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Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Hillsong United -- Best Friend

 photo United_Live_-_Best_Friend_zps84ba5c20.gif

After dominating the mid-90's worldwide worship scene, Hillsong Church had a pretty good idea: get out of the way and let the younger members of the church make their own music. The "grown ups" would continue to release albums under the "Hillsong" moniker, while the twenty-somethings would make their own albums as "Hillsong United." Sophomore year of college, my mother gave me Hillsong United's live-recorded "Best Friend," which features the United project still in its infancy and figuring out what they want to be.
The turn of the century featured the commercial height of "pop-punk," and the young adults of United give a nod to that on the album-opening, "My Best Friend." While "My Best Friend" is full of infectious, youthful energy, it suffers from a pretty extreme lack of spiritual depth in the lyric department, featuring the chorus, "Jesus, you are my best friend, and you will always be, and nothing will ever change that." The attempt to do something musically different is appreciated, but unfortunately, over the next nine tracks, it doesn't happen again often. As soon as track two, "Stronger Than" kicks off, the musical difference between Hillsong United and Hillsong vanishes. This song sounds like the opener to any mid-90's, adult-led worship service. As soon as "Stronger Than" ends, the rote, seven-minute Hillsong Ballads kick in. It's not that the ballads are badly done, it's that all stacked together they become the same, predictable, stagnant musical pool. What's worse: as mentioned above, these are the same boring ballads you would find on any regular old Hillsong album.
The momentum of the first track is stopped dead for a full twenty minutes by these songs before being briefly picked up by the energetic, youthful "I Live for You." Then it's back to the ballads. Again, they aren't awful songs, they just aren't interesting, and they're all piled together, rocks blocking what should have been a bubbling stream.
Surprisingly, a song that's already been done to death breaks the dam. The penultimate track, United's rendition of "Jesus, Lover of My Soul" is so passionate, it is annoying that the band didn't put this much thought and fire into the tracks that preceded it. For one thing, they come up with a powerful, piano-led intro unique to this rendition of the song. For another, there is actual conviction in the singing and performances. For worship music on this level to work, it has to sound like the topic of the song is the only thing that matters in the universe. Just singing the words isn't good enough.

In my opinion, this performance of "Jesus, Lover of My Soul" finally introduces the passion and the spirit United would later be known for. Too bad it doesn't happen until the album is nearly over.
Naturally, the energy of this song flows into the closer, "The Reason I Live," a far better stab at pop-punk than the opening track, combining "My Best Friend"'s energy with the conviction of "Jesus, Lover of My Soul." So here we have a decent opening track, two great closers, and seven tracks in between that aren't bad, but only mark time between the three. After a release like this, Hillsong United could have easily gone into obscurity. Thankfully, that didn't happen. And thanks to my mom, I can say, "Hillsong United? Yeah, I listened to them back when they kind of sucked."

2000 Hillsong Music Australia
1. My Best Friend 5:03
2. Stronger Than 3:32
3. Saving Grace 7:09
4. Forever 5:34
5. God of All Creation 7:36
6. I Live for You 4:59
7. Jesus Generation 5:05
8. I Will Sing 4:33
9. Jesus, Lover of My Soul 9:54
10. The Reason I Live 4:24

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