When Hillsong was preparing to head back into the studio for the first time since 2003 (their other releases have been live), they prayed, fasted, and sought God’s direction for themes, sonic direction, and His leading. The Lord impressed Ephesians 5:13-14 upon Brooke Ligertwood’s heart, and the rest of the team embraced that theme. When one listens to Awake with that Scripture in mind, there is a clear, consistent, continuity from song to song.
Without a congregation, there could be an absence of energy—yet, to the contrary, the album possesses a steady, driving presence that doesn’t diminish between tracks, regardless of tempo or with vocal lead changes. The album is polished, relevant, and masterfully woven together. If anything,the studio environment allowed meticulous attention to details that enhance the listening experience.
Even beyond the sonic backdrop, the lyrical content and the emotional power in the delivery is captivating. This album uses familiar words in fresh ways. “King of Kings,” led by Brooke Ligertwood, remediates the familiar doxology “Praise the Father / Praise the Son / Praise the Spirit Three in One” adding, “God of Glory, Majesty / Praise forever to the King of Kings.” It’s declarative, definitive, and created to attach to heart and head.
The same is true for many other songs on the project. “Every Breath” is a gorgeous and ambient piece that takes the words from Psalm 150, “let every breath praise the Lord” and builds on that: “How great is the One who breathes life into dry bones / Heaven exhales and my soul is revived / How great is the One whose hope lines the horizon / Just when it feels like the end there is life.” The line “How great is the One who brushed death off our shoulders/ Victory came when He took back the night” is troubling because the defeat of the power of death at the cross was accomplished through bloody sacrifice and not a “ brush” and God never lost “the night.” Poetry takes leaps, but hopefully within the scope of biblical reality.
“The Upper Room” begins with the arresting—”Help me Holy Ghost.” With phrases like “God breathe on my weakness / For all I want is to be like Jesus.” Within a span of a few measures, each member of the Trinity become part of a heart cry, coming full circle with, “Make my whole life your Upper Room.”
Yet another gem on this project is “He Shall Reign,” which follows the melodic line from Handel’s “Hallelujah” chorus, yet gently and with an un-rushed pace. This song could easily take a similar path as that of Downhere’s “How Many Kings,” which is one of the rare songs that is perfect for Christmas, yet is played and appreciated year-round.
The production quality is second-to-none and the songs are for the most part fundamentally sound. A large band or orchestra isn’t necessary to implement in worship, and the lack thereof does not diminish their power. Overall, Awake is a beautiful, thought-provoking, captivating representation of God and His love for us.