Sounds like … an array of musical styles blended together for modern worship — imagine Sonicflood, Newsboys, dc Talk, Delirious, and Five Iron Frenzy worshipping as a single bandAt a Glance … standard modern-worship wording and recycled song riffs are outweighed by an extremely exciting and talented worship band on this passionate worship disc of the same spirit as the Passion albums.
Modern-worship enthusiasts are no doubt familiar with successful worship conferences such as Passion and Acquire the Fire or with the hugely successful Hillsong Church in Australia. Add to that list the largest youth conference in Australia, Planetshakers. Led by speaker Russell Evans, the event is held on a beach off the coast of Adelaide, Australia (west of Sydney), and it has attracted an audience of 8,000 young people from all over the world (the United States, New Zealand, England, Malaysia, Ireland, Romania, Denmark, and Singapore). The worship band takes its name from the event and is fronted by worship leaders Sam Evans (vocals) and Henry Seely (vocals, guitars). These two are backed by as many as 12 musicians at a time, including a 3-man horn section and 9 other vocalists. The Planetshakers have a big and energetic sound, as evidenced on their live worship album, Phenomena. Imagine Sonicflood, Newsboys, dc Talk, Delirious, and Five Iron Frenzy coming together for a worship concert, and you've got a pretty good idea what it sounds like.
Recorded live at Planet Shakers 2001, Phenomena sounds very much like a Vineyard modern-worship project, especially on ballads such as "Worship Forevermore" and "Burn." What sets Planetshakers apart is their sound, which, though eclectic, closely resembles similar songs already written. Songs such as "It's All About Jesus," "Run Into Your Arms," and "So Amazing" recall classic Delirious, the latter sounding a bit like "I Could Sing of Your Love Forever." The song "What You've Done For Me" is similar to Sonicflood's famed version of "I Want to Know You" or Fusebox's cover of "Every Move I Make." I loved the faithful ska treatment given to "Live 4 U," but it sounds too much like "The Impression That I Get," the hit song by the mainstream ska band Mighty Mighty Bosstones. Perhaps most surprising is the title track, which sounds so much like dc Talk's "Supernatural" that Planetshakers practically could be accused of plagiarism. Not only do the two songs share a similar title and sound, but the verses both testify to the mysteries of God and things unseen.
Nevertheless, Phenomena is a fun, energetic, and passionate worship album. Besides the aforementioned songs, you'll love the ska-punk of "Fill Me Now," which sounds a bit like something Five Iron Frenzy could do on a worship disc. The R&B/Latin sound of "Jumpin' Praisin'" is absolutely irresistible, as is the hyper-modern dance-rock sound of "Praise Him." "Shake the Planet" has a distinct hip-hop rock sound reminiscent of dc Talk's classic work. The album's closer, "Send Me," is a passionate plea for national revival, similar to popular worship songs such as "Can a Nation Be Changed?" and "America." If you can get past the familiar sound of this band, Phenomena is a pretty exciting worship album. The musicianship is terrific from top to bottom, and it's thrilling to hear a horn section and a beautiful-sounding group of backup singers in the mix. Considering the songs are all originals, I suspect most listeners will see little difference between an album of familiar-sounding songs and an album of covers performed in a slightly different way. In that sense, Phenomena is just as good as any of the Passion recordings, and you truly get your money's worth with 13 tracks and 74 minutes of music. It's not earth-shattering, but Planetshakers have a fine album that worship aficionados should make an effort to listen to. But be warned … you may end up springing for a trip to Adelaide, Australia, just to be a part of it.