We are Young And Free: Hillsong as you've never heard them before
Young And Free is the latest musical brand to emerge from the Australian team at Hillsong. Previous years have seen the launches of Hillsong Chapel (live acoustic worship), Hillsong London (the UK's contribution to the movement) and Hillsong United (youth worship). But if Hillsong United is worship for youth and Hillsong Kids is worship for kids, then what is Young And Free?
The answer to this question lies behind the fact that Hillsong United has grown up and is no longer a youth movement. The United team was founded in 1998 and has now matured into a well-respected band who regularly tour all over the world. Fans of the band who used to dance around to guitar-fuelled tracks like Everyday and Tell The World as teenagers are now in their late 20s and early 30s.
Because Hillsong United's fan base has grown up with them, there now exists a youth-shaped gap in the Hillsong franchise.
As Young and Free enter the ring, their sound is far removed from the original Hillsong United 'youth sound'. Times have changed and dance music has conquered rock music in the teenage market. You'll hear more synths than guitar riffs on this record.
Hillsong Church's philosophy is well known: It's driven by creativity and excellence. There's an attitude of 'we do this well, or we don't do it at all' that drives their musical projects. And it's an attitude that's just as evident here as on United projects.
There are plenty of new names involved on We Are Young And Free. Laura Toggs - daughter of Hillsong leader Brian Houston is one of them. Arguably the Hillsong name is in itself huge enough to sell records, but its still a risky move to release a record that doesn't feature a well-known name like Reuben Morgan or Joel Houston.
There's musical integrity and lyrical truth throughout the record. Second track Alive is the standout song of the first half of the album. A catchy riff immediately gets the crowd going before the chorus kicks in with "You are, you are, you are, my freedom, we lift you higher, lift you higher". It's not particularly profound and the following 'woah's are a tad predictable but the beat that drives the worship is pleasant enough.
Stylistic comparisons can be made to everyone from Miley Cyrus to Coldplay and strangely, Hillsong United's later material (Close sounds like it could have been a track on Aftermath).
While Hillsong Kids music tends to use imagery particularly relevant to that age group (Jesus Is My Superhero) and Hillsong United's lyrics often verge on the abstract (Oceans), Young And Free occupies a fantastic middle ground. "I've found love that never runs dry, from the depths to the sky", they sing in Love Goes On. It's simple without being simplistic.
End of Days is a prime example of this grown up-youthful blend. Its difficult to put your finger on what makes the song 'young' when lyrically, the song could be easily sung by adults. Nevertheless, there's a youthful quality to the recording.
The surprise hit on the record can be found in the final track Sinking Deep. Categories of 'Hillsong', 'Worship' and 'Youth' are irrelevant here. This is a fantastic song by anyone's standards. The 7-minute anthem builds from a single piano into a full band with synthesizers and pulsating drums. As always, the object of the song is Jesus, who the team praise with everything they've got.
With yet another arm of Hillsong's music collection being extended, its difficult to predict where the church will go next. They've already done instrumental and Christmas albums. Is there anywhere left to go?
It's impossible to know. But one thing is for sure, Hillsong's reputation for producing top quality and inspiring worship music isn't going away any time soon.