Capitol Christian Distribution
Release Date: September 25th 2015
Reviewed by: Jonathan Andre
- Greater (MercyMe)
- Soul on Fire (Third Day)
- He Knows (Jeremy Camp)
- Broken Together (Casting Crowns)
- He Knows My Name (Francesca Battistelli)
- Overwhelmed (Big Daddy Weave)
- Jesus Loves Me (Chris Tomlin)
- Save My Life (Sidewalk Prophets)
- Even So Come (Passion)
- Because He Lives (Matt Maher)
- I Am Not Alone (Kari Jobe)
- Day One (Matthew West)
- Something Beautiful (Steven Curtis Chapman)
- Press On (Mandisa)
- Stars in the Night (Tenth Avenue North)
- You are Loved (Stars Go Dim) BONUS
- From the Day (I Am They) BONUS
- No Turning Back (Brandon Heath) BONUS DELUXE
- Brave (Moriah Peters) BONUS DELUXE
- How Sweet the Sound (Citizen Way) BONUS DELUXE
- Shoulders (for KING & COUNTRY)
- Brother (Needtobreathe)
- Touch The Sky (UNITED)
- How Can It Be (Lauren Daigle)
- Drops in the Ocean (Hawk Nelson)
- Beyond Me (TobyMac)
- Do Life Big (Jamie Grace)
- Come As You Are (Crowder)
- Lord, I’m Ready Now (Plumb)
- Impossible (Building 429)
- Through All Of It (Colton Dixon)
- Start a Fire (Unspoken)
- Who I Am (Blanca)
- You Will Never Run (Rend Collective)
- King of My Heart (Love and the Outcome)
- I’ll Keep On (feat. Jeremiah Carlson) (NF) BONUS
- Let it Be Love (Family Force 5) BONUS DELUXE
- This is Living (Hillsong Young and Free) BONUS DELUXE
- Making Me New (Royal Tailor) BONUS DELUXE
Another year, another WOW Hits. I know I can sound ominous when I state that the WOW brand has been always a step or two behind what current radio hits are at the moment, but when I look at this year’s song list for WOW Hits 2016, supposedly the best 39 tracks of this year, I smile to myself and think- sure this album is a great album, and looking at songs alone and keeping the tag of ‘the best songs of the year’ out of my mind, I’d give this album a 4/5. Yet with the claim that this album is the one-stop album for any Christian music fan, the album sadly falls short. Songs are either untimely, while other tracks, artists and even labels are shunned altogether.
Each year Capitol Christian Music Group, Word Label Group and Provident Label Group come together to deliver a supposed ‘must-have’ album, and one that’ll always have its critics and compliments, depending on who you’d ask. I tend to be excited, or at least intrigued, whenever the song list for a WOW Hits album releases. WOW has been in circulation since 1995, rivalling its mainstream counterpart NOW That Is What I Call Music!, and while the WOW brand briefly decided to abandon its yearly compilation to move towards a three year album with WOW Hits 1, it quickly abandoned that project too, and released WOW Hits 2009 that year as well. Why they did something like that, I’m not sure. And as I glance through this year’s WOW Hits, I stop to wonder. Maybe if they did stick with the original plan, and released WOW Hits 2 after WOW Hits 1 like it was originally planned, maybe, just maybe, songs would be more timely, and the album would be more about actual hits throughout the year than years before, artists would be recognised that were previously overlooked, and the same artists that have been on WOW albums for an eternity would make way for newer lesser known artists. Has that been the case on this year’s compilation? Read on and find out.
Glancing through the first Disc of WOW Hits 2016, we are immediately drawn to the worshipful nature of the album in general, as opposed to the pop/AC atmosphere of WOW Hits 2015 Disc 1. Songs like “I Am Not Alone” (Kari Jobe), “Jesus Loves Me” (Chris Tomlin), “Because He Lives” (Matt Maher), “Soul on Fire” (Third Day) and “Even So Come” (Kristian Stanfill) have all received heavy airplay throughout the year, and all are present on disc 1, each of their melodies in their own way reminding us all of God’s presence and power, and our own reliance on Him in every aspect of our daily lives. MercyMe offer up their hit in “Greater”, and while I probably would’ve loved to have seen their most recent hit “Flawless” make the WOW Hits 2016 list, “Greater” is nevertheless a great song, about us declaring that He who is in us is greater that he who’s in the world. With a country/southern feel, this quintet present a great first track to get the toes tapping with anticipation to what the rest of the album brings. Casting Crowns offer the mellow piano only “Broken Together”, their most personal song on Thrive that speaks about a broken marriage, and how the only way to navigate through relationships is by being broken and admitting that, to our friends, family and those around us; while “He Knows” and “He Knows My Name”, by Jeremy Camp and Francesca Battistelli respectively, delve upon a similar theme of God knowing the deepest parts of us, our triumphs, failures and successes, all the while walking alongside us throughout the difficult times.
And while I probably would’ve liked to have seen “For Those Who Can’t Speak” included on WOW Hits 2016 (a much more timely and unique single featuring rappers KB and Derek Minor about us speaking up for those who cannot), “Stars In the Night”, though one of the most CCM melodies Tenth Avenue North have recorded in recent history, is still very much welcomed on WOW Hits 2016 Disc 1; with this melody inviting us to believe in the fact that God leads us through the darkness, just like how stars in the night lead us to where we want to travel. Matthew West, singer, songwriter and storyteller, invites us to partake in “Day One”, another welcomed addition to the WOW Disc 1 song lineup, and while the song itself lyrically can seem a slight too repetitive, the message itself is something we all need to hear- that each and every new day is an opportunity to start over, not worrying about the past because we know who holds it, and having full confidence in a future with Christ in us and alongside us. A great standout on WOW Hits 2016, Matthew delivers quite possibly one of the most thought-provoking songs I’ve heard since his chart topping single “Forgiveness” in 2012!
Looking at disc 2 of WOW Hits 2016, we see much more of a pop/rock atmosphere compared to the worship highlighted in disc 1. Aussie duo for KING AND COUNTRY, southern country/alternative/pop quartet needtobreathe, soulful worship leader Lauren Daigle, Northern Irish fun-filled worship outfit Rend Collective, rockers Building 429, ever reliable Plumb, all-so-relevant and equally timeless artist TobyMac and newcomer Jamie Grace are all present on disc 2, though I may have issues with the song choices. Nevertheless, these artists alone ought to bolster the value and relevance of any WOW Hits, especially this year’s edition. Songs like “Shoulders” (for KING AND COUNTRY) is an encouragement to many that God carries us all on His shoulders, and that all our worries ought to be cast on Him because He can carry whatever we hold to ourselves, while “Brother”, a mainstream/Christian crossover hit, is a timely reminder to help our fellow brother in need, and to be there for our family and friends during difficult times. While it would’ve been nice to see the version with Gavin DeGraw on WOW Hits 2016, maybe it was a legality thing, and since Gavin is a mainstream artist, the single version of “Brother” couldn’t have been considered for this compilation? Whatever the case may be, it is nice to see “Brother” on the album, even if it is the version that repeats the chorus a million times and then again for good measure.
“How Can It Be”, a song that has received arguably the most radio airplay for a worship song these last few years, was a certain shoe-in, speaking about the marvel and wonder of how Christ gave His life for us (in my mind, “How Can It Be” ought to win song of the year at this year’s Dove Awards), while Plumb presents to us “Lord I’m Ready Now”, a melody that is a prayer from us to our Living Father, declaring that ‘…Lord I’m ready now, all the walls are down, time is running out, and I wanna make this count…but I don’t wanna let You down, so Lord I’m ready now…’ as we hear the theme about surrender. While it probably would’ve been more timely for this melody to be on WOW Hits 2015 (and place title track “Exhale” on here instead), Plumb nevertheless is a great addition to the album, even if the song is somewhat a little dated (this song was originally released on Need You Now Expanded Edition last year). “Impossible” and “You Will Never Run” by Building 429 and Rend Collective respectively, are the bolter hit songs released on this compilation, and each deliver powerful themes of us believing in the impossible, while also knowing that Christ will always stand with us, that ‘…You will never run away, You’re forever mine, You will never run away, You’re by my side…’, and Toby…well what can you say? TobyMac, in my opinion, cannot not be on any WOW Hits…which makes me baffled to why “Beyond Me” is included on this year’s WOW Hits- even though this melody is the first single from This is Not a Test, songs like “Til the Day I Die” and “Backseat Driver”, the other promotional singles from the album, are much more catchy and engaging…maybe one of them as a shoe-in for WOW Hits 2017?
After seeing “Words” included on WOW Hits 2015, I feared that “Faithful” would be on WOW Hits 2016, yet with “Drops in the Ocean” inserted into the lineup, Hawk Nelson’s inclusion of their first single from their new album Diamonds is a timely decision from the powers that be. A melody that includes light electric guitars and the theme of how God’s love for us amounts to more than the drops in the ocean, not having Hawk Nelson, especially this song, on WOW Hits 2016 would’ve been criminal. Ex-American Idol finalist Colton Dixon presents his chart-topping piano only hit “Through All Of It” that speaks of God’s presence through all times, the good and the bad, the heartbreaking and the heart-warming; while ever reliable worship artists Crowder and Hillsong UNITED present “Come As You Are” and “Touch the Sky” respectively, the latter melody becoming a crossover hit amongst many listeners in America, and the song reminding us all of the unconditional nature of God and the realisation that ‘…I find my life when I laid it down…I touch the sky when my knees it the ground…’
Every year the WOW brand releases an album with bonus tracks, with artists deemed to be noticed in the upcoming months. In WOW Hits 2015, artists Dan Bremnes, Jon Guerra and About a Mile were chosen, and while neither of these three are present on WOW Hits 2016, all of them are still popular even now (maybe WOW Hits with three albums a year would be nice to include songs like “Where the Light Is” (Dan Bremnes), “Nothing Better” (Jon Guerra) and “Who You Say You Are” (About a Mile), all of which are absent from this year’s compilation?). WOW Hits 2016 offers artists like I Am They, recent signing to Provident Label Group, NF, signee to Capitol Christian Distribution, and newcomers Stars Go Dim (to Word Label Group), with songs “From the Day”, “I’ll Keep On” and “You are Loved” respectively. While Stars Go Dim’s debut Word Records EP hasn’t even been released yet, “You are Loved” is as catchy as ever…with their new EP releasing at the end of October, this song alone peaks my interest in their new material. And with the WOW Hits brand starting to have deluxe versions of WOW (from 2012 onward), with 6 songs exclusive to the deluxe edition, songs like “Brave” (Moriah Peters), “How Sweet the Sound” (Citizen Way), “No Turning Back” (Brandon Heath), “This is Living” (Hillsong Young and Free), “Making Me New” (Royal Tailor) and “Let it Be Love” (Family Force 5) round out the 39 tracks, and while some of these songs would’ve been more suited to WOW Hits 2015 instead, these 6 songs are nevertheless hits over the last couple of years, all of which are deserving to be on WOW Hits, either on this year’s compilation of the last.
Every compilation, especially a WOW Hits compilation, isn’t perfect, and WOW Hits 2016 is an album also with its flaws as well as its highlights. As much as “Something Beautiful” is enjoyable, Steven Curtis Chapman’s recent single isn’t necessarily as timely as it is enjoyable. Released on his latest studio album The Glorious Unfolding, surely his 2015 single “Warrior”, the theme song from the Kendrick Brothers movie War Room, ought to be included on WOW Hits 2016? The same can be said of songs “Save My Life” and “Overwhelmed” by Sidewalk Prophets and Big Daddy Weave respectively. I mean, sure these songs are good, but to place them on WOW Hits 2016 when both these songs were recorded in 2012? Strange, if you ask me. Surely Sidewalk Prophet’s new melody “Prodigal”, and Big Daddy Weave’s powerful first single “My Story” from their newly released album Beautiful Offerings are deserving enough for WOW Hits 2016…or are they reserved for next year’s compilation? Mandisa, who hasn’t released anything since 2013, is present on this year’s compilation with “Press On”, when artists like Nichole Nordeman (“The Unmaking”), Jason Gray (“Glow in the Dark”), Mia Fieldes (“Fearless”), Meredith Andrews (“Soar”), Natalie Grant (“Be One”), Tim Timmons (“Awake Our Souls”), Jason Crabb (“He Knows What He’s Doing”), Chris August (“The Maker”) and Finding Favour (“Cast My Cares”) are conveniently bypassed? I’m making my case for three albums a year aren’t I? Or maybe a refocus in terms of what songs are considered timely and which songs aren’t.
Ever reliable Josh Wilson, of former hits “Saviour Please”, “I Refuse” and “Carry Me”, released his new album That Was Then, This is Now in July, and his first single, the title track? Present on WOW Hits 2016? Nope, nada. In fact, with Josh Wilson neither on WOW Hits 2015, I fear his time on the compilation may be coming to a close…which is sad. Michael W. Smith’s current radio single “Sky Spills Over”, as rock-y as they come, is as deserving as any other…yet with songs like “Let It Be Love” and “Making Me New” released on this compilation, both of which are hits from last year, maybe this year’s WOW Hits should be titled WOW Hits 2015/16…seems like a more appropriate title, right? Aaron Shust, a mainstay on Centricity Music, released his new album Doxology on the last week in August, and his new single “To The Only God”…cannot be seen on WOW Hits 2016. Neither can Lindsay McCaul’s “One More Step”, an artist I reckon is very much under-rated, and dare I say, underappreciated in this CCM industry…and with songs like “Start a Fire” present on this year’s compilation (Unspoken is a great band, yet this song would’ve been more appropriate on last year’s edition)…need I say any more? Add to this the fact that Sanctus Real were sorely missed (where’s “Longer than a Lifetime”?) and the newly formed Audio Adrenaline are not added to the ‘top 39’ (“Love Was Stronger” or “Move” anyone?), neither are San Diego rockers Switchfoot (“When We Come Alive”…or maybe it’s not considered because it’s not a ‘Christian’ song?), or even Owl City for that matter (even though Owl City is classified a mainstream band, their single “You’re Not Alone” charted in Christian radio), you’re left scratching your head. Who makes up these compilations and what is the criteria?
Enough griping though. Seriously, listen to WOW Hits 2016. Check it out. These songs on there are great. Yet to call this album this year’s best, isn’t necessarily the case. I will once again quote from my WOW Hits 2013 album review that I wrote for IVM, that I stand by, even now- ‘…of late, despite a few songs here and there, song selections have been few and far between as poor dated melodies by the same artists year after year always seem to take precedence over artists that may seem like they ‘fly-under-the-radar’, but nevertheless equally deserve their opportunity to assert themselves as some of the best musical offerings of that particular year…’ I still stand by this comment today. That’s not to take away anything from these songs. But it is to say that more intentional decision making needs to be made about actually choosing songs that are timely on WOW Hits, rather than songs that have just charted on the radio. For the casual listener, this does provide a snapshot of 2014 and 2015 in Christian radio. But not in Christian music. And definitely not in 2015. Like I mentioned in previous reviews for IVM and here on this site, WOW should think of giving us the best 39, not the most popular or publicised 39. Maybe a rebranding is necessary. That being said, I will still buy the album, if only to play in the CD player of the car. Now…off to my iTunes to listen to songs from artists that are not on WOW Hits 2015! Maybe I should start lobbying for WOW Hits 2? (WOW Hits 1 was published April 2008!).
10 song to listen to: Through All Of It, You Will Never Run, Soul on Fire, Because He Lives, This is Living, From the Day, Impossible, Shoulders, Brother, How Can It Be
RIYL: Newsboys, Natalie Grant, Casting Crowns, TobyMac, for KING AND COUNTRY