A decade has passed since Tim Hughes released the now iconic standard of worship, sung in churches around the world, Here I Am to Worship. Much has changed; much is the same. The longtime worship leader of Holy Trinity Brompton in London still pours out music that explodes with praise in an artful, yet accessible manner, but the image of the 2001 guitar-toting Hughes with three chords and the truth, dancing close to the lines of Christian pop, has all but disappeared. There is certainly still a guitar drive to Hughes, but he made his first solid step from worship pop to worship rock with Holding Nothing Back. And now his artistic momentum puts Hughes in the realm of moody British art rock, and the effect is quite simply, the best Hughes yet. Shimmering guitar tones balance the entire record and clouds of emo-noises pad the steady beats. As art rock is, the up-tempos aren’t so much pace-quickeners, as they are musters-of-emotional-punch. With Hughes, anthem doesn’t mean arena; it means zeal. And, on the topic of highlighting worship pioneers, remember when everyone was wondering what Delirious? frontman Martin Smith was going to do after the dissolution of the band? Well, for one thing, he’s been producing and writing with Tim Hughes. And his artistic hand is beautifully present on Love Shine Through. It’s a full and wide-ranging release of worship that places the rudder of its thematic and musical force behind the desire to “do the Father’s will.” It’s ambitious and it’s subtle. Hughes has deftly blended art, emotion, and power on a record that is as congregational as it is alternative cool.
One of the drawbacks to overly artistic ventures in the worship genre is the ability to find concrete reality in the fuzz of sound. Hughes overcomes this by crafting a near-perfect balance of production and praise. And as many sonic and melodic paths we are escorted along, the ultimate draw is the songwriting that aims our hearts to worship. The words rely less on incision and more on emotional punch. But there is enough freshness in the thoughts to keep things interesting. Part of this is due to the fact that through all the beauty and musical openness, the songs have been steeped in tradition. “Counting On Your Name,” for example, pours out in a declaration of surrender and faith bolstered by a quick yet palpable paraphrase of the opening stanza of “My Hope Is Built”: “My life is built on nothing less than your faithfulness, your faithfulness.” Probably the most accessible is “Love Shine Through” (co-written with Phil Wickham); it’s also the song that will be the quickest to get to your set list. But the artistic standout is “Ecclesiastes,” where Hughes touches on the highs and lows of the human existence with a solid grasp of God’s grace. Here, through all the pain and doubt of life, we sing a proclamation of God’s goodness as we remember that, yes, there is a time for laughter and tears; there is a time for light and dark; a time for hope and despair; there is a time for everything … but “Now’s the time for singing!” with a “Hey Jude” crescendo complete with horns blazing and a beautiful chaos of sound let loose to help you feel the truth of the poetry, this song is a worship gift to the Church.
On Love Shine Through, God’s name is honored, Ecclesiastes is quoted, peace is declared under the rule of love set up by the Son of God, even progressive choral directors are given three or four new tunes to add to their repertoire. And, along with the deft hand of producer Martin Smith, all of this is set ablaze by the heart and voice of Tim Hughes. Beautiful yet supporting production and Hughes’ uniquely anointed songcrafting pull people into intentional and emotional worship. This collaboration represents the highest form of modern devotional art.
- Jeremy Armstrong