When I heard three of the worship bands from Mars Hill were going to get record deals, my initial reaction wasn’t all that strong. It’s not rare for worship bands at big churches to release albums days. I am a fan of Mark Driscoll, though, so I filed this knowledge in the nice-to-see-God-moving-there corner of my mind.
Then we started playing Made Alive on Power FM.
The band’s first single has a great dancey, Brit-pop vibe paired with edgy yet melodic vocals. The lyrics are the kind that could sound preachy if they weren’t delivered so well. I think the quality of music makes the difference here. A lot of times, when you have a songwriter trying so hard to be worshipful and theological, the music ends up being plastic and lifeless, making the worshipful lyrics sound plastic as well. But Citizens managed to sidestep this pitfall with lead singer Zach Bolen’s raw, passionate vocals lending the song authenticity.
The crazy thing is Made Alive isn’t even the best track on the album. For me, that honor either goes to Sweetness of Freedom, which sounds like a slightly less chaotic version of The Wombats, to Sins of My Youth with its subtle Muse-y bridge, or to the epic, building cover of Praise to the Lord. There isn’t really a low point on the album, though I Am Living in a Land of Death always sounds a little out of place to me until the last minute or so. Still a great song, but it starts with a fairly strong new wave sound that doesn’t seem to fit with the high-energy Brit-punk of the rest of the album until it finally builds to its crescendo.
What sets this album apart is its focus on straightforward, theologically focused lyrics. Apparently, Bolen lets some of the pastors at Mars Hill look at his songs to make sure what he’s saying is on track with scripture, and it shows. These aren’t empty worship songs that can be summarized in a sentence or two. There’s some real meat to these songs, and I love it.
Final verdict: 4.5 out of 5 stars. The album is out now digitally, but I believe if you want a physical copy, you’ll have to wait till March 12.