Prime Cuts: Not Afraid, Move, Centre of Your Love
Overall Grade: 3/5
Over the last few years, Jesus Culture has joined the ranks of Bethel Music, Elevation Worship, Matt Redman, Chris Tomlin, Darlene Zschech & Hillsong Worship as the major scribes of the songbook of contemporary worship. Thus, for anyone serious about worship music, Jesus Culture is indispensable. With key worship leaders such as Kim Walker-Smith, Derek Johnson, Chris McClarney, Chris Quilala, Bryan & Katie Torwalt, Jesus Culture has had developed a canon of songs that allows the church to give articulation and form to our worship. "Living with a Fire" is the church's latest perennial release, with the songwriting and lead vocals being parcelled out judiciously to its major aforementioned leaders. And it's also a lofty release of 14 songs with a running time clocking in at 1 hour and 40 minutes. In fact, two of the songs run over the 10 minute mark. So, you are actually getting your value's worth here.
Like their former releases, there is not a lack of future church worship songs. In fact, the album is choked full of anthemic tunes, the ones that start off slow before crescendoing in those stadium-loud choruses. In this regard, the Kim Walker-Smith led "Not Afraid" is stellar. With her full-bodied vocals over a fiercely thumping tune, this faith-filled anthem is enough to dispel the faintest mist of fear. Sounding as though her life is dependent on every note, Walker-Smith astounds with "Center of Your Love." Walker-Smith decelerates the pace and lets her voice soar on the piano-based ballad "How Amazing."
Though Katie Towarlt sounds promising in the ballad "Defender," but the song disintegrates half way through. And stretching the song over 12 minutes doesn't help either. Relinquishing all control to Jesus, Chris Quilala embodies worship in the Chris Tomlin-esque title track "Living with a Fire." Speaking of Chris Tomlin, "Yes and Amen" (which first appeared on Tomlin's album) is given a smothering blues-tinged read by its co-writer Chris McClarney. McClarney also contributes his pen and voice to "Move;" a song actually lives up to its titular in challenging us to move beyond the church walls.
Nevertheless, the major failing of the album is that it doesn't charter new ground. Sure, the sound is impeccable and there's a post-modern flourish to the whole project, but there isn't anything that is innovative and fresh either. The majority of the lyrics are great, but in many cases, they also ride on the trophies of recycled cliches. On their own, many of the songs work fine. But to listen to these 14 songs back to back in one sitting can be a challenge. This is because it's easy to get so bogged down by the intense pop-rock sheen that it becomes tedious halfway through the record. One would wish they would break the anthemic bold a bit and perhaps attempt something different or perhaps even less sonically cluttered. This is a good album, but it can also be a tad run-of-the-mill bland too.