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See the Morning

  • reviewed by Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2006 1 Sep
See the Morning
Sounds like … modern worship with a pop/rock bent, similar to Matt Redman, Delirious, Shane & Shane, Lincoln Brewster, and of course, the Passion worship bandAt a glance … though not quite as strong as Arriving, Chris Tomlin's See the Morning reminds us why his music is the standard by which other modern worship songs is measured—unforgettable melodies matched to the right lyricsTrack Listing How Can I Keep from Singing? Made to Worship Let God Arise Everlasting God Glory in the Highest Awesome Is the Lord Most High Glorious Uncreated One Rejoice Let Your Mercy Rain Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone)

In only two years, Chris Tomlin has gone from humble worship leader to flagship artist for EMI's Christian music division. Sure, he's long been well known in the contemporary church, with seventeen of his songs among CCLI's list of top performed worship songs, including eight in the Top 100. Yet the release of 2004's Arriving also amassed him the adulation typically reserved for Michael W. Smith or Steven Curtis Chapman—three No. 1 singles, sales exceeding half a million copies, and five Gospel Music Awards, including Artist, Male Vocalist, and Song of the Year.

With expectations high, there are multiple angles to approach his eagerly anticipated follow-up, See the Morning. Ed Cash is back in the producer's chair, so the album's sound is very much like Arriving. And thematically, Tomlin was inspired by Scripture's repeated use of the morning dawn as a metaphor for hope—a time for repentance, refreshing, and renewal.

But styles and themes are tangential to this artist's work. His songs have been interpreted in different styles, his lyrics favoring simple words of praise rather than contributing to some grand thesis. As much as we'd like to believe that deep theology characterizes a good hymn, it's ultimately the marriage of an unforgettable melody and a strong lyric that makes it timeless to worshippers. Tomlin's success with songs isn't determined by how trendy the sound is or how smart the words are, but whether the melody grabs the ear and the lyrics stir the heart to praise.

That's his greatest strength, though to what extent is hard to say. All of this album's originals were created with at least one co-writer—and as many as four—but you can't argue with results. With the assistance of Matt Redman, Tomlin adapts the familiar text from Robert Lowry's classic "How Can I Keep from Singing?" and gives the title double meaning with as catchy and uplifting a tune you'll find in 6/8 time. And as with his previous standards "The Wonderful Cross" and "Take My Life," he successfully contemporizes the most beloved of all hymns by matching a piano-driven arrangement of "Amazing Grace" with a soaring new praise chorus "My Chains Are Gone."

If there's an equivalent on this album to his (currently) most popular song, "How Great Is Our God," it's probably "Glory in the Highest," a simple worship ballad with easy-to-learn verses and a single line of chorus that only gets stronger as the song builds to Coldplay proportions. Nearly as effective is "Uncreated One," a beautiful and quiet acoustic ballad that offers hymn-like stanzas and thoughtful lyrics evident from the title itself: "Worthy Uncreated One, from heaven to earth come down/You laid aside Your royalty to wear the sinner's crown."

Tomlin's gift of melody can also overcome weaker arrangements and lyricism. "Let God Arise," for example, would be fairly standard if it weren't for the strength of its steadily building chorus, making it one of the better driving rock worship songs of its kind. Similarly, "Awesome Is the Lord Most High" and "Glorious" (both previously featured on Passion's Everything Glorious) are bogged down by unimaginative worship lyrics ("We will praise You … We offer everything" and "We lift our hands in praise to You/We lift our hearts in worship to You"), yet successfully motivate the soul through verve and melodic hooks. "Rejoice" and "Let Your Mercy Rain," however, are more routine, though not unpleasant.

Not all of the tracks are practical for corporate worship either. Though it's a good song, perfectly suited to Christian radio, you could argue that "Made to Worship" is more about worship than praise directed to God, with a catchy chorus built on repetition: "You and I were made to worship/You and I are called to love/You and I are forgiven and free." Tomlin also has a tendency to record songs that are hard to sing along to; of course, his high register can be transposed down. But as terrific as Brenton Brown's "Everlasting God" is (featured on his album of the same title), the syncopated rhythm and broad melodic range that make it so interesting are the same qualities that will keep it from being widely embraced by most congregations.

Perhaps the album is a tad predictable in its pop-worship tendencies, and heaven forbid that worship artists start writing songs for radio play ahead of the church. But overall, See the Morning echoes the same qualities that made Arriving so strong—a reminder of why Chris Tomlin's music has become the standard by which modern worship is measured, and defining a genre with songs destined to last for years to come.

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