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"Wonder" by Hillsong UNITED

by Christa Banister

Considering they've sold more than 17 million albums, have countless songs that serve as the Sunday morning soundtrack of worship services across the globe, and have checked every possible box in terms of music industry accolades, it's safe to say that whenever a new Hillsong UNITED album drops, there's pretty high expectations attached to it.

Like the overachieving kid in school who's graded so much harder than his/her peers because he/she is capable of so much more, Hillsong UNITED's Wonder is, no doubt, a strong effort, but on the heels of 2015's groundbreaking Empires, it doesn't quite have that awe-inspiring quality befitting of its name.

While there are a couple of standout moments, most notably the bright, anthemic title track that celebrates the beauty of the world despite the pervasive despair and hopelessness that grabs all the headlines or the inspired call to worship of "So Will I (100 Billion X)", there's a same-y, indistinguishable quality about the remaining tracks, especially musically, that's difficult to ignore.

After the first four tracks, clearly the best of the bunch, a sense of monotony ultimately takes over. Whether it's "Water to Wine" which plods on for nearly 10 minutes without any satisfying payoff or the decidedly generic spiritual sentiments of "Not Today" and "Life", the latter half of the album feels more like a collection of B-sides than the main event.

After such beautiful turns of phrase in "Wonder" that lovingly encapsulates how God is with us, even in our loneliest of moments ("You never left the lost forsaken/your mercy paves the road ahead/unexpected/You are always good/Tracing all my steps"), the bar is set unbelievably high.

The likeable "Shadow Steps", "Splinters and Stones", and "Glimmer in the Dust" are solid additions to Hillsong's catalog, but something about Wonder still feels off as a whole. Suffering from stilted pacing and a lack of creativity both sonically and lyrically, one can't help wondering where Hillsong UNITED, not to mention congregational worship as a whole, are headed.

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