At the moment Jesus Culture feels like it is a slave to its brand.

Unstoppable Love
Artist: Jesus Culture
New Day

I have a confession to make. When I started listening to this album, I didn’t want to like it. During my first listen, I made some pretty scathing notes about various aspects of it. Over time my view has softened, but now as I come to write the final review, I have to admit that I still have a sense of disappointment. Why? Well, basically because the only growth Jesus Culture seem to be making as the years go by is that the production and sonics get bigger and bigger, wider and wider. Everything is constantly so intense and EPIC, there’s nowhere for the intensity of it all to go. I remember back to the beginning of the Jesus Culture movement with albums like Your Love Never Fails, where the vibrancy, passion and urgency jumped out of the speakers at you. Now, sadly, for all the top-class musicianship and production on show (and it is absolutely first-rate throughout, faultless even) the sense remains that this is a Jesus Culture album. You can tell within the first ten seconds of anthemic opener “Sing Out” that it is business as usual. All the key components are in place: huge sound, skyscraping chorus, heartfelt lyrics, all delivered with that signature Jesus Culture panache. It sounds like an up-to-date Jesus Culture song. That’s exactly what it is.

This trend continues throughout the album, whether it is Chris Quilala or Kin Walker-Smith (both excellent vocalists) giving the lead. Wide Open, Your Name is Glorious, and In Awe of You are particular highlights, where the cohesion of the band and vocalists, with adroit production from Jeremy Edwardson, and a great Sam Gibson mix, really come to the fore.

As a worship leader myself, I am particularly looking forward to attempting the title track with my congregation. A great song, it has a simplistic (but positively so) structure, and a hugely memorable chorus which declares the truth of the certainty of the victory of the Cross and Resurrection. This song really made me sit up and take notice.

A final highlight is the closing cover of the Matt Redman staple 10,000 Reasons. This relatively hushed rendition shows Jesus Culture’s ability to truly stretch musically beyond megachurch or stadium praise, and is truly spine-tingling in bringing a surprisingly fresh take on a song which is fast becoming both a classic and ubiquitous.

This is a good album, perhaps even a very good one. As an artefact of a live worship event, and a potential aid to personal worship it is probably invaluable. It’s usefulness in providing songs for Church bands to play might be questionable, due to the complexity of arrangements, in the main, and the sheer skill of those involved. Perhaps I just go to the wrong kind of Church. Overall though, I’m left with the wish that Jesus Culture would push themselves a little more musically, a la Jake Hamilton, an erstwhile Jesus Culture artist, or take the brave step of developing its brand, as other huge worship acts such as Hillsong United, Crowder or even Gungor have done recently (I know Gungor doesn’t call itself a Christian band, I’m being lazy). At the moment Jesus Culture feels like it is a slave to its brand. One wonders if this gives God the full freedom to move through the songs and albums in the way so obvious from earlier albums.

A landmark album for Christian music in 2014, but it might be so much more still.

Haydon Spenceley


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