Release Date: January 8th 2012
Reviewed by Joshua Andre
One of most respected and well recognised CCM worship leaders around the globe today and the chief worship leader at the Passion Worship Movement founded in the 90’s; Chris Tomlin has time and time again wowed audiences and critics alike with his worship anthems and poignant melodies for many years. The Texan native has been one of my favourite artists ever since I heard “How Great Is Our God” on the radio in 2006. And he’s only excelled in his song writing and worship leading ever since. Besides the 2004 hit anthem, songs like “The Wonderful Cross”, “Famous One”, “Our God”, “God Of This City”, “Forever”, “Holy Is The Lord”, “Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone)” and “Jesus Messiah” are sung frequently in our church, and Chris’ latest single “Whom Shall I Fear” has been introduced in our Sunday services as well, which is pretty cool. I’m always enthralled by Chris’s live songs in the Passion albums, as well as many of his songs in his studio albums. However the 2013 album Burning Lights feels like the most ‘complete’ album of his career, if you could call it like that- I don’t think I’ve ever been excited by a Chris Tomlin album ever. With guest vocals from Lecrae, Kari Jobe, Christy Nockels and Phil Wickham, this major release in January is sure to gain popularity, and many songs are guaranteed to receive radio airplay. With highlights such as “Lay Me Down”, “White Flag”, “Awake My Soul”, “Crown Him”, “Thank You God For Saving Me”, and the Martin Smith written “God’s Great Dance Floor”; Burning Lights is a must for worship lovers, and a shoe-in for a future Dove Award!
The album opens up with a 1 minute intro serving as the entrée to the main course which is “Awake My Soul”. For me what Chris utilises very well throughout his career is the way guest vocalists liven up each song and add an extra layer and depth, and in Burning Lights, the trend continues. The opener features hip-hop and rap genius Lecrae, who has been featured on Passion albums before; and right of the bat his inclusion makes the song electrifying. An edgy rock track (which builds up through strings and eerie yet refreshing backing vocals for a minute), powered by electric guitars; Chris and Lecrae powerfully express that Jesus is the One who awakes our souls and gives us life. It definitely is true that ‘…I come alive, I’m alive when You breathe on me…’; and this upbeat rocker, based on the story of Ezekiel, comes alive and makes its mark in the emphatic and rousing bridge where Lecrae, across the explosive electric guitar, delivers a heartfelt and earnest prayer and prophecy from Ezekiel, and the monologue brings chills down my arm. What a near flawless opener with a quality artist to join Chris.
Christy Nockels also joins Chris Tomlin, on “Jesus Son Of God”, a piano centred piece that is absolutely magical with Chris and Christy singing together in harmony beautifully, praising our Saviour. Recorded first for the Passion 2012 album White Flag; this proclamation to God is shorted by a couple of minutes from the live version, which in my opinion is a shame because as soon as you get swept up in the emotion and the crescendo of the bridge ‘…Be lifted higher, than all You’ve overcome; Your name be louder than any other song, there is no power that can come against Your love; the cross was enough, the cross was enough…’ the song sadly ends in the next 30 or so seconds. Nevertheless, the song is still good, and, if you could call it that, is a low point on an otherwise strong album. Christy’s vocals are stunningly good as always though, as well as the profound lyrics that have once again highlighted the depth of God’s love. The other 2 songs with guest vocalists are “Crown Him” (with Kari Jobe), and “Thank You God For Saving Me” (with Phil Wickham). Both Phil and Kari are two of the most popular modern worship leaders currently, so their inclusion on Burning Lights is very cool. Kari helps Chris beef up the timeless hymn “Crown Him With Many Crowns”, transforming it from an organ or piano focused hymn to a worship anthem with a full band. Her voice is just as majestic and pristine as always; as she brilliantly sings with Chris on the 2nd verse and the chorus- Kari is one of my favourite female vocalists at the moment. The chorus of ‘…Majesty, Lord of All, let every throne before Him fall, The King Of Kings, O come adore, Our god who reigns forevermore…’ is a welcome addition too- no doubt Chris’s rendition will be sung in churches for many years to come just like “Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone)”. Phil’s contribution to the album comes in a more introspective way, as he joins Chris on an acoustic song that is a prayer, basically thanking God for saving us. Phil’s voice is electric, and very distinct, and in “Thank You God For Saving Me”, his inclusion to an already vibrant album brings a smile to my face.
Chris could have had all songs featuring guest vocalists and I would be fine with that- his ability to sing alongside others is very humbling and is what makes this album. Yet the solo songs are good as well. The album closer “Shepherd Boy” is sung from the perspective of David from the Old Testament and is co-written with Martin Smith. Opening with a piano and light strings in the background creating a serene and calming effect, the chorus is Chris at his song-writing best, as the chorus shows us the love of God- “…I’m just singing, singing over you. Come and lay your troubles down, ’cause love is breaking through…”. What is also a plus and a left field addition to the track is the choir and the presence of the electric guitar as the song reaches its pinnacle and epic conclusion. Well done Chris for a reflective and worshipful anthem! “Countless Wonders” and “Sovereign” are the other slower ballads. “Sovereign”, speaking about how God is sovereign over everything, is a great track on its own, and with the guitar hook and the grand piano opening, could easily be on CCM radio in the near future, yet for me and comparing it to the rest of this ‘out there’ and ‘experimental’ album, this song seems a bit ho-hum. Yet this song still is powerful, such is the strength of the track list- I think this could be Chris’ best album to date. “Countless Wonders”, the short but sweet upbeat rocky radio friendly song is proof of this- a simple melody added with honest lyrics and the perfect blend of instruments, and what you get is a gem that is sure to be popular over the next few years. Lyrically, this is a great depiction of creation. God’s work is to be admired, and as we marvel at the stars and the sun, as the song says, we can praise the ‘…God of countless wonders [and]…lift my eyes…’.
Chris’s songs, not to be nit-picky, have always been easy to predict. A focus of worship, a few ballads, radio friendly tunes, and easy melodies to be played at the Sunday Service; simple lyrics too, that the congregation can remember. Not that all of these things are bad, but what I think makes Burning Lights stand up and out from Chris’s previous work is the change in musical genres for a few tracks. Already shown in “Awake My Soul”, the remaining songs are littered with more of a rock focus to grab the younger generation. “White Flag”, and “Whom Shall I Fear” are easy to remember songs, with a focus on Jesus ‘…we lift the cross, lifted high, lifted high…’ (“White Flag”); ‘…I know who goes before me, I know who stands behind; the God of angel armies is always by my side…’ (“Whom Shall I Fear”), but each have that extra kick in it- I can tell they will be treasured and respected, maybe even more so that Chris’s previous singles, in the many years to come. While “White Flag” maintains its big stadium feel even though it is played in the studio (I reckon this version is better!), “Whom Shall I Fear”, first released in November as a single, is full of truth, and with the rousing choruses and an acknowledgement of our reliance on God, the first single is definitely a shoe-in for a Dove Award in the future!
“Lay Me Down”, also recorded at Passion 2012, is present also, and this studio version is given more of the acoustic treatment. Still rocky and upbeat in nature, though; the guitars give the song a folk and country feel, and together with the declaration that our lives are not our own, but God’s, and that we can lay it all down at the feet of Jesus; I am amazed at Chris’ ability to lead people in worship; it’s unlike any other worship leader right now. But my best song on the album has to go to “God’s Great Dance Floor”. Co-written with Martin Smith, and also on his solo EP as well; Chris’s version opens with synth and from first impressions sounds very laid back and ethereal. However, the music takes off later on, with a party feel and electronic effects present as I can’t help but dance along. Proclaiming that ‘…You’ll never stop loving us, no matter how far we run; You’ll never give up on us, let heaven shout, let the future begin…’, the real treasure in this song comes in the form of the bridge, where the tempo is increased yet again. The brass enters, and this track that is so unlike Chris has ever recorded, reaches its epic crescendo. Chris is definitely pushing the boundaries and expanding his repertoire of songs- this is definitely a good thing. I can’t wait to see what else is in store in the coming years- no doubt the new genre where “God’s Great Dance Floor” is coming from is just the tip of the ice berg!
Chris Tomlin has always impressed me with his offerings, but Burning Lights is on another level! This is seriously a great album, and I am sure listeners will love the fresh melodies and different styles even if you aren’t a Chris Tomlin fan. Setting a precedent for the year of 2013 for worship, Chris has cleverly broken new ground musically, yet still giving us types of songs that we all can sing in the church and love as well. Though this line is hard to walk sometimes, an album that has the right mix of safe and risky songs musically, yet never compromising but always evolving on their sound, Chris does a fantastic job! Setting the standard for others, I can’t wait for some songs in Burning Lights to be translated into some live versions in the upcoming Passion album in March 2013. Well done Chris, you totally deserve it!
- Burning Lights (1:03)
- Awake My Soul [feat. Lecrae] (3:54)
- Whom Shall I Fear [God Of Angel Armies] (4:27)
- Lay Me Down (4:45)
- God’s Great Dance Floor (3:38)
- White Flag (4:33)
- Crown Him (Majesty) [feat. Kari Jobe] (5:12)
- Jesus Son Of God [feat. Christy Nockels] (4:27)
- Sovereign (4:35)
- Countless Wonders (3:21)
- Thank You God For Saving Me [feat. Phil Wickham] (4:26)
- Shepherd Boy (4:34)