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Where Angels Fear to Tread

  • reviewed by Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2002 1 Jul
Where Angels Fear to Tread
Sounds like … this is the man who practically invented modern worship — recommended to fans of simple British pop akin to Delirious or the I Could Sing of Your Love Forever albumsAt a Glance … the latest batch of songs from this acclaimed worship leader fail to captivate like his best works, though this is still unquestionably better than the average modern worship typically heard today.

"Lord, Let Your Glory Fall" … "Undignified" … "Let My Words Be Few" … "Once Again" … "Let Everything That Has Breath" … "Better Is One Day" … "The Heart of Worship" …

Perhaps your church recently has incorporated some of these songs into your worship experience. These "new classics" were born out of the modern-worship movement that began in the UK ten years ago, and have inspired worshippers worldwide to give glory and praise to God. Remarkably enough, the same gifted worship leader wrote all of these songs. Indeed, if you add a few more of his lesser-known masterpieces, Matt Redman has enough songs to warrant a worshipful best-of album. He surely ranks among Michael W. Smith, Twila Paris, and Darlene Zschech as one of the most prolific and consistent worship songwriters of our time. Eight years ago, Matt helped start Soul Survivor, a series of worship events and conferences geared towards bringing young people closer to the Lord. As the primary worship leader for the community that has grown out of Soul Survivor, Matt has become a mentor and teacher to many of today's up-and-coming worship leaders, most notably Chris Tomlin and Tim Hughes. He released his first album, The Friendship and the Fear, in the United States via Star Song/Sparrow Records in 1998. Four years later, Matt now releases his fourth album, Where Angels Fear to Tread.

How I wish Where Angels Fear to Tread measured up to the musical legacy established by Matt's previous works. Songs such as "Once Again" and "The Heart of Worship" are so easy to grasp thanks to their wonderfully simple and well-written melodies. "Undignified" is extremely simplistic, but it's not designed to be more than an exciting youth worship rock chant. "Better Is One Day" benefits from both a catchy melody and a strong hook in its heavy tom drums reminiscent of Phil Collins. Matt's new album, however, is completely comprised of simple and generic British pop/rock guitar strumming, similar to Tim Hughes' "Jesus, You Alone," which was featured on both Tim's debut as well as the multi-artist collaboration, All Around the World.

Dwayne Larring and Jason Halbert of Sonicflood produced both of those albums, as well as Matt's latest, which may be part of the problem. As talented as these two are, they aren't displaying a lot of versatility in their productions. Common sense also would seem to support the notion that if you use the same producers to helm albums in the same genre (i.e. modern worship albums), you're going to end up with a lot of similar-sounding albums (unless, of course, the producers are eclectic in their abilities).

Consider the needless remake of Matt's classic "Lord, Let Your Glory Fall," which the producers already have remade with Matt to spectacular effect on All Around the World. Since the song originally appeared on one of Worship Together's Revival Generation compilations as a live track, I can only surmise that the three artists felt the song needed to be included on one of Matt's own solo albums. Nevertheless, this new third version is overproduced (with a programmed rhythm track that feels awkward against the atypical meter of the verses), and overproduction often causes worship leaders to shy away from using the song in their churches. I feel this is also true of "Call to Worship," with its heavy and dark string arrangement that isn't befitting of most churches' worship teams. There's also a puzzling hidden track comprised of a guitar solo backed by a fully produced band, which ends abruptly as if someone turned off a record player. Things like this strike me as self-indulgent rather than worshipful.

Of course, one usually can't fault producers for an album. The songs on Where Angels Fear to Tread simply aren't among Matt Redman's strongest works. Once you listen to the first track, "Amazing," you're sufficiently prepared for the middle-of-the-road British guitar rock that dominates the album. More importantly, few of the melodies are as catchy as Matt's more memorable works, and some of them are too rhythmic to pick up right away. However, there are still some enjoyable worship songs to be gleaned from this album. "Blessed Be Your Name" may be more of the simple guitar rock, but the addition of the choir of backup singers late in the song makes it a powerful listen. "When My Heart Runs Dry" has a gradual build in the arrangement that compliments the words of reconciliation and recommitment. You can hear a definite Sonicflood influence on "Making Melody," which sounds like that band's arrangement of "Open the Eyes of My Heart." The end chorus of "Jesus, you put melody in my soul" is rather infectious. My favorite of the album is "Befriended," which has words in the chorus that are very similar to those of the hymn "Blessed Assurance." Nevertheless, it's easy to pick up, and I like the way it calls attention to certain words to describe our relationship with God: "befriended … surrendered … invited … delighted … astounded … surrounded … determined . …"

On Matt's previous recordings, it was easy to pick out the songs that would be readily embraced by worshippers, and there are still some little-known treasures to be mined from his repertoire. Unfortunately, the majority of songs on Where Angels Fear to Tread are less interesting. But I must note that most of them still are examples of superior worship songwriting. His words are far more thoughtful and meaningful than the average "Lord, I will praise you" worship song, and he clearly has a gift for melody. If you've yet to buy a Matt Redman album, I suggest you do so immediately, especially The Heart of Worship — I just can't recommend this one first.