What better way to start the 2017 blog than with a Music Monday? As my first foray into this series, I have taken on the challenge of reviewing a forthcoming album by my favorite Christian musical artist, Ross King. Many readers have perhaps never heard of Ross King, but at least one of the songs he co-wrote is familiar to anyone who attended last year’s Shepherds’ Conference, where we sang “Hallelujah For the Cross.” I have been listening to Ross King for about 15 years now, and I cut my teeth on his music when a friend mailed me a copy of his CD (!!!!) …And All the Decorations, Too. I was instantly hooked. While I always enjoyed the music, what really got me were the lyrics. Ross’ lyrics were not the typical, made-for-radio, trite Christian lyrics you might hear on your local (or nationally syndicated) Christian radio station. Ross talked about things like judgment, nuclear holocausts, being afraid, mystery, and being confused by God’s inscrutable providence. This was Christian songwriting as it ought to be. Throughout the years I purchased every Ross King album released. He graciously came to lead worship at our tiny church plant and stayed in my basement for the weekend. If you haven’t listened to any of his previous albums, make sure you grab one.
Ross’ latest album is an EP, a shorter album that contains only eight songs, called We Know How This Thing Ends. It is due out sometime this month, but I have an advanced copy I’ve been listening to since November. So, how does this latest album stack up to his previous work, and should you run right out and buy it the minute it hits Amazon Music or iTunes or however you acquire music? Let’s take it track by track.
Track by Track
- He Is Not Safe. If you’ve ever read The Chronicles of Narnia, you know where this song is going. Ross readily admits the influence of C. S. Lewis’ magnum opus on this song, and, to be honest, it’s really surprising it’s taken a Christian artist this long to release a song like this. Right out of the gate, this is vintage Ross King. The Jesus we usually hear about in Christian music is typically very safe. He offends no one. He loves everyone. There is nothing remotely mysterious or frightening about him. But that is not the Jesus of the Bible. Ross brings that out remarkably well in this song. The verses and chorus are catchy, and you’ll be humming this tune all day long. Even better: this song is all about Jesus, not the listener. Seriously, I love a Christian album that begins with a song all about GOD rather than me. I get enough of me all the time. Tell me about Jesus. The real Jesus. The Jesus who is good, but who is not safe. This song does just that. A great start to the album.
- This Ain’t Over. When Ross was writing this album, he noted that much of it had come out of the fires of affliction, suffering, and pain. This song reflects that as it reminds us of the disastrous consequences of sin, but, more importantly, that sin does not have the last word. No matter what difficulty or trial a believer is experiencing, Jesus’ victory is secured through His resurrection, and we will overcome in the end. The album title comes from this track, which functions as a soaring anthem to inspire believers to fight the good fight of faith to the end. It works well, even if the ending is a little too drawn out.
- Good Company. Have you ever had any struggles in your walk with Christ? Have you ever been sad, hurt, disappointed, rejected, humiliated, or lonely? Then Ross wants you to know that you’re in good company, as Jesus experienced the full range of human emotions, yet without sin. What I love about this song is it reminds us of the humanity of Christ, something we all too easily overlook. Jesus was not a super-human who was above sorrow, anger, or pain. He wept. He threw tables over in the Temple. He was angry at false teachers. No, this is not the Jesus of CCM, but it is the Jesus of the New Testament, the Jesus we need when life crushes us and we need to know we’re not alone in our pain. Jesus suffers with us and bears our afflictions. Without question, this track is the best song on the album. It’s worth whatever price Ross decides to charge for the EP. It’s that good.
- Celebrity. I’ll be honest: I don’t really get the point of this track. It kind of seems like a taunt of the Jews and Romans who were responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus, with a jab at the devil as well. But I think what Ross is trying to do here is show that the power of the Gospel is unstoppable, which is what mostly comes out in the chorus. The tune is catchy, but using terms like “viral” to describe the spread of the Gospel and “celebrity” to describe Jesus seem anachronistic at best. The truth that all of God’s enemies only serve to advance God’s purposes through their opposition is an important point, but I think there are better ways of making it than we find in this song.
- The Image of God. This song tackles a problem many people in our social media saturated culture face: looking at everyone else’s life in pictures online and feeling like your life is boring, meaningless, or pointless, or at least not nearly as exciting as everyone else’s life. Instead of looking at the images all over social media, we should remember we are created in the image of God. It’s an interesting play on the word image, and I think it’s a necessary reminder to many people obsessed with social media. It’s the first mellow tune on the album, and it’s ok.
- The Sky Is Falling. The energy is back with this track, and I like it. Ross reminds us of the importance of perseverance in seeking the Lord until the Spirit is poured out “like the sky is falling.” Let me just say that I’m so glad the Spirit is not coming down like fire in this song. That has been so overplayed it’s almost lost any meaning it might have had. Is the metaphor of the sky falling any better? I don’t know, and probably not if everyone else starts using it, but it’s different and catches your attention. I can overlook the uncertain metaphor, though, because this is another one of those songs that energizes you to seek the Lord in prayer. And as believers, we all need to be devoted to prayer. We give up too easily, we give in with little resistance, and we need to be tougher and grittier in prayer. If this song can help move us in that direction, it’s accomplished its goal.
- Roam With You. This song was more meaningful before November 8 and the 2016 election as it speaks to the two undesirable candidates from which we had to choose in the last presidential election. Now that the election is over, it seems dated, especially for an album that hasn’t even been released yet. I also have some minor theological quibbles with Ross’ approach to politics, but I won’t get into that here. If you like it, great. Personally, I just skip it when it comes on. Like most Americans, I’m more than ready to move on from the election.
- Only the Good Things. The final track also speaks to current events, though in a more general way that will not become antiquated any time soon. It’s kind of a sleepy tune that adds a female vocal. I’m not crazy about the blending of the male and female vocals in this song and wonder if it would have been better had they taken turns singing verses and choruses. This song also contains the title of the album as a lyric (“We know how this thing ends”) and harkens back to Ross’ album This Hope Will Guide Me with the lyric “hate will lose; love will win.” (Sidenote: Ross doesn’t mean that in a Rob Bell/universalist/heretical kind of way, so calm down if you are concerned about that.) The redundancy makes me wonder if this song adds anything to the album overall, and I’m not sure that it does. It’s not terrible, but it’s not compelling either. It’s a weak ending to the album, but EP albums generally have fewer than eight songs, so maybe just think of it as a B-side bonus track.
While this album won’t take its place atop my list of favorite Ross King albums, it is a solid addition to my music collection. It has a couple great songs and a few solid songs. The other three songs were below average by Ross King standards, but they shouldn’t keep you from picking up a copy of the album. If you enjoy thought-provoking lyrics that take you beyond the typical CCM album, you’ll want to check this one out. 4 Stars.