Prime Cuts: The Cause of Christ, Heal Our Land, Fall Afresh
Overall Score: 2.5/5
Kari Jobe's "The Garden" promises to be fecund with emotional and theological fruitfulness. After all, the album was cultivated during a season of loss and grief in Jobe's family. Moreover, though Jobe is the album's main gardener, she has also enlisted an A-list of horticulturists to assist her. This includes co-writers such as Hillsong's Brooke (Ligertwood) Fraser, Delirious?' Martin Smith, Jason Ingram and her own hubby and Gateway Worship's Cody Carnes. On top of that, she has also recruited Jeremy Edwardson (Jesus Culture, Hillsong UNITED, Jon Foreman) as the album's producer. Just like every patient gardener knows, Jobe has taken the time to furrow her sonic turf in preparation for "The Garden." Three years have passed since Jobe last graced us with her last album, Majestic, which produced the hit "Forever" and "I Am Not Alone."
The album's beauty lies first and foremost in the album cover. Featuring a rejuvenated looking Jobe surrounded by verdant flowers in a background of pastel pink, "The Garden" looks stunningly gorgeous. Second, Jobe is in top vocal form. On this record, Jobe is more in command of her vocals. There are no more vocal bungee jumping where she would soar at lightning speed to great heights in order to plunge momentously down. Here the songs are less temperamental; and she has also learnt, in large measure, to nuance her vocals in more subtle shades showcasing that she has grown as a singer. Though she still soars on some songs, but now she has also learnt that sometimes less is more too.
So, what about the songs? Jobe falls into the seductive snare countless singer-songwriters face, she is far too confident of her own song writing skills. By co-writing the bulk of the album, all the songs here sound similar in the first few listens. They are all synth-based ethereal-leaning ballads. And when you listen to 14 of such songs back to back, they feel like a long dreadful song that never ever ends. When singer-songwriters indulge in their works so imprudently, they immediately isolate the listener. This is what actually gives modern worship such a bad reputation.
Moreover, the songs are hardly singable --- if you are thinking of utilizing them for congregational singing. Maybe Jobe has had been in her megachurch for far too long. The majority of churches in the US are smaller churches where they do not have a huge worship team backing them up. Most worship leaders are dependent on the congregation to sing along with them. Truth be told, none of these songs (save for "The Cause of Christ" and "Heal Our Land") will incur the support of the average pew seater who has little affinity with Christian music. The songs' melodic structures are nebulous at best; they are difficult for the musically untrained to latch on.
Most grievous about this album is that the lyrics of the songs don't show depth. The title cut "The Garden" tries to utilize the Biblical image of the garden as a concrete image of God's restorative work in our lives. But how does the Garden restore? How does it drive our fears away? Jobe has some excellent Biblical ideas here but she doesn't join the dots well. Then you have the other cluster of songs that sound more like love songs from a paramour crying out to another. The songs are so "me" centered you sometimes think you are listening to a Demi Lovato album.
Being friends with Darlene Zschech, Jobe ought to take a few lessons from her mentor: first, don't be afraid to use Scripture. And when you use them, wrestle with God's word and draw out hermeneutically responsible ways in which Scripture speaks to us. Second, don't be afraid to use the name "Jesus" and the pronoun "we." After all Christ loved and died for the church and not just individuals alone.