I once read a review, around about the time that Matt Redman released Facedown, which described him as a man who wrote songs with all the energy and skill of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band and with about as much subtlety. That seemed to me like kind of an unfair comment at the time, particularly given that Matt has been responsible for some of the most thoughtful and reflective personal worship songs that have come out of the world of Christian music over the past few decades, and Facedown, his last live album, seemed to continue that trend.
However, when I put 10,000 Reasons on my ipod this morning it was that review which came to mind. A high-energy collection of congregational worship songs, recorded live with 1000 other worship leaders, on the first few listens it doesn’t seem to exude subtlety. In fact, from the “whoa-oh-ohs” that open initial track We are the Free to the soft-rock chorus of Magnificent, on a first listen of the new album it almost sounds like a disappointment.
It didn’t feel like to me there are any of those ‘shiver-down-your-spine’ moments that I had earlier in the year in Hillsong United’s album Aftermath or even in Matt’s back catalogue, and honestly, it all felt a little… obvious.
But five listens on, I’ve decided that it’s not. In fact, it’s anything but obvious. Because where Aftermath faded into the background, a buzz of new sounds that in a few cases lacked the substance to really create something lasting, this is something different. The sound may not be as fresh as some, but the album’s title comes from Redman’s extensive reflections on the many, many reasons we have to praise God, and it’s a theme that’s followed through the whole album. You only need to look at the lyrics to see how dense the songwriting is here.
Holy opens with the words “what heart could hold the weight of Your love | And know the heights of Your great worth | What eyes could look on Your glorious face | Shining like the sun”, unafraid to embrace the inexpressible only to then respond with a cry of “Holy, Holy, Holy!” Elsewhere, Where Would We Be tells the story of the cross and then echoes out “where would we be without your love? | We’d still be lost in darkness | Where would we be without Your cross? | You made a way to save us…” and Never Once starts with the singer “standing on a mountaintop” and “kneeling on a battleground” only to resound with the words,
Never once did we ever walk alone
Never once did You leave us on our own
You are faithful
God, You are faithful…
Whilst at first it might initially seem to get lost in big choruses, what 10,000 Reasons does so effectively is to take the listener on that journey in a way that keeps reflection and response perfectly balanced. Lines that have been lifted wholly from the Bible start to stick out, verses that declare the endless truth of God become foregrounded and you remember those moments where the congregation joins together in song are never just token choruses but reminders of who God is and how far you – we – have come to get to this point.
This is clearest on the title track, whose chorus “Bless the Lord, O my soul | O my soul | Worship His holy name” stands out as a clear high point on the album. It’s got the flavour of an old hymn, right down to the lyrics about singing for ten thousand years, but an intensely contemporary feel too, and again I love that expression of just how huge God is, and how much more there is to know. So much of worship music attempts to bring God down to a tangible, understandable form. But the implicit message of the album that Matt Redman has made is that there is more to know, more to see of God, and that happens outside of church, in the world God has created and called us to.
It’s not a perfect album. Fires falls flat, and Magnificent may be a bit too soft-rock for your taste. And you have to give it your full attention – it’s not something that will sit well in the background.
But all that said, 10,000 Reasons as a whole is a congregational worship album that is deeply devoted to God, with Him as the grounding behind all action that flows out as a result of it. It will make you look to Jesus, to look out to the places he is found in the world, and it will cause you to respond with wonder at what has been done – and what can be done as a result.
It may, ironically, be less accessible than some of Matt’s earlier, quieter back catalogue.
However, it will reward repeated listens.