EMI CMG Distribution
Release Date: September 25th 2012
Reviewed by Joshua Andre
Various Artists- WOW Hits 2013 (Deluxe Edition) (Amazon mp3/iTunes)
Ah, it’s that time again, to see which songs and CCM artists are on top; and to gripe and whinge over the omissions, and those whom we think are more deserving of inclusions… When you look over the past year and even further back, the WOW series has changed its face, and its method of choosing hit songs; however the nature of the discs are the same. If you don’t know what a WOW disc is, whether you are a new Christian or for whatever other reason, let me spell it out. Every year around September or October, since 1996, EMI CMG releases a batch of 30 something tracks that are supposedly the best songs that particular year. Now are these songs really the best of that year? In the early-mid 2000’s, that certainly was the case, with songs like He Reigns, Glory Defined, I Don’t Want To Go, I Am Free, Healing Rain, All Things New, Take You Back, Strong Tower, Great Light Of The World and Legacy all deserving of their place in their respective WOW discs. However of late, with the influx of more and more new bands each year; and the tendency of veterans to milk each release for 2 years or more before releasing another album; WOW’s on the whole are a little underwhelming- sometimes there are even double ups (the same songs on two consecutive WOW CD’s)! So what do I think about this year’s edition: WOW Hits 2013? There are indeed some bolters, a few surprises, and some which I just shake my head at; but on the whole, it’s a bit more of the same. It’s ok, but not ground-breaking at all, nor ‘the best’ songs of the year.
Disc one contains the pop and worship flavoured tunes, and as expected, all of the usual suspects are here. Casting Crowns offers up “Courageous” as the opener, from the movie of the same name which released last year, although I think “Jesus Friend Of Sinners” is more deserving of inclusion as a single. However the subject matter of fathers stepping up to the plate in terms of responsibility and their relationships with their family, as well as the mesmerising guitar solos is a great way to start proceedings. A glance through the 16 first disc tracks will give you some more familiarity, with Jeremy Camp (“Overcome”), Chris Tomlin (“I Lift My Hands”), Sidewalk Prophets (“Live Like That”), Josh Wilson (“Fall Apart) and Steven Curtis Chapman (“Do Everything”) all making appearances, with some tracks timely and others not so much (“White Flag”, or “Long Way Home” anyone?). Nevertheless these songs were hits in radio over the past year and are all somewhat deserving of their place. Aaron Shust’s inclusion after 3 years or so off the radar is pleasing, with last year’s hit “My Hope Is In You”, a sombre yet inspiring track based on his youngest son’s extended ordeal in the hospital. This song would bring tears to anyone’s eyes, and after being omitted on WOW Hits 2012, Aaron is definitely a no-brainer. Kari Jobe’s worshipful “We Are” makes the list also, and with her music video for “Steady My Heart” that released in early August, wowing fans and gaining positive feedback; Kari’s first WOW appearance is long overdue and very revitalising! Laura Story and Matt Redman also join the club for first songs on WOW, with “Blessings” and “10 000 Reasons”, which is a Song of the Year nomination in 2012, and a potential Song of the Year nomination candidate for 2013, respectively. I personally thought that Matt’s style of music would fit more on a WOW Worship album, however given that he re-recorded the title track of his 2011 album, to create a studio version; as well as the fact that “10 000 Reasons” topped the Christian charts, and went higher than “The Heart Of Worship” and “Blessed Be Your Name” (considered Matt’s crowning achievements); this was an expected and welcomed move! And Jason Castro rounds up the first disc with “Only A Mountain” as the bonus track, a bolter of a single, considering the album releases in September, with the single being released shortly before that.
Always on any album are there songs which grab you, and on the first disc of WOW Hits 2013, this is certainly the case with MercyMe’s “The Hurt and The Healer” and Matthew West’s “Forgiveness” for me. Matthew West has a new album out called Into The Light; and he sent requests for fans to send him some of their most personal and vulnerable stories as inspiration for his songs. “Forgiveness” was borne out of a horrific yet redemptive tale of a mother who lost her daughter in a car crash; and her subsequent wrestle with God about forgiving the person who killed her daughter. Now the man responsible comes out of jail at the end of this year, and after serving 11 years of a 22 year sentence, this mother has forgiven her daughter’s killer so much so that she calls him part of her family. Oh, and by the way, he’s a Christian now! I know, that’s a pretty awesome testimony, for God to change a person from the inside out, but it really is a Paul on-the-road-to-Damascus like story, and the lyrics ‘…so let it go and be amazed by what you see with eyes of grace, the prisoner that he really frees is you…’, are life-changing- they are definitely God inspired! Similarly, MercyMe’s “The Hurt And The Healer” is another highlight; with the inspiration being from lead singer Bart’s tumultuous year where his cousin died. Describing how the hurt in our lives is not dependant on who God is; MercyMe have crafted an emotional tear jerker with heartfelt lyrics in contention for one or more Dove Awards next year! With lyrics such as ‘… I’m alive, even though a part of me has died, You take my heart and breathe it back to life; I fall into Your arms open wide when the hurt and the healer collide…’ this is one of my favourite songs ever from the Texan band.
Disc 2 typically contains rock radio gems; songs with more of an edge. “God’s Not Dead” from the Newsboys is the opener, and this worshipful cover is sublime. With the music video premiering in January this year, Michael Tait sings at the top of his lungs ‘…my God’s not dead, He’s surely alive, He’s living on the inside, roaring like a lion…’. Originally written by Daniel Bashta, Newsboys have made this upbeat top tapper their own, with a unique representation and an added freshness and spark to disc 2. Kevin Max providing back-up vocals gives the song an extra dimension to it; in fact it’s a great throwback to the dc Talk days. While 2/3 of the 90’s band is present and rocking out on one track, on another- “Me Without You”, TobyMac still shines. This pop dance tune isn’t what we’re really used to from Toby, we’re more used to seeing him rap like KJ-52 or Manafest, however the party remix like track is a favourite of mine, and gets me grooving and moving to the music while Toby describes his testimony story that without God, he is nothing; and the repeated line of ‘…don’t know where I’d be, without You…’ is such a true statement! Without God, we would be nothing! Recently married, Britt Nicole gives listeners her salvation story in “All This Time”, a heartfelt song inspired by her parents’ divorce; and the ultimate outcome of that, which was a dedication to Jesus and Britt becoming a Christian. The lyrics of ‘…all this time, from the first tear cry, to today’s sunrise, and every single moment between…You were there, You were walking with me all this time…’ is such a heart hitting lyric, and one of Britt’s best as we as listeners understand that God is there for us in the midst of our circumstances.
“He Said” by hip hop duo Group 1 Crew carries on from this lyrical theme of God being there every moment of our lives; even during the valleys. A pop rock CCM track that is out of the mould and their genre, Manwell Reyes and Blanca Callahan execute this truth perfectly, with their music video premiering on Air 1 earlier this year, and really hitting home on the lyrical themes of God’s faithfulness and how ‘…I might let you bend, but I won’t let you break…I’ll never ever let you go…’. Recording this song with Chris August, the video shows that these guys had a blast and enjoyed themselves! Chris August expounds upon the theme of God’s faithfulness in his pop funk type song “Center Of It”, and the lyrics ‘…in the dark, in the light, in the morning and night, in the good, in the hurt, in the places I hide; when I rise, when I fall, You’ll be there through it all, at the start, at the end, in the center of the center of it…’ mirrors his skateboarding accident earlier this year, and the uncertain situation Chris found himself in in hospital for an extended period of time. But God showed him in that moment that He is in the centre of everything, and through that ordeal, and sharing a youtube video about his plight; gives this song extra layers and significant meaning. Building 429’s “Where I Belong”, which topped the number 1 on the Christian charts for 15 consecutive weeks earlier this year, and co-written with Jason Ingram; speaks about how Earth is not out temporary home and not to be discouraged by our circumstances as heaven isn’t too far away. And another gem is from Aussie duo Joel and Luke Smallbone, or otherwise known as For King & Country with “Busted Heart”, an admission of guilt and confession that our hearts are broken and we need Jesus to come and save us. As this song can be read in both mainstream and Christian settings, with lyrics such as ‘…don’t let me lose my way, hold onto me…’, the brothers of Rebecca St James are set to storm the world with their thought provoking lyrics and messages about the ins and outs of life, and the everyday issues that come with it. Luminate’s “Banner of Love”, from their sophomore album Welcome To Daylight, and Rhett Walker Band’s “When Mercy Found Me” are the bonus tracks for disc 2, and are both thoroughly deserving of their spots. The pop rock synth type sound of “Banner of Love has me hooked, and Samuel Jay Hancock’s vocals of ‘…And only You can see my destiny, only You can be the strength I need, cause my life is Yours now; so goodbye to pride and bitterness, I’m going to live out my purpose…’ is very vulnerable, and tells a true story of a God who is our strength when we need Him, and only He can see the result of the paths we take. Rhett Walker gives his testimony in “When Mercy Found Me”, singing about how he and his wife became teenage parents, and how God used that situation for His glory. It’s nice to end the standard edition of WOW Hits 2013 on these inspiring and moving notes, however a deeper analysis of the album reveals many flaws.
A WOW CD cannot be perfect, everyone knows this. It’s just a fact of life that songs are missed out, due to the timing of the single in comparison to when the WOW disc is actually made, to the special relationships that the WOW brand have with certain labels. However when I can look through the line-up of all 39 songs, and say ‘Oh this and this and this and this and that are missing’, it’s not a good sign, and frankly, I have to say that WOW Hits 2013 does not accurately reflect the top songs of the year. Sure, the songs I have described across both discs in the earlier paragraphs are of good quality, don’t get me wrong. Actually all of these songs are good. But there are some songs choices and placements within the album (on both discs) which are downright disappointing, and leave me scratching my head. Mikeschair, Third Day and Francesca Battistelli, all offer up ballads and hits worthy of inclusion (but maybe “All For You” would be a better timelier choice than “Someone Worth Dying For”), however I am surprised that they are on the first disc- normally these artists are on the edgier rockier disc 2. And Brandon Heath’s “The Light In Me”, a soft acoustic ballad is on disc 2; surely “Jesus In Disguise” from his upcoming Blue Mountain album was considered? The Afters are included on this album, which is good, however the dated “Lift Me Up” is favoured over the more recent “Life Is Beautiful”, which was recorded for the movie October Baby, and Jamie Grace, who won New Artist of the Year this year at the Dove Awards, offers up “Hold Me”, which is over a year old! Tenth Avenue North have a new album called The Struggle, however the lead single “Losing”, which I expected as the song released in April, was shunned for the 2010 single “Strong Enough To Save”. And both artists Skillet and Sanctus Real haven’t had any new material in almost three years, yet singles from their previous albums “One Day Too Late” and “The Redeemer” are included (weird!). The deluxe bonus tracks are very good, but rather confusing. Abandon, Dara Maclean, Big Daddy Weave, David Crowder*Band, and Kutless are all included as ‘deluxe’ tracks, with “Feel It In Your Heart”, “Free”, “Love Come To Life”, “Let Me Feel You Shine”, and “Carry Me To The Cross”, when in my opinion these 5 tracks thoroughly deserve their place within the 30 tracks, instead of outside, which is sending a message that these kind of tracks are inferior to the 30. I was always under the impression that deluxe tracks were for up and coming bands and artists who need the exposure to the Christian market.
As for the artists that were totally missing; there were many I expected in the first disc that did not eventuate, including Matt Maher (“Rise Up”), Audrey Assad (“Sparrow”), Jaci Velasquez (“Give Them Jesus”), Rachael Lampa (“Savior’s Face”), Mark Schultz (“All Things Possible”), Natalie Grant (“Alive”) and potential bonus tracks from Moriah Peters (“I Choose Jesus”), Bellarive (“Taste Of Eternity”), and Karyn Williams (“Rest In The Hope”), all of which had significant airplay this year. “Alive” was the most successful song from The Music Inspired By The Story CD, and Mark Schultz has been given special treatment in the past, with his song Love Has Come being included on 2 WOW CD’s. The 2nd disc in terms of omissions is worse, though. I was perplexed not to see Fireflight (“Stay Close”), needtobreathe (“Keep Your Eyes Open”), and Switchfoot (“Restless”), all of which offered up meaningful and rocky gems which garnered significant airplay, on radio as well as Air 1; and with each three popular bands releasing well viewed music videos here, here and here; it should be a no brainer for their inclusion. The Museum (“Love Will Find You”), Plumb (“How Many Times”), Hawk Nelson (“My Next Breath”), Manafest (“Never Let You Go”), Jimmy Needham (“If I Ever Needed Grace”), Remedy Drive (“Better Than Life”), Kerrie Roberts (“Finally Home”), The City Harmonic (“I Have a Dream”) and newcomers An Epic No Less (“Mercy Light”), Andy Cherry (“Our God’s Alive”) and Samestate (“Hurricane”) are also all missing, and their inclusions can only beef up this struggling disc that is called ‘rock’, which is lacking edgier tracks, to which the names above can only enhance and bring a much needed injection of energy to this fading brand of compilation CD.
In short, 39 tracks is in my opinion too short to cover the amazing singles and God given melodies from the talented Christian artists on the scene today. But 39 is the arbitrary number, and is something that needs to be looked at. Several tracks in WOW Hits 2013 are good, and are chosen well, especially the bold tracks from Matt Redman, MercyMe and Matthew West, however notable absences from all that I have listed above as well as dubious song choices from artists with dated songs, drag this compilation album down. If you want the best songs, you may find 10 or so on this years’ edition, but saying that these 39 songs are the best is definitely a stretch. These artists have been around on WOW for a while, which is ok, but when sameness is marketed as the best, then things start going awry. Do you have every track bought from iTunes? Then this album may not be for you. If not, go ahead and buy it by all means, but I strongly suggest you check out the other artists not on the album as well; then you can make an unbiased decision later on for WOW Hits 2014!
- Courageous (Casting Crowns)
- 10, 000 Reasons (Bless The Lord) (Matt Redman)
- Overcome (Jeremy Camp)
- Blessings (Laura Story)
- My Hope Is In You (Aaron Shust)
- I Lift My Hands (Chris Tomlin)
- The Hurt And The Healer (MercyMe)
- Forgiveness (Matthew West)
- We Are (Kari Jobe)
- Live Like That (Sidewalk Prophets)
- Fall Apart (Josh Wilson)
- Angel By Your Side (Francesca Battistelli)
- Trust In Jesus (Third Day)
- Do Everything (Steven Curtis Chapman)
- Someone Worth Dying For (Mikeschair)
- Only A Mountain (Jason Castro)- Bonus
- Love Come To Life (Big Daddy Weave) – DELUXE
- Carry Me To The Cross (Kutless) – DELUXE
- Free (Dara Maclean) – DELUXE
- God’s Not Dead (Newsboys)
- Me Without You (TobyMac)
- Where I Belong (Building 429)
- All this Time (Britt Nicole)
- Lift Me Up (The Afters)
- Busted Heart (Hold Onto Me) (for King & Country)
- Hold Me (Jamie Grace)
- Strong Enough To The Save (Tenth Avenue North)
- He Said (Group 1 Crew featuring Chris August)
- Center Of It (Chris August)
- Good Morning (Mandisa featuring TobyMac)
- One Day Too Late (Skillet)
- The Redeemer (Sanctus Real)
- The Light In Me (Brandon Heath)
- Make A Move (Royal Tailor)
- Banner Of Love (Luminate)- Bonus
- When Mercy Found Me (Rhett Walker Band)- Bonus
- Let Me Feel You Shine (David Crowder*Band) – DELUXE
- Down (Mat Kearney) – DELUXE
- Feel It In Your Heart (Abandon) – DELUXE
Favourite Tracks: 10, 000 Reasons, The Hurt And The Healer, Forgiveness, We Are, Carry Me To The Cross, God’s Not Dead, Me Without You, Where I Belong, He Said, Let Me Feel You Shine, Banner Of Love