Release Date: October 5th 2018
Reviewed by: Jonathan Andre
- Grace Got You (feat. John Reuben) (MercyMe)
- Fear Is A Liar (Zach Williams)
- Who You Say I Am (Hillsong Worship)
- Reckless Love (Cory Asbury)
- Resurrection Power (Chris Tomlin)
- The Breakup Song (Francesca Battistelli)
- God Of All My Days (Casting Crowns)
- All My Hope (feat. Tauren Wells) (Crowder)
- Bleed The Same (feat. TobyMac) (Mandisa)
- Do It Again (Radio Edit) (Elevation Worship)
- All In (Matthew West)
- More Than Anything (Natalie Grant)
- Jesus I Believe (Big Daddy Weave)
- Your Love Defends Me (Matt Maher)
- Revival (Third Day)
- The Way (New Horizons) (Pat Barrett) BONUS
- My Feet Are On The Rock (I AM THEY) BONUS
- Worthy Of Your Name (feat. Sean Curran) (Passion) BONUS DELUXE
- The Answer (Jeremy Camp) BONUS DELUXE
- Gracefully Broken (feat. Tasha Cobbs Leonard) (Matt Redman) BONUS DELUXE
- I just need U (tobyMac)
- joy (for KING and COUNTRY)
- So Will I (UNITED)
- When We Pray (Tauren Wells)
- HARD LOVE (feat. Lauren Daigle) (needtobreathe)
- O Lord (Radio Version) (Lauren Daigle)
- Lions (Skillet)
- Control (Somehow You Want Me) (Tenth Avenue North)
- Counting Every Blessing (Rend Collective)
- Tremble (Mosaic MSC)
- Point To You (We Are Messengers)
- Witness (Jordan Feliz)
- Broken Prayers (Riley Clemmons)
- The Comeback (Danny Gokey)
- Love Won’t Let Me Down (Y&F)
- Details (Sarah Reeves) BONUS
- Different (Micah Tyler) BONUS DELUXE
- Real Love (Blanca) BONUS DELUXE
- Bulletproof (Citizen Way) BONUS DELUXE
Sometimes I wonder why WOW Hits is still being made, considering the advent of Spotify playlists and Pandora, alongside a variety of other digital music sources that have seemingly made the WOW brand redundant over the years. Yet nevertheless, WOW continues to soldier on, releasing their annual compilation around September/October every year, complete with more than 30 songs, chronicling the top-charting and poignant songs that have captured the hearts of people around the world that given year…or so we tend to think. Just one look deeper and we can see that the WOW brand is flawed- in reality, one cannot capture a whole year’s catalogue of music all within a double-disc 39 track CD. It’s mere impossible.
For 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 WOW Hits brand and all the subsequent albums after WOW Hits 1, would be more about actual hits throughout the given year, 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.
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 2019, 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 4.5/5. Yet with the claim that this album is the one-stop album for any Christian music fan, the album sadly falls short. With the influx of new artists and the departure of others (the amount of new artists is greater than the artists leaving the industry), the question of whether WOW gives us relevant hits and timely songs to serve each listeners genre preference is a matter of opinion. Nevertheless, WOW Hits 2019 does make a solid attempt at delivering some of Christian music’s powerful songs and hits, even if a fair few of them aren’t as timely as even I would like. While I could accept that WOW Hits don’t expose certain artists to the compilation because of favouritism of others, WOW Hits 2019 sadly feels like WOW Hits 2018/19 (with a few double-up tracks from last year’s WOW compilation), which is unfortunate. A WOW Hits list won’t serve everyone’s genre preference, and while this year’s double disc collection of WOW Hits is a step in the right direction in certain aspects, but a step back in terms of others; WOW has a long way to go if they want to call themselves a compilation that gives us the best songs Christian music has to offer.
Glancing through the track list on Disc 1, and you can see the worship/AC/pop focus of the disc, and notice that, as with this type of disc on WOW Hits albums previously, it seems like the same artists are picked time and time again. Not that there’s anything wrong with seeing another song from Casting Crowns or Chris Tomlin, or even Matthew West, Natalie Grant, or Crowder, it just seems like the same kind of artists are always on WOW Hits albums (at least the first disc!), while other lesser known artists are shunned…why? We may never know. But nevertheless, though much of the artists on disc 1 of WOW Hits 2019 are the same as last year, the songs choices nevertheless are timely and deserving…to a point. MercyMe, who were sadly missed from WOW Hits 2018 (yes, you’re right, ‘Even If’ was sadly missing from WOW 2018!), current radio single ‘Grace Got You’ was a shoe-in (and rightly deserved!). While the actual version that is included on the CD may be without rapper John Reuben (there is a version of ‘Grace Got You’ that has gone to radio without the rap), it is still nice to see MercyMe on a WOW compilation after taking last year off (though I’m sure not by choice!).
Elevation Worship, this time with their 2nd WOW Hits representation, offers up ‘Do It Again’, while both Francesca Battistelli and Chris Tomlin deliver ‘The Breakup Song’ and ‘Resurrection Power’ respectively, both from albums yet to be released this year (I think both their albums release in October 2018!). Crowder returns with a soul-stirring gospel tinged country-esque duet ‘All My Hope’ featuring ex-Royal Tailor frontman Tauren Wells, while the ever reliable Casting Crowns brings forth ‘God of All My Days’, a poignant and emotive melody about how God is a God who is present in every situation we find ourselves in. After a double up of ‘Chain Breaker’ (present on both WOW 2017 and WOW 2018), one can be forgiven to think that ‘Old Church Choir’ would turn up here on WOW Hits 2019…alas, never fear. ‘Fear is a Liar’ is included on this compilation instead, this time being a 4 and a half minute track on how fear, especially fear shown to us through the devil and his schemes, is a liar and ought not to be trusted, aside from the Lord. And then there’s the all time radio hits of the year- ‘Bleed the Same’ (Mandisa), a duet with tobyMac, speaks of how we all have to come together in unity because we all ‘bleed’ the same, while Matthew West encourages us to be ‘all in’ when it comes to pursuing God (‘All In’). Hillsong Worship succeeds ‘What a Beautiful Name’ with ‘Who You Say I Am’ (and is a well worthy inclusion on WOW Hits 2019, with the song becoming one of my fast favourites of the year), and ‘Reckless Love’…well, how can you not include such a poignant and powerful song? I’m sure everyone has heard of ‘Reckless Love’, be it from the original artist, Cory Asbury, or from a cover version…need I say more?
One look through disc 2 (by history, we are to assume that this disc is more ‘rock’ and ‘pop’ rather than the ‘a/c’ and ‘worship’ feel of the first disc) and you can see the vast spread, from older less timely songs to newer songs that haven’t really impacted the charts yet, to some songs that are hits right now. While I can testify that disc 1 artists relatively stay the same over the years, it is disc 2 where the artists predicted can be a little bit of a mystery and gamble over the years. Nevertheless, the artists presented on disc 2 of WOW Hits 2019 have given us formidable and poignant melodies that have impacted us all over this last year and a bit, despite some artists present delivering songs on WOW Hits 2019, that could’ve and should’ve been present on WOW Hits 2018, for whatever reason. Nevertheless, one cannot deny the certain shoe-ins of artists like Tauren Wells (‘When We Pray’), Young and Free (‘Love Won’t Let Me Down’), Danny Gokey (‘The Comeback’…though a little dated, is still a good song- I would’ve preferred to see ‘Masterpiece’ or ‘If You Ain’t In It’ instead!) and Jordan Feliz (‘Witness’), all of whom have had radio success throughout 2017 and 2018.
TobyMac, well, he’s TobyMac, and to not include ‘I Just Need U.’ on this WOW compilation would’ve been criminal. Ever reliable Aussie duo for KING AND COUNTRY are once again back at it with ‘joy.’, a tad-under-4-minute pop melody about the concept of joy and how we perceive our circumstances is what will allow joy to invade and flood our hearts, or not; while Hillsong UNITED offer up, what I reckon, is one of the band’s most emotive and poignant songs they’ve ever recorded to date- ‘So Will I’, a track that speaks of the journey from creation to sin and reconciliation through Jesus Christ our lifeline back to the Lord. A song that showcases the gospel in a nutshell through the song, we are met with a heartfelt song that is a certain highlight, for me at least, on disc 2 of WOW Hits 2019. ‘Control’, the third official single from Tenth Avenue North from their 2016 album Followers was also a shoe-in, as the song has been one of the biggest chart-topping melodies, of the year, and maybe even one of the band’s biggest charting songs over their whole career; while up and coming new artist, 18 year old Riley Clemmons, presents her first radio single ‘Broken Prayers’ to us on disc 2, a heartfelt 3 minute ballad of how we as Christians, or even we as humans in general, ought to offer our prayers to the Lord, however broken they may be, knowing full well that God accepts us as we are, with all our mess and insecurities. Rockers Skillet are ever-reliable with their hit ‘Lions’, albeit a little dated (personally I reckon the song could’ve fit better on WOW Hits 2018, with current radio single ‘Brave’ being more of a timely song to be placed on WOW Hits 2019…), while it is Rend Collective’s big bolter in ‘Counting Every Blessing’, a radio hit just these last few months, that has surprised me the most- with a song like ‘Rescuer’ being a reliable radio performer throughout most of 2017 and 2018, one could expect Rend Collective to appear on WOW 2019 with ‘Rescuer’- however, ‘Counting Every Blessing’ was the surprising choice. As good as ‘Counting Every Blessing’ is, personally I reckon it doesn’t have much of a radio charting presence to warrant a WOW 2019 selection, maybe a WOW 2020 one. Nevertheless, such a big bolter like this is further proof that the WOW brand can do timely if it wants to…it just depends on the artist and which song they want to promote over others!
Bonus tracks are always an intrigue over the year. With a lot of new artists releasing their musical craft, to select three artists for the coveted BONUS track on WOW compilations can be up to opinion. Here on WOW Hits 2019, Pat Barrett, I AM THEY and Sarah Reeves are the artists that have been selected…which is baffling a little for me. Because frankly, Pat Barrett is the only ‘new’ artist of the lot- despite being part of Housefires for a while, Pat’s solo album this year is the first he’s released as a solo artist- hence his justifiable selection as a ‘bonus’ artist- and besides, ‘The Way’ is currently doing well on radio, which is a big help too. Yet I AM THEY, despite the change in personnel, was on a WOW Hits before- WOW Hits 2016 to be precise, and yes, on that album, they were a ‘bonus’ artist as well- here they return with ‘My Feet are On the Rock’. Though the song is justified, it shouldn’t have been a bonus track, maybe a bonus deluxe track, or within the 15 on either disc. Sarah Reeves, while a song like ‘Details’ is a little out-of-the-box even to be placed on a WOW compilation album (too electronic for WOW?), is hardly a new artist by any standard- she has been making music for around a decade, releasing her first EP Sweet, Sweet Sound under Sparrow Records way back in 2009. So for her to be on the BONUS selection on WOW Hits 2019…that leaves a lot of questions. What about other newer artists like Aaron Cole, Caitie Hurst, Bonray, the young escape, Austin French, Social Club Misfits, Alisa Turner, For All Seasons and Mack Brock, all of which are absent from WOW Hits 2019? Surely their hits (‘One More Day’, ‘How Could I Be Silent’, ‘Inside Out’, ‘Good Life’, ‘Freedom Hymn’, ‘War Cry’, ‘Miracles’, ‘No Other’ and ‘Greater Things’) have all charted radio to success of varying levels over the year, to warrant at least some songs being on WOW Hits 2019, right? Unfortunately, these 9 songs by the relatively new artists throughout 2018, all deserving mind you, are unjustly absent, which begs the question of what defines a ‘new’ or ‘bonus’ artist, and which artists are even considered to be on a WOW Hits compilation in the first place.
Even the bonus deluxe tracks are weird for WOW Hits 2019– ‘The Answer’ (Jeremy Camp), ‘Gracefully Broken’ (Matt Redman) and ‘Worthy Of Your Name’ (Passion) are all good songs, and are all on Disc 1 of WOW Hits 2019– yet a song like ‘God You’re So Good’ (Passion) would’ve been more timely…maybe that track isn’t doing well on the charts? ‘Gracefully Broken’ has been a success for much of 2017, and thus feels a little dated on WOW Hits 2019, and well, ‘The Answer’…everyone loves Jeremy Camp right? I guess I wouldn’t have picked ‘The Answer’, knowing full well that artists like Kari Jobe (‘Heal Our Land’), Cody Carnes (‘What Freedom Feels Like’), Brandon Heath (‘Faith Hope Love Repeat’), Aaron Shust (‘Resurrecting’), Steven Curtis Chapman (‘Remember to Remember’), Laura Story (‘Extraordinary’), Josh Wilson (‘Dream Small’) and Jonny Diaz (‘Define Me’) would miss out as a result…and they did! Disc 2 bonus deluxe tracks aren’t that much better- Micah Tyler’s ‘Different’ charted to moderate success over the year, and thus, it’s inclusion is very much surprising, while Blanca’s ‘Real Love’ is perhaps the only bonus deluxe song on disc 2 that is pretty much spot on. ‘Bulletproof’ from Citizen Way…well, that should’ve really been on WOW Hits 2018, a year too late in my opinion. Then there’s artists that have been bypassed that could’ve been included on WOW Hits 2019 disc 2 if executives on high would’ve been a little more timely in terms of radio hits, and a lot less focused on promoting the same artists again and again.
Britt Nicole, who made a comeback on WOW Hits 2018 with ‘Through Your Eyes’, is absent from WOW Hits 2019– wasn’t ‘Work of Art’ or even ‘Be The Change’ having enough radio success over the year to warrant an inclusion? Building 429 (‘This Place’ or ‘You Can’…any one of them), Colton Dixon (‘The Other Side’), Kutless (‘Shepherd of My Soul’), Dan Bremnes (‘Wherever I Go’), Zealand Worship (‘Spirit Sing’), Finding Favour (‘Get Down’), Unspoken (‘Just Give Me Jesus’), Rhett Walker Band (‘Say Hello’), Stars Go Dim (‘Heaven On Earth’) and Jasmine Murray (‘No Other Love’) have all been active this year with radio hits, yet to be on WOW Hits 2019 means to have a criteria that these artists obviously don’t have (according to WOW brand executives!). Even artists like Hollyn, who burst on the scene in 2016 with ‘Alone’ being represented on WOW Hits 2017, is absent from WOW 2 times afterward (‘Lovely’ or ‘In Awe’ for WOW Hits 2019?). David Dunn (‘Grace Will Lead Me Home’), Hannah Kerr (‘Warrior’), Nichole Nordeman (‘You’re Here’), Meredith Andrews (‘Needing You Now’) and LEDGER (‘Not Dead Yet’), all lesser known hits, all could’ve been considered for WOW Hits 2019, but weren’t, while artists like Third Day, Matt Maher, Lauren Daigle and needtobreathe, are all justifiable and welcomed artists on WOW Hits 2019, yet their song inclusions on WOW 2019 are well dated- and should’ve not even been considered in the first place. Sure, ‘Revival’, ‘Your Love Defends Me’, ‘Oh Lord’ and ‘Hard Love’ are all great songs, but what about ‘Let There Be Light’, ‘What a Friend’, ‘You Say’ (though very much new, ‘You Say’ is one of this year’s fast chart-topping CCM songs for any given week in 2018 thus far!), and the ever reliable ‘Walking on Water’? Need I say more?
Then you have the real kickers. Songs that are in fact unforgivable that they weren’t included on WOW Hits 2019. Songs that have received a fair amount of airplay throughout the year on radio that you would’ve thought should’ve and must’ve been included…til you read the track list and found out they weren’t. ‘Living Hope’ by Phil Wickham. ‘Confidence’ by Sanctus Real. ‘He Still Does’ by Hawk Nelson. ‘Beautifully Broken’ (or ‘God Help Me’) by Plumb. And then here’s the real, real interesting issue…drum roll. ‘No Matter What’ by Ryan Stevenson. Yes, if you are an avid Christian fan like myself, you’ve heard these 5 aforementioned songs playing either on Air1 or K-Love this year. So, are they on WOW Hits 2019 like they should be? No. A shame? Yes. Criminal? Yes. Is there a reason why they weren’t considered? Probably not! You start to wonder who’s making the WOW albums each year, and whether they have bias to certain artists and labels ahead of others. So all in all, looking at the track list for WOW Hits 2019, there is a trend- be signed to a label (one of Capitol CMG, Provident or Word Label Group) and you could have a chance at being on the most controversial, celebrated, talked about CCM album of the year. Despite all my grievances of WOW Hits 2019; one thing is clear- in its own right, WOW Hits 2019 is a good album- with songs that uplift, and others that give us an atmosphere of pop/rock, all of which have been circulating radio the last year or so. Yet when we look deeper into the process of selection, and see which songs were omitted, which songs were chosen, and which songs were bypassed altogether, you start to see that WOW Hits sadly advocates sameness ahead of bold decisions.
Enough griping though. Seriously, listen to WOW Hits 2019. 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- There are good songs on this album, and each song has its merit, but claiming that this album is the best of the year like WOW always does is far from the truth. This album does not serve the CCM itch that everyone has. With similar artists across multiple WOW discs, there doesn’t seem to be much experimentation with artists and songs- the listener not receiving exposure to melodies that may possibly be even more ‘worthy’ of their spot. Regardless, if anyone does purchase this album (even if they do have it on iTunes!), then know that these songs aren’t the best 39- rather they are certainly the most publicised 39! There is a big difference, and if the WOW brand really wants to live up to their name, they must consider overhauling the whole franchise, consider dropping a few big artists from their roster (or using them less frequently) as well as adding some fringe artists to remind listeners of the great variety of Christian songs out in the Christian music marketplace.
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 2017 and 2018 in Christian radio. But not in Christian music. And definitely not in 2018. 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 at home. Now…off to my iTunes to listen to songs from artists that are not on WOW Hits 2019! Maybe I should start lobbying for WOW Hits 2? (WOW Hits 1 was published April 2008!).
10 songs to listen to: My Feet are on the Rock, joy, The Way, Control, Broken Prayers, Do It Again, Bleed the Same, All In, Reckless Love, So Will I
RIYL: Passion, TobyMac, for KING AND COUNTRY, Mandisa, Natalie Grant