Release Date: April 29th 2016
Reviewed by: Jonathan Andre
- Let You Lead
- Love You
- Speed of Light
- Embers (feat. Kevin Max)
- Something Better
- Even Now
- It is Well
- Run to You
Quite possibly one of my favourite artists ever to come out of the U.K. (alongside others like Matt Redman, Tim Hughes, Delirious? and Rend Collective); Philippa Hanna, one of this generations most relevant Christian artists from Britain today, continues to encourage us all with her newest album Speed Of Light, a follow-up from her 2013 album Through the Woods, quite possibly her most popular album to date. Inspiring many listeners around the world, including myself throughout her music career thus far, from her humble beginnings with her albums Watching Me and Taste, and her chart topping song “I Am Amazing”, to her momentual hits “Lighthouse”, “Hollywood” and “Stars Will Fall” from her 2013 offering, Philippa’s journey towards Christianity, that started in 2004, is an inspiration to anyone who witnesses a certainty in her music, lyrics that encourage us all, yet also showcase as sense of identity for Philippa.
While she may not necessarily be as famous in America as artists like Francesca Battistelli, Natalie Grant or Meredith Andrews; it is her honesty within each and every song, that has given myself at least much respect as she writes her songs and incorporates a British flavour into her music that is different, in a good way, compared to the endless ‘Americanised’ songs I hear on radio. That’s not to say that the songs on K-Love or Air1 aren’t great, it’s just that sometimes there’s a demeanour and musical ability that British and Australian artists carry that comes through in their music, which is always a good thing. With this album a collision between folk, contemporary pop, worship and acoustic, these musical elements that tie together to create the musical landscape of Speed of Light is what makes this album one to not miss if you are a fan of British music, Philippa, or both.
Recently on tour with Leona Lewis throughout the earlier part of 2016, as well as being on tour with Lionel Ritchie in 2012, Philippa’s ability to write songs that explore faith in a subtle and encouraging way is what is going to be a great asset to Philippa’s musical ability in months and years to come. With a myriad of imagery, motifs, and unique metaphors, this album which was funded through rocketfuel in 2015 is certain to become one of my favourite albums of 2016, alongside other albums from artists like Phil Wickham, 1GN, Steven Curtis Chapman, Urban Rescue and Meredith Andrews. Speed of Light and its messages just continues to assert my firm stand that Philippa is by far an amazing songwriter, and one of Britian’s best kept secrets. As with bands and artists like Rend Collective, Delirious?, Tim Hughes and Matt Redman; Philippa will make it big in the U.S. (it’s only a matter of time). Til then, let’s enjoy Speed of Light, an album that showcases a duet with Kevin Max, a cover of Bethel’s famous song “It is Well”, as well as musically and thematically employs imagery and motifs about light and God being the ultimate provider of it.
Released as a single in November 2015, “Even Now” is a case of holding onto the fact that God is present during the moments when we can’t see it- even the title shows us all what the song is about, that even now, during moments of uncertainty, calamity, hopelessness, in a world where corruption and greed mean more to people than helping their fellow man and woman; God is still present and working. A stylistic departure from her previous material, this worshipful sound full of big keyboard sounds and a sonically epic anthemic nature imparts to the listener a hauntingly refreshing and confronting lyric, that ‘…even now in the deepest canyon, even now where there are no answers, You alone are the hope of my darkest hour so I trust you even now…’ Such encouraging words from a song that wouldn’t feel out of place on either radio, or a Sunday morning worship service set; “Even Now” is an encouragement to many, that whilst we’re in the valley for whatever reason, we can trust God that He has things all together. Well done Philippa for a great first single, and one of my standouts songs on Speed of Light.
“Arrow”, the second single from the album, is something different and unique, far from anything Philippa has done in the past. Debuted in early April in the form of a music video, the song tackles the theme of confinement, and how the world tells us what we should and shouldn’t be. The confines placed around us, either by ourselves, others or even the devil himself, ought to fall to the ground as this song and video is an encouragement, full of life, vigour, light acoustics and airy vocals as Philippa makes a statement, that ‘…I am an arrow, I was made to fly…rushing through the sky, with Your wind behind me, I’m completely alive…’ An arrow never misses its target, and so we are to never miss our target too, which is this- to make disciples of Jesus Christ, always knowing along the way that it is the Holy Spirit that guides and convicts the hearts of those we are in fellowship and relationship with. “Arrow” is a clever and unique reminder of this, that in Christ, we are free from the limitations we have on our lives. Alongside “Even Now”, “Arrow” is another standout on an album that is slowly becoming one of my favourite Philippa Hanna albums ever!
“Let You Lead”, the first track on the album, opens with a powerful electric guitar strum, hopefully letting listeners know to take notice, because track #1 sets the tone for the whole album, and “Let You Lead” does that nicely, and with a theme of letting God lead in all areas of our life, coupled with the fact that Philippa has brought in the heavy electric guitars instead of the simple serene acoustics that seem to litter through most of Through the Woods, what’s not to love about the song? “Let You Lead”, and a lot of Speed of Light, focuses on the theme of allowing God to work through our pain and hurt, letting Him lead and us being ok with that. Even the next track “Perfectly”, complete with gang vocals, light electric guitar undertones, and a whistle and powerful drum beat, relays the all-relatable theme of how we ‘…won’t worry when things don’t go my way, and I won’t fear when my plans don’t fall in place, no need for me to second guess, You’re not the God of second best, no plan B, I don’t always know what You’re doing but You’re doing it perfectly…’ Isn’t it a great sentiment to never worry, all the while believing in a God who has our best interests at heart? Yet in songs like “Even Now”, we hear Philippa sing from a place of hurting and doubt, as we realise that sometimes, it can seem difficult to surrender everything to God, even the worries we have. Yet this album is nevertheless an encouragement, that there is a song through every season, and that God leads us through experiences so that we can have a deeper understanding of ourselves and Himself through the process.
The title track “Speed of Light” shows us a lot of light imagery and makes my own mind turn back to high school when I was doing a lot of science, yet this song is a reminder that in our lives, we can never run from our Maker, Creator, Saviour and Friend. A kick drum and keyboard prominent track, it isn’t a song that is portrayed in a negative sense, where we ought to be afraid that we can never run from God, because He will find us out and expose our secrets, but rather, His love will always find us and envelop us in spite of our actions. We may always run, yet He always comes to us where we are, which is a good thing. A song that’ll challenge us to see the side of God’s love that is redeeming rather than a judgemental God that many in this world, believers and unbelievers alike, may have of Him already; Philippa continues to deliver to us poignant themes of hope, belief, love, uncertainty and all throughout, a grounding in our Father as we travel through all these emotions in life. “Love You” features loads of electronic effects and vocal distortion as Philippa relays the emotion of love, either to a friend, family member or God Himself as we see an honest portrayal of how we all just want to say ‘I love you’ to whomever we have in mind, yet what we really do is dance around it because of hurt and fear; while “Enough” is one of the most stripped down songs musically as Philippa delves into the theme of God being enough for us, as we’re presented with this honest question- that if we have God’s love and that’s it, will it be enough to live our lives?
“Something Better” strips everything back with just Philippa’s vocals, keyboards and string instruments as she declares that a relationship with God is her ‘…something better, You brought it all together, like finding buried treasure…’ while album ender “Run to You” brings to life a church organ to present a gospel feel as we witness a single in the making- full of lyrical transparency, a catchy melody and an encouragement to many, that ‘…I’m gonna run to You, You’re the one that I put my hope in, You’re the hope for the world that’s broken…’ Normally albums end with a reflective melody and a subdued song of praise, not Speed of Light– “Run to You” is one of the most rousing and anthemic songs on the album…and on any other album, this song would’ve been near the front of the album, yet this isn’t any other CCM album, and Philippa isn’t any CCM artist. Collaborating with Kevin Max (1/3 of DC Talk) in “Embers”, this song is about a broken relationship with God where the persona asks God if they can ‘…we start over here, that there’s a way to mend the broken years, is this humble prayer enough tonight? Tell me we can reignite the flame, the fire of our love can burn again, that we can bring these embers back to life?…’, and the added inclusion of Kevin brings with it an increased depth lyrically and stylistically. Philippa also brings to the table a cover of Bethel’s hit “It is Well”, which is in turn a re-imagining and a reinvention of the well beloved hymn of the same name. Nothing much is different when we hear Philippa’s version against the well-loved Bethel original, nevertheless, it is great to hear Philippa sing a vertical worship song for a change. Who knows, maybe a worship album in the future?
Philippa’s new album and a great follow up to what I reckon was one of the most underrated album releases, of any genre, in 2013; Speed of Light is a journey full of lyrical and stylistic ingeniousness, as Philippa brings to listeners songs of comfort and confrontation, hopeful moments of clarity and songs where questions are just asked. And while she’s still not as publicised or even as popular as one would hope she’d be, her presence on both British Christian and mainstream radio is growing. Speed of Light is indeed one of my favourite albums of 2016, in a similar musical and lyrical vein to that of Phil Wickham (Children of God), Steven Curtis Chapman (Worship and Believe), Meredith Andrews (Deeper), Jordan Feliz (The River) and Urban Rescue (Wild Heart). A joy to hear and enjoy regardless of your favourite music genre or if you know Philippa and her music or not, the album is a clever reminder that God’s love envelops us all, that He will lead us on our journey and that everything we go through will be orchestrated by God to shine a light more on Him than on us. From the title track to “Arrow”, “Run to You” and “Embers”; this is a must have for anyone who loves British music, worship music, and out of the box music that is not CCM. Well done Philippa for such an album full of inspiration and motivation. An album that’ll certainly be in my iTunes rotation playlist for months to come!
3 songs to listen to: Run to You, Even Now, Perfectly
RIYL: Audrey Assad, Rend Collective, Tim Hughes, Beth Croft, Natalie Grant