Prime Cuts: Forever Be Praised, Let My Life Be Worship, Tend
Overall Grade: 3.5/5
Bethel Music returns to the essentials with "Simple." The emblems of the Lord's Supper on the album cover are poignant. The words of these 11 new songs are a return to the church's core message of the Gospel. Sonically, the tempo of the songs never deviates much from the balladry genre as they aim for songs with simpler chord progressions and arrangements. Moreover, instead of stacking the album with vocals from big names such as Matt Redman, Dante Bowe and Chris Quilala, this record finds Brian and Jenn Johnson taking a bigger role with the vocals. Gone also are the Bethel regulars such as Cory Asbury, Josh Baldwin and kalley. Rather newer names, such as Michaela Gentile, Sydney Allen, John Wilde, and David Funk are drafted for vocal duties.
So, how does such a lower-key direction pan out? Frankly, the record lacks the energy and excitement that often accompany a Bethel release. Lead single "I Still Believe" (featuring Brian Johnson) borders on the forgettable side. Sounding akin to many of Hillsong's big ballads, for an album's lead track, one expected more. "Tend (featuring Jenn Johnson)" is much better. A poetic exposition of how Jesus as the gardener prunes his vines, the song shows depth and promise. However, without a strong hook, can congregations sing to this?
The best song on the set must be "Forever Be Praised." With a bridge that will get you singing with the first listen, the song helps us to focus our lives on the Lamb of God. Worship as a lifestyle is the theme of Jenn Johnson and Michaela Gentile's superior "Let My Life Be Worship." Sydney Allen bears her soul on the heartfelt "Honesty." Prolific songwriter Mitch Wong joins Jenn Johnson on the Gospel-centric "The Blood." The song starts of well, but when the chorus and bridge hit, the song becomes tedious, tiresome, and repetitive.
The McClures' "Stand in Awe" and the Vestnys' "Jesus My King" are as exciting as their song titles. By themselves, they are passable. But the problem is that they cover the same lyrical ground as 70% of worship songs today. One needs to applaud the team for returning to the roots of the Gospel with "Simple." It's not wrong to sing about the old truths of scripture, but as worship song riters you need to say them in new and exciting ways. The latter is what's challenging; and to a large degree the album fails to accomplish such an aim.