Release Date: January 1st 2016
Reviewed by: Jonathan Andre
- Stand By You
- Hey Hey Hallelujah (feat. Andy Grammer)
- Beating Me Up
- Fight Song
- Better Place
- Lone Ranger
- You Don’t Know My Heart
- Angels in Chelsea
- Lonely Planet
- Stand By You (Acoustic)
- Speechless (Acoustic)
This is my first review of an album that is through-and-through a mainstream album. Why do you ask? Why post such a review on 365 Days of Inspiring Media, a site that primarily posts articles about the Christian faith, and reviews of albums that assist, in whatever way, in the sometimes lifelong quest of many to make sense of a world that is broken where Jesus reminds us all that He’ll make it whole? Why, should I even consider listening to, let alone even reviewing, Rachel Platten’s Wildfire when on the surface there’s virtually no reference to sin, death, resurrection and the redemption of humanity, the struggle of us on our journey back to God, and the overall thematic elements of lifting Jesus higher than any other name there is and will be? These are all good and great questions that can be answered in just one phrase- sometimes, and more often than not, God uses the different, the quirky, the things from left field, the moments that we don’t quite expect, to speak to us the most, about ourselves and Himself. And this is certainly true when it comes to Wildfire, which drops today worldwide.
I recently wrote a fair amount of blogs a few months back about the songs “Fight Song” and “Stand By You”, and how both these songs have inspired myself in my own walk with Christ this past year, I was eager to check out Rachel’s full length album. While the album has only been officially released for one day, I managed to buy a copy of the album when it released in my local CD/DVD store a few days back. Nevertheless, hearing the songs, though none of these tracks made any reference to God, living the Christian life, or any kind of spirituality whatsoever; was as emotive, poignant and heartfelt as any other album. There are some albums, whether the artist realises it or not, that is God-breathed, and certain tracks speak to certain individuals at different times in their lives. This is certainly true about Rachel’s Wildfire. To be a wildfire is to burn bright, to never back down from what we’re wanting to say, even if we are the only ones saying it.
This is what Wildfire is, a collection of songs that are empowering, songs that make us feel hope, happiness, sadness, longing, wishing, and songs that make us look deep inside ourselves and realise we were made for more than our self-centred lives we slip into. Songs like “Stand By You” and “Fight Song” alone ought to be reason enough for anyone who appreciates uplifting songs (I say uplifting instead of ‘religious’) to check out this album. Standing tall at 15 tracks (12 tracks on the original album, plus a bonus song and two acoustic tracks), Rachel’s first album in 5 years is well worth the wait, and an album that I reckon will touch the lives of many listeners around the world, regardless of their ethnic, social, religious or moral persuasion. Arguably one of today’s most engaging, humble and heartfelt artists in the mainstream industry, it is out of humility that comes an ability to share stories with others, in the hope that whatever is sung about encourages and inspires the listener on this journey called life!
If there was one song that has impacted the airwaves this last year, and I’m sure listeners of mainstream music can agree, it would be Rachel Platten’s “Fight Song”. A song that virtually propelled an aspiring singer/songwriter into a household name almost overnight, this song is one for the history books in terms of how fast it went to the top of the charts. So much so I had to write about this song in a Message Mondays post a few months back. And as I listen to this song in particular over the last few months, the more I realise how much I believe God is trying to encourage me, and maybe encourage everyone, through this song. We all have fights and demons, stresses and worries, heartaches and hopeful dreams, to navigate, fight for, fight against and meander through as there are moments in our lives that often move us off-course. While this song makes no reference to God or Jesus, I am still amazed about how much resolve, determination and perseverance there is in this track. “Fight Song”s reach and power to affect and inspire millions of people around the world is nothing short of phenomenal. Call it a miracle, we hear the words sung in the verse, that ‘…like how a single word, can make a heart open…’, and I myself am reminded about how words have power. They have effects, and while we may not believe it at that moment, what we say and speak over someone could be just the difference between nothing to live for and something, all in just the word we say.
“Fight Song” is an anthem if you will, a call for us to stand tall, and rather declaring the song to prove the haters and the doubters wrong, we declare it knowing the amount of fight, heart and resolve we still have in ourselves. As a Christian, I know that the fight and resolve comes from God Himself, empowering us to undertake much more than we could ever dream or imagine. And once we reconcile within us what we need to fight for and what we need to fight against, we can undertake the purposes He has for each of us with much grace and dignity. And if a song like “Fight Song” can encourage myself to mull over these things I expounded upon in these paragraphs, as well as the Message Mondays post, then surely God is encouraging me to wake up and take notice, because “Fight Song”, and Rachel’s music in general, is nothing short of unique, interesting, hopeful, encouraging, and different from any mainstream artist’s music being publicised currently.
With her second single “Stand By You” released to radio in September 2015, Rachel continues to inspire and motivate- even I wrote a blog about the song in a recent Message Mondays post not too long ago. And while the song’s primary focus is about standing by someone in a romantic sense, the message can be applied to a variety of situations, with its influence and appeal as universal as “Fight Song”, possibly even more so. With light electronics in the background, Rachel’s voice soars, and at an age of 34 (to be honest, I didn’t believe it when I saw the ‘Fight Song’ music video and read some of the youtube comments, had to check Wikipedia for confirmation), Rachel’s passion and enthusiasm in what she sings (especially in this track) is as poignant and heartfelt as any other popular mainstream artist currently.
“Stand By You” is a declaration, from us to our friends and loved ones. That while we may or may not find their own personal heaven (the place/moment where all is right with our friend, where they’re in a moment when all their troubles have dissipated), we will indeed walk with them during their journey, even if it means to journey alongside them through their own personal hell, whatever that may be. To boldly declare these statements as it is shown in the song requires faith and guts, requires even God’s help as we don’t judge our loved ones, yet walk with them on their journey for as long as it takes.
And with a collective view count on youtube of over 17 million, it’s no wonder these two aforementioned songs by Rachel are fast becoming some of the most impactful songs 2015 has ever produced. Uplifting and emotional, inspirational and at times confronting, Rachel has once again hit the mark with this track. And it is songs like these two that really causes us to think about our own lives. Are we really willing to be our friend’s eyes during his darkest days? Are we willing to open our hearts, and arms of forgiveness to our friend, to cry with them on hands and knees, and to be the friend they want us to be in that moment? Because if all we singing and saying is just lip service then God still needs to work in our hearts. It is out of a heart of humbleness and vulnerability that we can truly surrender our own needs as we focus on those around us. Can we stand by our friend when their world is crumbling and ours is travelling sky high? Things to think about, all from just hearing a mainstream song. The power of music, right? And with an acoustic rendition of “Stand By You” to further remind us the power of music and lyrics (or rather, more lyrics than music as Rachel brings her vulnerability to the fore in this stripped down version of a song I reckon will be impacting millions of people for months and years to come), Rachel continues to amaze. Well done Rachel for both “Fight Song” and “Stand By You”, songs that I reckon will stand the test of time as the years roll on.
A song that has stood out from the get go for me has been “Astronauts” (aside from the two aforementioned singles). While the song can seem a little muddled and unclear from first listen (even now, I can only decipher about 70% of the message), what I can make out is a message we need to hear- that there are times in our lives where we just need to shut off all the busyness and noise. And as like in the song where a couple longs to be like astronauts and be in a bubble where every worry is dissipated from their lives, we as humanity need to carve out a space where all we do is just reflect on our lives, on what that has been, and what will be. While “Astronauts” is a love song, and an encouragement to all couples in how ‘…I’ll be what you want when everything is gone, let the world disappear, there our places up here we can hide…’, it is nevertheless an encouragement to the rest of society to never give up trying to be like astronauts (metaphorically), even if it means to take the little moments each day to shut out all the noise and focus on what means most to us, our family and our friends.
Throughout the rest of the album, Rachel embarks on a journey of sorts, of emotions, from love and hope, to hurt, and songs that are just fun-filled, as we hear piano led ballads and upbeat melodies as Rachel brings to us a variety of musical genres. “Angels in Chelsea”, “Better Place”, “Lonely Planet” and “Superman” round out the ballads, and each one has a message to relay to listeners, that we all need to be aware of and actively act upon. Having a similar theme to Matthew West’s “Do Something”, “Angels in Chelsea” is littered with keys, electronic effects and vocal distortions as the message of looking around the city at night and seeing the best in people is depicted through this song. While a pessimist may argue that it may be foolish to see ‘angels’ in Chelsea (or in any other city for that matter), what I am challenged through this track is to always be optimistic, and that God can redeem anyone and any situation, that nothing is too far-gone, that ‘…I’ve been there too, and you’re gonna get through…’
The piano-only “Better Place” embarks on a lyrically profound journey like no other, as Rachel vulnerably bears her heart, highlighting the moments where she feels safe and secure in the presence of her loved ones and friends (though this song could also be interpreted to be about God…); while “Superman” is another song about romantic love, as Rachel sings to her husband, relaying that ‘…you don’t have to be superman, you don’t have to hold the world in your hand, you already shown me that you can…’ This is what a marriage is- a commitment between two people, and Rachel gives us a great timely reminder about this- that we don’t always have to shoulder all our burdens, but rather lay them down so others around us (and even God Himself) can carry us through our difficulties. “Lonely Planet”, included in the deluxe version of the album (available at and exclusive to Target); is a sobering song about the worry which is the disconnection humanity has with one another, and that sometimes it may feel like we’re just on a lonely planet, longing for something more yet unable to make the final step because we’re focused on anything but- either our phones, our worries about tomorrow, even our insular bubbles we may be in can keep us from communicating with the world around us. This song encourages us to question why the world is the way it is, and what we can do to make the world less lonely for the people in it.
The mid-tempo “You Don’t Know My Heart”, co-written with songwriter/producer Rob Hawkins (who recently produced Building 429’s Unashamed), is one of the most personal songs on the album. While sadly there is no resolution to such an emotional and heavy track, we are reminded about the messiness of familial relationships. Musically strong as we hear a myriad of drums and Rachel’s soaring vocals, it is the lyrics that I reckon will strike a chord with at least one other person who hears it. Written out of a time where Rachel and her sister’s relationship was strained, we hear Rachel explaining through song her frustrations and feelings so that her sister can understand where her heart is coming from.
Rachel also brings to us interesting themes and messages in the remainder of her tracks, with “Lone Ranger” being about a persona who is torn between the life of a touring artist and the life of someone who settles down with someone forever. It is a feeling we sometimes feel as well- about the life we live right now compared to what could’ve been if we made a different choice a millennia ago. We all have choices to make, and while this song advocates being alone compared to being in and amongst people we know and love, this song is nevertheless one to bring up thoughts about where we’re heading in life. “Hey Hey Hallelujah”, featuring Rachel’s friend Andy Grammer on guest vocals, is about a persona head over heels in love with a woman, while the situation begs the question whether the woman is a good influence on him or not. The song depicts about love being blind, and in fact, sometimes it is. While the song shows us a bleak representation of a relationship between a naïve man and a woman who may or may not be taking him for a ride, the song can also be categorised as a warning, with God showing us exactly what not to look for when it comes to relationships.
“Speechless” is indeed the opposite thematically to “Hey, Hey Hallelujah”, as Rachel switches from warnings to a downright romance song, most likely to her husband, about how he leaves her speechless, in awe about who he is and the relationship they’re in. The song is a reminder to us all that the love shown in this song is just a fraction of how much God loves His creation, and if there’s anything to take away from the track, then this will be it. Are we speechless in front of God, as much as Rachel is speechless in the song in the presence of her husband? Are we speechless because we’re in awe of all the promises we’ve been given in our lives by our Father, or are we speechless because we don’t really believe them? Things to think about. Rachel also gives us an acoustic rendition of the song, highlighting her vocals and piano, as we’re reminded that we too need to be constantly speechless and in awe of what Christ has done and continues to do, rather than to just be in a ho-hum existence, never realising the gravity of our own predicament, and what has been done for us to be reconciled back to our maker.
Ending the album are the songs “Congratulations” and “Beating Me Up”, both these songs about personal matters as Rachel unveils to us vulnerability and we realise that being personal in songs makes it so much better to relate towards. “Congratulations” is a heartfelt song Rachel sings to her former friend who hurt her (intentionally or not we do not know), saying that she has all she’s wanted but not the friendship they had prior; and while this song has a sad ending, we know the reality- that some people are like the people described in the song. Be it as it may, this is where forgiveness and hope come into play- that with Christ in us and living through us, we ought not to sing the same words as Rachel, but learn to forgive situations and people. Here’s hoping Rachel’s relationship with her former friend doesn’t cause her to be bitter in the years ahead.
“Beating Me Up” is another song about relationships, and that sometimes we can beat ourselves up as we analyse moments in failed relationships, and think ‘maybe if only this happened’. This song, while on the surface about relationships, is really about humanity’s fault to always beat ourselves up, about anything. We are all striving to be a perfect bunch, all with a plan, longing to have our ducks in a row. And if things don’t always happen the way we want, we beat ourselves up. This song is a reminder and a sobering account of what we can become if we don’t check ourselves regularly- if we don’t surrender our hurt and failures to Christ and continue to go on with our lives without the help of those who long to give it. While neither of these two tracks are of a happy mood, both “Congratulations” and “Beating Me Up” are very much needed, if only to stir us to believe that not everything in this life is rosy, and that to travel along in this life, we need much more than fate, luck and wit to survive- we need Christ in us and around us!
What have I said about Rachel and her music that I haven’t said already? That she has delivered quite possibly some of the most real, raw and honest collection of songs I’ve heard compared to anyone else within the mainstream industry currently? That even though her songs don’t overtly scream ‘Jesus’ or ‘God’, that each song can be interpreted in various ways, and God can speak through them as much as He can speak through a worship song? Rachel’s heart to make music that makes listeners feel emotions and connects them together in hope, love and encouragement is evident in the music she makes. Who is she compared to in the mainstream industry? Dunno, yet many people have said she’s similar to artists like Sara Bareilles, Taylor Swift and Katy Perry (both of which I haven’t heard any music before, aside from Katy’s “Roar”). Similarities within the Christian industry? Fans of V. Rose, Britt Nicole, Natalie Grant and Jamie Grace would love Rachel and her music style. While her songs and their meanings border on romantic, at least her singing material isn’t like what’s currently on mainstream radio right now. We need a good role model for the younger generation, and Rachel and her album Wildfire right now is a good alternative than the Justin Bieber’s, Kayne West’s and Miley Cyrus’s out there now. Here’s hoping Rachel continues to make uplifting and meaningful music in the future. Kudos to Rachel for delivering such songs that make us all think. Can’t wait til album #3 whenever it releases.
5 songs to listen to: Lonely Planet, Astronauts, Stand By You, Fight Song, Angels in Chelsea
RIYL: Sara Bareilles, Taylor Swift, V. Rose, Britt Nicole, Jamie Grace