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Album of the Year
Posted September 13, 2014
By MarcusHathcock_NRT, Staff Reviewer


I've been trying to figure out how to write this review for more than a month. I first heard for KING & COUNTRY's much-anticipated sophomore effort--RUN WILD. LIVE FREE. LOVE STRONG.--when I was sitting in the catering and press section of Creation Festival NW in late July, waiting to interview the band.

Less than 24 hours after the band's publicist sent me the final masters of the album, co-frontman Joel Smallbone had given the record a final listen as a complete work on an airplane, the band's ever-meticulous creative force giving the project his final thumbs up.

During the interview, you could see it in Joel's eyes: The band simply can't wait to get this music out there. And I don't blame them, because this album is consensus Album of the Year material by the NRT staff. 

Fueled by some pretty radical life changes, challenges and questions since the band's debut record, Crave, Run Wild represents a massive, wholesale leveling up for a band that already displayed superior musicality, spiritual sensitivity and lyrical honesty.

I've written and rewritten this review several times, and the truth is, there's so much here that I could easily dedicate 5,000 words to the record and still not do it justice. 

Album highlights? All of it. "Run Wild" kicks things off surprisingly mellow before crescendoing into a punch-you-in-the-face chorus that shows off the band's newest trick that appears in various places throughout the album: masterfully marrying their trademark instrumentations with electronic sounds. Andy Mineo's verses contribute to the theme of Christ's freedom in a way that you have to hear to believe.

Fans of for KING & COUNTRY can picture the band doing their thing, with a stage full of dudes hitting various percussion instruments with passionate flair on the "Prelude," leading into catchy lead single "Fix My Eyes"--a song that deploys those big drums, a big church-bell sound, handclaps, groovy bass and a ton of other instruments craftily layered together. 

The message of that song, of course, is about how past mistakes and present challenges "are dimming in the light of Your glory and grace." The chorus's "you-oo-ooo-ooo-ohhh-ohh" (it's really difficult to spell that out) refrain is catchy and quite earworm-ly. It's the high-energy kind of song you'd expect from these gents.

"When you feel it / Once you see it / And you breathe it / It's unforgettable," is the chorus of the big-sounding, cinematic, hopeful, bold song "To the Dreamers," but it also could double as a good sentence-long summary of this album. The song, which encourages people to keep on dreaming and singing in the face of difficulties, is moving enough that NBC featured it as the theme music to its fall lineup. What does that tell you?

"Shoulders" is a Psalms-inspired slow jam that obviously is fueled by some very personal experiences, declaring, "My help comes from You / You are my rest, my rescue / You carried my weakness, my sickness, my brokenness all on Your shoulders.

There's more of a tip of the hat given to the timeless hymn "I Have Decided to Follow Jesus" in the song "No Turning Back." Lyrically, it's simple: they're singing about their allegiance to Christ. Musically, there's never anything simple with these guys. There are some killer harmonies delivered in some head-nodding rhythms.

Holy cow, where do I begin with "Without You"? I first heard this song when the band performed it at the K-LOVE Fan Awards this summer. It was tremendously impactful, especially given the personal story of Luke's health issues, which it seems threatened his very existence. Then, to hear the mostly piano-and-string-driven song accompanied by Luke's wife, Courtney, who sings an actual sentence she said to her husband, "I don't want to live without you"--there aren't words. This isn't pop, folks. This isn't a show. This is real life, and real, very real, suffering. It will surely minister to others who have gone through similar pain. 

"Long Live" encourages those out there with childlike faith--the people who can be ridiculed for playing drums with no rhythm or singing off-tune--in arena-shaking bigness, singing, "With a drop of faith and childlike wonder / You can weather the lightning / You can brave the thunder.

I love overhearing my son sing, "You keep... me... steady when the sky is falling do-o-own." This confession, lauding God's never-changing love and covering, is a great reminder in these uncertain times. While there's undoubtedly lots of underlying unsteadiness and uncertainty that led to these words being penned, the execution of this is so victorious and positive-sounding. It's such a beautiful dichotomy, again that seamlessly marries electronic and "analog" instruments.

To say that "Already Home" sounds like a Coldplay song would diminish the work of for KING & COUNTRY. But the truth is, I think the Smallbone brothers do Coldplay better than Coldplay on this song. With an emotional organ (think "Fix You"), and a Chris Martin-esque vocal line ("You don't have to be broken to see there's magic in a shooting star"), the passion that made the Brits famous is exceeded by these Aussies, and with it comes the message of hope that the big universe points to a big God who loves us: "Look up and you'll know that you're already home." 

"This Is Love" is admittedly the band's first outright "relationship song" is dedicated the two Mrs. Smallbones--Moriah (Peters) and Courtney. It's not a slow dance song by any stretch, but a radio-friendly, driving, pop-propelled picture of God-centered love. "Love is patient, I know love is kind / Thank God is saw the sign / This is love, this is love, this is love that I'm feeling.

Sometimes it means everything in the world to just have someone say: "All of the hurt that happened to you / It matters / I hope you know it matters," but more importantly, to God "you matter... I hope you know you matter." Huge message in this age of hopelessness and feeling like on in a million. With high tenor vocals over a driving beat, the statement couldn't be made any more emphatically.

The message is complemented nicely with "It's Not Over Yet," a reassurance that it's all going to be OK in the end... so if it's not OK, it's not the end. "To everyone who's hit their limit, it's not over yet," the song resounds. A fun, misleading intro to the song gives the song an extra layer of playfulness--the kind of joy that makes no sense to a panicking world, but is available to those of us who know Jesus.

"O God Forgive Us" is a piano-and-voices ballad of repentance that closes out the album with a soul-stirring blast of an organ to close things out a passionate refrain: "With our white flag sailing in the night / Eyes pointed to the sky / Hands up and open wide, open wide." As if you were still needing closure, after 40 seconds of silence on the final track, Joel comes on, Kevin Max style, with a spoken word admonition unpacking the album's title. 

Closing Thoughts: 
Album of the year. Incredible songwriting. Raw-yet-polished, painful-but-victorious, resting-but-driven anthems that are single handedly moving Christian music forward. Rare, seamless marriage of conventional instruments and electronic elements that don't come off as trend-following or out of place. There's no question this is the best project of 2014, and definitely one of the best in Christian music history. Not being glib here. Being real. 

Song to Download Now:
Seriously? (Get it ALL on iTunes here.)

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