Prime Cuts: Who You Are, For the Sake of the World, Forgiven
Joining the iconoclastic niche carved by Hillsong Live, Jesus Culture & Tim Hughes, Bethel Live has abolished the notion that corporate worship should be anachronously subdued and idolatrously boring. Rather, they have made worship music three dimensional where God is not just sung about but He is experienced. Eschewing religious dogma and trite clichés, they have utilized affable everyman spirituality, engaging melodies, and cutting edge pop production that rock our socks off with the goodness of God. They are so infectious that these songs make you want to sing-a-long regardless of whether you are a Christian or not. So, how what makes the music of Bethel Live three dimensional? Adopting as their modus operandi they would start off their songs soft before gradually ratcheting up the volume and intensity, dipping back into an emotional bridge before slamming the gas pedal down into a final rousing chorus. Further, Bethel Live's lead worship leaders (Brian and Jenn Johnson, Jeremy Riddle, William Matthews and Steffany Frizel-Gretzinger) are so expressive about God that their Godly finesse manifests contagiously throughout their songs. Augment to that, their songs often lyrically exalt the grand themes of Scripture such as the Cross, the Trinity, the Lord's Prayer, faith that will make them sonic fixtures in churches that are not afraid to exalt God as presented in Scripture.
"For the Sake of the World" follows on the heels of their hugely popular "The Loft Sessions." While the "Loft Sessions" has a more intimate acoustic feel to it, "For the Sake of the World" has a more polished, slick and a grander production. Just like preceding albums, the lead vocals are split between four of their worship pastors with the lion's share going to worship director Brian Johnson. Sounding like a huskier Rueben Morgan, the title cut "For the Sake of the World" finds Brian Johnson singing about how the Great Commission and how it burns like fire in his soul. While "For the Sake of the World" has a global perspective lyrically, Brian Johnson moves decidedly more introspective with the confessional "I Really Love You." It is in the softer moments of this beautifully crafted ballad that you could feel the pull of the Spirit as Brian's and his wife Jenn's voices and the congregations' form a united cry of love to Jesus. Another gem is the Cross exalting "Forgiven" -- a synth based tuneful ballad that slowly climaxes with an explosive chorus.
Few in today's worship music have a voice like that of Jenn Johnson. For a lady of such small physical stature, she has such an over-booming voice that can envelope any distraction compelling the hardest of hearts to worship. Here she gets to sing lead on three cuts: the best being "Who You Are." Content wise, "Who You Are" is an A-graded track; this is because this is the first contemporary tune that addresses the Trinity. Giving praise to each member of the Triune God, the song is reek with arresting lines such as "Holy Spirit Comforter/Your eyes are filled with laughter." Jenn Johnson also takes the lead on "Our Father"-a fresh re-take of the Lord's Prayer set to newly written melody. Jeremy Riddle, who has a very successful CCM career outside of Bethel Live," is at his best within the pulsating camaraderie of "In Your Light" and the hymn-like exaltation of "This is Amazing Grace."
Somehow like an afterthought, William Matthews and Steffany Frizzel-Gretzinger get to lead songs at the tail end of the album. Truth be told, after all the high charged numbers preceding, the songs coming later in the album tend to flow seamlessly together without being memorable. Maybe if Bethel Live would to stray a little from their power worship and explore a couple of more acoustic renderings or simpler meditative songs it would make the album more balanced. Nevertheless, Bethel Live has once again proven that worship should not be idolatrously dull. Our God is never boring and to cast worship contrary to who He is is an insipid atrocity. May "For the Sake of the World" make the worship of our great God glorious to the ends of the world.