Worship mainstay Hillsong UNITED (now known simply as UNITED), is back in 2022 with their newest full-length studio offering titled, Are We There Yet? Said to be a collection of songs that “embodies the feeling of 'all this future,'" primary songwriter and lead singer Joel Houston continues explaining, “It is heavily entrenched in realizing... and repositioning heaven with songs birthed from a place of knowing that this part of the story is not the main part, and we have the gift of joy that is heaven no matter what our human experience is now.”
So what of the execution of this stated goal? How would Houston and Company choose to sonically convey these messages of hope with a preponderance on heaven? The answer is nuanced, and lies largely in the expectation of you, the listener. Do you desire an album's worth of songs that cohesively and artfully weave a story that takes you on a journey? Do you want a sound or lyric that pushes the boundaries of the genre? Or are you looking for a song or two to drop into your favorite well-worn playlist? Maybe some background ambiance? I cannot answer for you, nor will I begrudge your enjoyment if this hits for you, but Are We There Yet? is largely a miss for me on half of those metrics.
The ones that do work for me as highlight outliers are the Taya-led “Show Me Your Heart,” the tender “God Song,” Matt Crocker’s passionately-delivered “Blown Away,” and previously released single “Know You Will,” featuring Benjamin Hastings. My pick for overall best song is “Blown Away,” which stretches to the six-minute mark, but unlike others, is well worth the runtime. It’s a simple yet inspiring tune full of felt devotion. Lyrically, “Show Me Your Heart” has several great moments, but verse one strikes to the core of this reviewer as Taya wearily sings, “Wide awake/In the dead of night/While the world comes apart/You keep watch/When my vision is blurry/And my thoughts run afar.” It’s a deeply reassuring sentiment to be reminded of in these anxious times.
“Deeper Water” feels like a retread of mega-smash “Oceans” from the tired water metaphor (which shows up a few times), all the way to the delay-pedal technique popularized by band U2 strewn throughout the worship genre in the last thirty years. Elsewhere, “Delightful (The Sower Never Wastes a Tear)” squanders a good idea for a song, with bland one-note instrumentation and lyrical cliches. And that’s probably the most common issue I have with the album as whole; it comes and goes without leaving much of a mark. I keep thinking, “haven’t I heard this before?” and “haven’t they tilled that lyrical ground already?”
This is an incredible shame, because as a longtime listener of their work, they have managed to make album after album of the highest quality. 2013’s Zion and 2015’s Empires excelled at the full album experience, while 2019’s People had the highest number of strong individual songs together with the added energy of a live audience. Ultimately, it would be my pick as their best overall album to date. However, now multiple listens in, this new set of songs feels largely like a rehash of their past work with very few flares of highlight shooting above the overly-long tracklist that quickly starts to sound the same. In many ways, this feels like a band in transition, and sounds more like a Joel Houston solo album than it ever has prior. Perhaps some time, new instruments, a shake-up in the band lineup or co-writes could help, in addition to a tighter tracklist.
All in all, this sits below average for a group that had a string of laudable records in a row, spanning Zion to People, with the slight misstep of Wonder wedged in-between. There are a few tracks to drop onto your worship playlist, but overall, unless you’re a fan of band, pleasant background music, or the genre in general, Are We There Yet? is a good one to skip this time around.- Review date: 5/2/22, written by Josh Balogh of Jesusfreakhideout.com
Record Label: Hillsong / Capitol CMG
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