Prime Cuts: Shadow Step, Glimmer in the Dust, Splinters and Stone
Overall Score: 4.5/5
Creativity takes a front seat with UNITED's sixth studio album "Wonder." Gone are the over-simplistic lyrics of recycled clichés guised by the clamorous sounds of arena-styled rock guitars and percussion. Rather, evidenced by the songs' titulars such as "Splinters and Stones," "So I Will (100 Billion X)," and "Glimmer in the Dust," there's more poetic creativity and intrigue woven into the crafting of these 12 newly written songs. Such added insights give a refreshing depth and dimension to what is perhaps UNITED's most mature and seasoned effort in their already colossal canon. A collection that boasts some of today's worship music most sung tunes such as "Oceans (Where Feet May Fail)," "The Stand," "Touch the Sky" and "Lead Me to the Cross." Definitely, one could see more tracks from "Wonder" being added to this growing list as this album makes its round across churches and Christian radio.
In terms of lyrical excellence, "Shadow Step" passes with honors. With words that sound like they could come out of the pen of C. S. Lewis, "Shadow Step" captures both our vulnerability as well as God's unexpected graciousness as one steps out of our comfort zone to trust in Jesus. The song itself is indented with lines that deserve deep rumination and meditation: "You met me at the sinners table/I found You waiting by the well, unexpected/You are always there/Tracing all my steps." "Glimmer in the Dust" is this album's "Lead Me to the Cross." A power anthemic ballad, "Glimmer" brings us back to the Crucifixion scene of our Lord as both Taya Smith & Joel Houston help us to see the hope in the midst of the mess of this human atrocity.
Likewise, "Splinters and Stones" deserves our piquant attention. Likening us to the splinters on the shoulders of Jesus as he was hanging on the Cross, the song brings out a sobering truth: Not only did Jesus carry the 300 lbs wooden Cross, our weight of sins was also what he had to carry. The image of our sins being a splinter on his shoulders is enough for us to ruminate for days without end. Coming alive vividly with its gorgeously intense lyrics is "Rain/Reign." An echo-y track with the haunting use of sparse synth riffs, "Rain/Reign" is a literary genius with the excellent use of puns and imagery.
Taya Smith, whose voice had given "Oceans" its atmospheric dimension, gets the lion's share of the lead vocals. Nevertheless, unlike on other hands, she interacts more with the other team members giving the album a more "collective" feel. Smith, Joel Houston and Matt Crocker, for instance, unite on the title cut and lead single "Wonder." In a ballad-centric album, the EDM-influenced "Wonder" is a delight, flourished with an evangelistic edge as the trio ask us poignantly if we have seen the wonder of how God works in our cosmos. Nevertheless, as in the case of their previous album "Empire," synth-driven ballads dominate almost the entire album. And with some songs that can drift into over 7 minutes, one can get lost in the "same-ness" of a few of the tracks later in the record as one song flows into another.
Nevertheless, it is worth repeating: this is, by far, the most thoughtful and creative album UNITED has had ever put out. This album will not only allow us to jam in worship, but some of the songs are so theologically rich that they actually feed our souls too in the wonder of who our Savior is.