In the Jan/Feb, 2012, issue, Worship Leader magazine designated the Cutting Edge EPs (1&2) as the most influential worship release in the past 20 years. Every worship team that uses the typical band makeup can, in one way or another, trace their musical and leadership approach directly to the influence of Delirious?. When the band held their official retirement party in 2009 with a three-and-a-half hour farewell concert, most of us were pretty sure it was likely to be a “soft” retirement reserved for the likes of Michael Jordan. It might not be the same sport, but we’re pretty sure the guys of Delirious? will be back, and they will be swinging. Since then, each of the members has gone on to impact the Church in local and global ways. After the history makers diverged, Smith went back to the figurative start—he joined Matt Redman in Brighton to minister to a local community at St. Peters (an offshoot of HTB in London) and continued his work with CompassionArt. Stu G and John Thatcher joined Jason Ingram in One Sonic Society (“Forever Reign”). But we haven’t heard anything that was a focused “Smith” release, although his co-writes and collaborations have been circulating. So we waited. For four years.
It seems that Smith was waiting as well, waiting on the Lord. God’s Great Dance Floor is 10 songs of reflection, revival, and response to the one who promises to “never stop loving us.” The title track “God’s Great Dance Floor” is emblematic of the entire release and reflects Smith’s recent personal testimony:
Back to the start
Where You found me
I give you my heart again
I’m all I can bring
I’m coming home again
This song reveals two trends of GGDF: renewal as a result of personal surrender to God’s will and a partnership with other prominent worship writers. In the case of the title track co-writes go to Nick Herbert, Jonas Myrin, and Tim Hughes. Of further significance here is that Chris Tomlin teamed up with Smith on no less than six of the 10 tracks. This also means we are already familiar with a few of those through their presence on Burning Lights.
Another blatant and shining characteristic of the release is creativity. Smith seems to have set himself free and let loose on the recording. The result for worship leaders is a set of congregational songs filled with unique approaches on each track as well as the expected freedom from the popular genre tropes. Masterfully, the music traverses styles while the production, for the most part, remains quite invisible. From the haunting buzz-ambience tone (a la James Blake) on “You Carry Me” to the throwback minimal guitar/vocal that reaches full anthemic force in “Safe in Your Arms” to the late ’80s U2 homage-turned-rock-opera of “Fire Never Sleeps.” And before we complain about the common-in-worship Bono vocal tone and The Edge guitar riff motifs, remember that Smith sounded like Bono before any of us, and he did it with aplomb.
A clear standout, “Waiting Here for You” was beautifully debuted a couple of years ago by the always-riveting Christy Nockels, and was the title track for the 2011 Passion release. Here it’s a little more subdued, but the power of the beautiful prayer is just as clear.
In a more rootsy move, “Jesus of Nazareth,” is a musical narrative that plays like a vintage Americana-gospel tune. It allows singers to lift the name of Jesus with clear eyes and full hearts, and then brilliantly postludes into a rollicking and riffy moment of musical joy.
Harnessing both the musical acumen and vocal resonance of fellow countryman Matthew Bellamy (Muse), Smith guides us through new-prog and symphonic rock with a gentle hand and a nod to our musical history (“Onward Christian Soldiers”) on the wonderfully rich and alive “Soldiers.”
As powerful as all of these unique experiences are, and even though Smith obviously has the chops to pull off chamber-pop interludes, high-flying rock numbers, and ambient shoe-gazy tones, some of the organic earnestness gets buried in the attention to all that production detail. That said, if a beautifully-flawed outpouring of live worship is what you crave, you can find it in the recent Smith/Jesus Culture Live in New York release.
Ultimately God’s Great Dance Floor is in every way worth the 1,300-odd days we have waited. It easily stands as a definitive statement that Christian music, indeed worship music, can marry beauty, quality, and accessibility. It is a prayer, and it is an opus. And it’s a gift to the Church to find those two qualities in one place.
– Jeremy Armstrong