Tomorrow Hillsong releases a new arm in their brand: “Hillsong Chapel.” The album, Yahweh, is the first of more to come in this “product line.” Here’s the description from worshiptogether.com:
Hillsong Chapel is an intimate and devotional collection of Hillsong songs by the Hillsong Live team. Recorded live in the Hillsong Chapel in March 2010, “Yahweh” is the first installment in this organic contemplative expression of praise and worship.
Comprised of 13 congregational songs carefully rearranged to be more intimate, this project is perfect for smaller gatherings and will help resource smaller congregations with the favourites from Hillsong Live and Hillsong United. It is also ideal for your own personal devotional and meditative times of worship.
So it sounds like Hillsong’s objective is to counterbalance their epic, arena-rock sound with something more intimate. If you’re looking for new Hillsong material, you won’t find it here. All their songs are repeats from previous records. However, there is one thing valuable and unique about this album for worship leaders to note. I often hear from musicians trying to incorporate and play Hillsong material in their churches that the arrangements are too dense, and the average band can’t live up to the gusto of Hillsong drumming and electric guitars. There’s a beauty and musicality in what Hillsong can accomplish, but I agree that commoners like us feel inadequate when trying to achieve the dynamic, intense, and ethereal prowess of the Aussies.
Yahweh provides a peak into a more “realistic,” average modern worship instrumental sound. The recordings sound pretty raw, which makes me think that, unlike Hillsong main, United, and Live, there isn’t as much overdubbing going on after the live recording on this album. I hear rough vocal harmonies, stronger presence of acoustics in the mix, and perhaps some slight rhythmic imprecision. The fact that these are all known, previously recorded songs actually makes the aforementioned “imperfections” more remarkable. Here we have the Hillsong artists themselves showing us how their own music can be done differently. And that’s valuable.
Here’s the track listing:
2. You’ll Come
4. The Time Has Come
5. Savior King
7. Came to My Rescue
9. This is Our God
10. You Hold Me Now
11. From the Inside Out
12. Mighty to Save
13. Salvation is Here
An observation: One big clue that they’re trying to market this primarily to an American audience is that they’ve changed the spelling of their famous song from “Saviour King” to “Savior King.”
Many cynics will view this as a marketing ploy…a way to make more money. And perhaps there’s truth in that. I don’t know how much behind-the-scenes processing went on for this album, but its rawness tells me that they did not pour the time and energy here that they have poured into other projects. Still, that’s obviously part of the goal—more raw, more intimate. However, as I said above, because Hillsong is pulling back the curtain a bit and showing themselves in a stripped-down fashion that more churches and congregants can identify with, I still find this album (and this new “brand”) valuable.
Finally, notice the descriptors, particularly, “devotional,” “organic,” and “contemplative.” There’s something here. They’re acknowledging that the albums and music they’ve produced thus far don’t lend themselves much to being described with the above adjectives. They’re acknowleding, perhaps, a lack of earthiness and meditative reverence. Interestingly, however, the change toward that end does not come textually, but instrumentally through song-arrangements. They’re doing the same songs, but they are attempting them in more “devotional,” “organic,” and “contemplative” ways. Have they achieved these ends? Or is there a need for a wider breadth of textual content?
A move toward answering this question could involve comparing the textual repertoire of Hillsong songs to that of, for example, 1800s English hymnody. Do we find in Hillsong the spread of jubilance to confession, praise to lament, joy to languish, pleasure to pain, that we do in the Christian songwriters of the 19th century? It’s worth reflection. If Hillsong is interested in diversifying its portfolio, perhaps the next step would be more songs that fall along the lines of “Desert Song”…a beautiful hymn of lament.