’ are the other songs that were released prior to UNITED, and each one of them showcases the talents of the six men, reminding us that even with a large group, cohesiveness, co-operation and collaboration can result in candid, catchy and confronting melodies that challenge us all to actively change our assumptions, often about Christ, or even about ourselves. ‘Symphony’ comes in at track #3; and is a song that is as worshipful as it is hopeful, encouraging and at times reminding us that old and new can coexist together. The song itself is as biblical as they come- the band discloses a theme of us living our lives as if a symphony is ejecting out of us and permeating whomever we meet. A symphony, by definition, is one of a big and grandiose anthem, a literal musical piece that evoke feelings of passion and hope, of restoration and renewal, that when one listens to a symphony piece, we can’t help but feel inspired and called to action- how one such style of a musical layered composition can undertake and bring to the fore such feelings of action is still considered a mystery, but as this song by the Newsboys (or shall we be technical now and call them Newsboys UNITED?) relays, our lives themselves ought to be like a symphony, when people view our lives not only from a distance but up close. How we live our lives both in public and private ought to be all in for the things we believe truly matter, resounding and giving out a symphony atmosphere in the process. ‘This I Know’, what I reckon is one of my favourite songs not only on this album but throughout the last few years of Newsboys and their material (my favourite since ‘We Believe’!); is certainly single material. A song that states what we know to be true in our own Christian walk of life- ‘…the shelter of Your presence, where I find the solace, where I know, I am hidden in a secret place, You’re sovereign in the struggle, You’re with me through the trial, still I know, You’re the anchor for my soul…’ A song that will make you worship alongside it in no time, ‘This I Know’ will be in churches. No doubt. Whether it will be this year or the next, it will happen. And when it does, expect a the song to catch on in millions of homes around the world- a song that can and should have the pulling power in years to come, like ‘God’s Not Dead’ or ‘We Believe’!
‘Only The Son (Yeshua)’ is the last pre-release track on the album, and is actually not really a new song- the chorus, amid a fair amount of repetition, is new (and though it is repetitious, boy is it definitely catchy!), but the verses are indeed taken straight from Peter’s solo (well The Peter Furler Band) material, a song titled ‘Yeshua’ released on Sun and Shield way back in 2014. Altered and sped up, the original song way back in 2014 featured Peter’s father in law, Mylon LeFevre. That version was an acoustically driven track with light guitars and the soulful voices of both Peter and Mylon declaring out that ‘…we worship You, in spirit and truth, for all You’ve done and all You do, we worship You with gratitude, for all You’ve done and all You do…’ In a moment of peaceful tranquillity, 2014’s ‘Yeshua’ is set apart and is one of the standouts on Peter’s 2014 album. Here on UNITED, ‘Only the Son (Yeshua)’ similarly stands tall. Also re-done as a remix as well (though I reckon in the track listing, the remix and the original was mislabelled on iTunes), I enjoyed the original more, nevertheless, the message of both versions of the track still remains- that the Lord our God, our Yeshua, is to be worshipped and declared as holy, as we live out what we believe in every aspect of our waking life we lead, in whatever way we feel that expressing ourselves in our daily walk brings it all back to the Father in Heaven!
Throughout the rest of the album, we see the band give us songs that are ballads, others that are upbeat, some songs that we know, and others that we don’t. ‘Love One Another’ is a short two minute pop melody about loving one another, and though not necessarily explicitly ‘Christian’ in nature, the song does give us a timely reminder to show love to our fellow man, one of the very commandments Jesus told us all to undertake (aside from loving Him of course!). The addition of Kevin Max seems to be totally underutilised here- instead of backing vocals and a few ‘yeeaahhh’ moments, he could’ve been given his own verse or two- the utilisation of Kevin in ‘I Am Second’ and ‘God’s Not Dead’ a while ago was much more cohesive than this song. Nevertheless, it is great to hear Kevin, arguably one of the most underrated voices in the music industry…ever! ‘Never Setting Sun’ and ‘Beautiful Story’ are solo-only songs- the former being Peter Furler-led, and the latter Michael Tait-led. ‘Never Setting Sun’ feels like it could’ve been on an album like Devotion or Go, and showcases the theme of God being the never setting sun, and how the sun shines on everyone- good and bad, so too does the Lord shower His love and affection- for people who know Him and people who don’t. And yet, while at times the song doesn’t really give us anything new with regards to sound from Newsboys UNITED (‘Never Setting Sun’ itself feels like it was straight from 10 years ago- and that can either be good for nostalgia, or not, for growth and artistic development!), Peter still delivers flawlessly, and hopefully, in time, the song can impact me more than it has done right now. ‘Beautiful Story’ is the only ballad as Michael Tait parallels God to that of a writer, writing our stories and giving us a beautiful, interwoven life full of twists and turns, but ultimately a life worth living because of the lessons learned along the way. A song that is certain to be considered a quasi-worship song, the repetition of the chorus is what I reckon brings the song down, from a lyrical standpoint. Nevertheless, Newsboys UNITED continue with standout songs- ‘Worth Fighting For’, a companion to ‘Love One Another’, reminds us all what remains and is true after everything else, in the hauntingly chilling yet hopefully compelling lyrics, that we ought to ‘…love your neighbor as yourself, treat each other kind, read the words that Jesus said and then let them free your mind, forgive the ones who’ve hurt you most, don’t tarry in the past, buy the truth never let it go, it’s the only thing that lasts…’, while ‘Fearless’, a cover of the song released a few years ago by Australian singer-songwriter Mia Fieldes, gives us the courage we need as both Furler and Tait champion out that ‘…I am fearless, in Your presence, You’re all around me, all around me, in my weakness, You are strongest, You surround me, You surround me…’
‘Set Me Ablaze’ is the last track on the original edition of UNITED, and is a worship cover of the song of the same name by worship leaders Bryan and Katie Torwalt. And while I’m sure other people may thoroughly enjoy this song- I felt that by the time I heard this song, that as a whole the album was worship overkill. I know worship right now is Newsboys UNITED’s style, and that’s ok, but to be honest, I miss the days of Thrive, Go, In the Hands of God, even the early times of Take Me To Your Leader and Step Up to the Microphone. ‘Set Me Ablaze’ just seems like another run-of-the-mill song about setting our hearts on fire, a theme that has been flogged to death over the years, in songs like ‘Refiner’s Fire’ (Brian Doersken), ‘Fire Never Sleeps’ (Martin Smith), ‘Consuming Fire’ (Tim Hughes), ‘Set A Fire’ (Building 429) and ‘Start a Fire’ (Unspoken). To be honest, all these aforementioned songs about setting something ablaze and setting fire (metaphorical) to things in our lives that need to burn for Christ; are catchier and more enjoyable than ‘Set Me Ablaze’, sad to say. Nothing against Newsboys- they recorded an excellent rendition of the song. Maybe it’s just the oversaturation of worship songs at the moment. And for me, ‘Set Me Ablaze’ and ‘Never Setting Sun’ bring down the album- just a bit. ‘Rejoice’ is the remaining track, and is a deluxe-only song, about us choosing each day to rejoice God in every aspect of what we do. Featuring Phil Joel more prominent on vocals, this ‘Step Up to the Microphone’-esque melody deserved to be on the standard edition of the album- why was it only on the deluxe version? Nevertheless, we are met with a gem of a song that is a certain highlight for me. Maybe, this track is a sign of a style to come from Newsboys UNITED?
UNITED where it stands is a great album by the band, and though a few kinks here and there, as a whole, serves its purpose in creating some nostalgia as well as bringing with it a new song and sound that incorporates both eras of music. Michael and Peter are some of the most humble and heartfelt vocalists at the moment, and this album in particular shows how a band can co-exist with two lead singers- and if artists like I AM THEY, Casting Crowns and downhere can co-exist, why can’t Newsboys UNITED? Added to this lot of songs is an album ender (for the deluxe edition) of the story behind the album- a 7 minute interview about the story behind the band and the album as a whole; UNITED is a must-have album if you’ve enjoyed Peter’s previous material, or if you’ve loved Michael’s soulful voice all this time as well. In essence, this is a must have for all lovers of music, and I mean all. Peter, Michael and the rest have reminded us what it means to grow up with one of the most beloved bands of the 1990s/2000s within the scope of Christian music. To hear the sound, or elements of it, again, is nothing short of miraculous. So what can we look forward to next? Maybe, another album with DC Talk? Or maybe some Rebecca St. James, now that she’s signed to Bethel Music? Or maybe even Avalon again? Whatever the case, Newsboys and their revival can pave the way for other artists to make comebacks and other reshuffles. Remember, if an artist like Newsboys, or even that of Nichole Nordeman, can make lineup changes and combacks even now, then there’s hope for other bands just yet!
5 songs to listen to: Greatness of Our God, Only The Son (Yeshua), Symphony, This I Know, Worth Fighting For
RIYL: DC Talk, Audio Adrenaline, TobyMac, Zealand Worship, Phil Joel, Newsboys 1.0