In a single-driven musical world with increasingly short attention spans, it can be tempting to forego the long road of creating a full set of exceptional songs, opting for rapid-fire radio playable cuts instead. But there is nothing cheap or easy about Joel and Luke Smallbone and the musical experience they have orchestrated with for KING & COUNTRY.
It’s been just over four years since the band the brothers helm released their sophomore album, Run Wild. Live Free. Love Strong. Those four years have seen them continuing their improbable, staggering rise to stardom inside the Christian music arena– and outside it too, with “Fix My Eyes” and now “joy.” making their presence known at Top 40 radio. The pressure for a suitable follow-up might have cracked lesser artists, but the Smallbones have been doing music right all their lives. That could not be more evident after just a few tracks of Burn the Ships, their sweeping cinematic epic of a third album that continues to obliterate the walls of their genre.
That cinematic flavor is immediately evident with the slow build of strings-heavy “Introit,” leading straight into effusive radio smash hit “joy.” for KING & COUNTRY instantly proves that they’re keeping their trademark sincerity dialed to 11 with “God Only Knows,” an achingly empathetic song about depression and suicide: “God only knows what you’ve been through / God only knows what they say about you / God only knows how it’s killing you / But there’s a kind of love that God only knows.”
The choice to place such a raw song near the beginning of Burn the Ships begins to show us exactly why this band has been able to break out of the stereotypes plaguing their genre. Not only are they committed to musical excellence– when they tell the stories of struggles, there is the sense that they actually mean it. There are no quick-fixes offered here, no gratuitous glossing over. “Burn the Ships,” a wrenchingly beautiful redemption song chronicling Luke Smallbone’s wife Courtney’s mental health crisis and recovery, catches your heart up in the crescendoing bridge: “So flush the pills, face the fear / Feel the wave disappear / We’re comin’ clear, we’re born again / Our hopeful lungs can breathe again.”
Lyrical moments like that are a breath of fresh air in an industry where often the difficult parts of life are left purposefully vague, all the rough edges sanded off. for KING & COUNTRY offers a more genuine picture of life where the bruises are real, which in turn validates it that much more when they sing about relentless hope on “Fight On, Fighter” or “Never Give Up.” These bright-eyed tunes carry a lot more weight in light of the stormier seas other songs traverse.
As you might expect from for KING & COUNTRY, there are also moments of pure bombastic fun. You can practically already see the drums in motion when the song “Control” is performed live, starting slow and building to a thunderous close. “Amen” is infectious and dynamic, a modern day hymn that gets in your bones and forces out a song alongside the choral breaks.
The steady maturation of for KING & COUNTRY as a band is intensely evident on every track, but it’s particularly compelling through “Hold Her” and “Pioneers,” both songs that deal with the experience of being married. Given that upholding the value of women has been a hallmark message since for KING & COUNTRY’s earliest days, this progression to an honest look at a love that commits for the long haul feels real and timely. Gentle “Hold Her” is a poignant prayer over the hearts of Joel and Luke’s wives when they are facing struggles during the inevitable separations of touring. “Pioneers” closes the album in stunning four part harmony as Moriah and Courtney Smallbone join their husbands to sing about a love that endures the ups and downs of a lifelong marriage.
Burn the Ships comes in at 10 tracks, a length that might leave you wanting more. But on the other hand, those 10 tracks are incredibly tight and coherent as a unit, without filler or needless detours. The big musical moments from for KING & COUNTRY on Burn the Ships are bigger than ever before, but the artful restraint of the ballads is also executed with piercing precision. Lyrically, these songs sing honestly through the full high and low dynamic of human experience, proving exactly why for KING & COUNTRY has been so able to transcend genre boundaries without ever coming across as contrived. Burn the Ships marks the places of our pain and then calls us towards the wide open horizon of hope, setting our heartache alight behind us– ultimately soundtracking the only journey worth taking.
You can find Burn the Ships on Spotify and iTunes.
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