Release Date: March 30th 2018
Reviewed by: Joshua Andre
- Save Me
- Bright Ones
- Confident (feat. Bobby Strand)
- Sing My Way Back
- All That Lives Forever
- Forever Amen (Interlude)
- Tell Me the Truth
- This Is the Sound
- Open Over Us
- Paradigm (Interlude)
Bethel Music, as a label and as a church, has housed many successful and poignant solo worship artists over the years- Brian & Jenn Johnson, Amanda Cook and Jeremy Riddle are the artists that immediately come to my mind, and are probably the most popular and well respected. I don’t think they’ve ever had an artist on their roster who has released an alternative rock album…until now. And that’s exactly what Steffany Gretzinger has set out to do with her sophomore project Blackout, which released…6 months ago (shame on me for not reviewing this majestic work of art earlier!), ) and in my opinion she has succeeded at recording worship music with an edge- a spark that seems to be missing from CCM. Sure her first album The Undoing was more traditional worship, however this release is where Steffany shines quite bright, as she makes God’s name famous without resorting to repetitive lyrics and musical sameness, which is what we hear a lot of on Christian radio, sad to say. In my opinion Blackout is a breath of fresh air in an industry where rock and worship don’t normally mix well- and Steffany is sure to create waves, as she ushers in a new generation of worship leaders who aren’t afraid to break down the walls of what worship music should sound like.
Opening with the lullaby-ish soft rock anthem “Save Me”, we are presented with an honest, vulnerable account of our need for God always, as Steffany admits that she’s not a superhero, and only Jesus can save her from all of her flaws, faults, afflictions and the chains that hold us down. As an album opener that isn’t an upbeat melody, one may think that it’s a misstep, however I believe that it’s a masterstroke, as it shows us that Steffany isn’t concerned with convention or what may seel well- all she’s concerned with is bringing us art in its true form, no matter how it sounds. In that respect, Steffany is to be congratulated. Potential single “Dust” follows, as the tempo comes back up and Steffany fervently relays to us that we are made from dust, and God is God, hence all of our praise to God, back to our creator, is thoroughly deserving, and merited as we give thanks for all He has done for us, even if we may not understand all of the intricacies of why God loves each of us when we obviously don’t deserve it! “Bright Ones” is next, and is a no-nonsense declaration of us being Jesus’ vehicles for change in his world, His agents and disciples, His ‘bright ones’ so to speak- and rounds out a top three that is one of the most cohesive top three melodies I’ve heard this year aside from “You Can, “Live The Journey” and “Assurance” (Building 429’s Live The Journey) and “The Elements”, “I just need u.” and “Scars” (TobyMac’s The Elements)!
The tempo then takes a dive, but for the better as we hear what I reckon is the most inspiring and compelling track on the album- the piano led stirring duet “Confident” featuring Bobby Strand on guest vocals, that essentially highlights to us that ‘…I’m confident Your faithfulness will see me through, my soul can rest, my righteousness is found in You, with every moment left, in every borrowed breath, let this be true, that all my heart, for all my life, belongs to You…’– and it is in this song where we are met with a moment of unbridled and unashamed praise to our Father with no inhibitions whatsoever. Proving that she can also deliver heart-wrenching emotional ballads, Steffany presents with the haunting and gut-punching “Sing My Way Back”, which is only featuring a piano and her sublime vocals, as she declares that sometimes in the hard times of life, finding our way back to normalcy and the Father’s lavish love, can only sometimes be possible by just singing songs over us and truths over us that haven’t occurred yet, but will- it is in the act of singing that drives us out of despair, which may not make sense, but does if you think about it.
The melancholy introspective and reflective piano piece “All That Lives Forever” is next, and rounds out the first half of the album, as Steffany gets real deep (like the writer of Ecclesiastes deep!) and concludes that everything on this earth dies and fades away, all except for love (implied to be Jesus’ love for us and our love for Him!), that ‘…we’re travelers here, only passing through, and every breath we breathe is coming back to You, we’re strangers here, I know it’s true, that death is just a door that leads us home to You…’. It’s a bold thing to proclaim, but nonetheless true, as Steffany continues to pour out her heart, resulting in hit after hit; anthem after anthem.
“Forever Amen” is a 2 minute interlude that is led by keys and has Steffany ardently proclaiming that all she’s made to do on this earth is to give God glory and praise, to forever say ‘amen’; while “Tell Me The Truth” is unlike anything Steffany has done before, as she speaks about a broken relationship, and that love, honesty and being authentic are the only things that can repair what’s perceived to be broken (a sort of companion piece of Chris August’s “Nothing’s Beyond Broken”!). Personally, I’m a fan of the resounding celebratory joyous anthem “This Is The Sound”, as Steffany delivers a Rend Collective inspired melody highlighting that the sound and song that we all need to shout and sing about is the song of Jesus saving our souls and us being free now and forevermore, while the Meredith Andrews’ penned “Open Over Us” is another highlight, and a song about revival and Jesus’ presence flowing down to us actually already happening if we take the time to pay attention to what is happening in the realm of the Holy Spirit. “Oxygen” lyrically is just that- a piano led song declaring that Jesus is who we need to breathe and to just survive, while “Paradigm” is completely an instrumental piano piece that could have been placed at the end rather than separated into a new track; though nonetheless still enthralling and captivating.
Yet no song on Blackout can ever compare to the title track, the album ender. With Steffany providing us with a rocking-out atmosphere and the kind of rock we’re accustomed to and used to hearing from Delirious?; we are met with a vulnerable, emotional melody that directly references the notion that we as Christians are meant to be the light in the dark places, especially during a spiritual blackout- we are supposed to point people to Jesus through the love we have for Him evident in our general interactions with people. With the scriptural basis for the song being Matthew 5:14-16, we are met with a fitting melody to end a near-flawless and brilliant album that is sure to garner multiple listens on my iTunes in the near future. I’m actually not even sure why I avoided this album for so long!
Blackout by Steffany Gretzinger is a hidden gem, an album you never knew you needed or wanted until you have listened to these resounding and fervent worship anthems. With plenty of standouts here, including personal favourites “Confident”, “All That Lives Forever”, “This Is The Sound” and the title track; sky’s the limit here for Steffany, as she continues making music on her own as well as part of the Bethel Music worship team. As we marvel at what God has done in her life and what she has conveyed to us here in this 13 track flawless masterpiece; let us press repeat and listen again to what God is saying through her music…at least until the next studio album or Bethel’s next live project!
4 songs to listen to: Confident, All That Lives Forever, This Is The Sound, Blackout
RIYL: Jesus Culture, Kari Jobe, Amanda Cook, Kristene DiMarco, Vertical Worship, Passion