Music Monday: Wildfires by Stephen Christian
Release Date: July 28, 2017
I’ll admit I started geeking out and turning into the fanboy that I am when I heard that Stephen Christian, the former lead singer and frontman of Anberlin, was set to release his debut solo project. I’d followed Anberlin’s path since way back; consuming all their albums and falling asleep on a regular basis to their songs on my iPod (Cities was and always will be a personal favorite). Certain songs and artists become the personal soundtrack of your life; especially during your teens and twenties (and even thirties!). Anberlin’s music became that for me and left an indelible mark on my awareness in music. But as they say, all good things must come to end and when Anberlin called it quits in 2014 many of us shed a silent tear and moved on. Hearing that Stephen Christian had made a move from Nashville to New Mexico and was now involved as a worship director in a local church piqued my curiosity. And finding out that new music would be on the way this year…well that got me downright giddy.
As you might expect, going into the realm of worship music is a strong departure from his former days, but Christian is quick to affirm this is his path now. "These songs are me, they are the overflow of my heart and when my kids want to listen to my music someday, Wildfires will be the first record I show them.” In talking about leaving a legacy and speaking truth to the next generation, Stephen broaches the conversation of faith throughout every track on this project. As a father myself, albums like Wildfires are the ones I love to crank up in the minivan; my kids get exposed to a solid message and rock out all at the same time!
Getting things start, opening track "Trust" sets a tone for a very modern-feeling, pop-laden disc. A hooky synth pattern sets up the intro and pulsates along somewhat reminiscent of Planetshakers. Trust is a declaration that God’s ways are higher and above our own especially when we have doubts; something that Christian came to realize as he spent time in transition after Anberlin disbanded. Drawing directly from Scripture (Psalms 30 and Isaiah 55), the chorus sings out:
You are good
Your way is higher than mine
You are love
The way, the truth, and the life
You are joy
Turn my sorrow into song, singing
You are good
Jesus, You are good
Track two entitled "Gloria" was the first cut advanced off the album; leaked through Stephen’s Facebook page and other social media outlets. Upon hearing Gloria for the first time, I was immediately struck that all that was familiar about Stephen from before now made sense in seeing him as a worship leader. The things he sings about now are things I can tell he believes with his voice and his heart. It’s easy to see this song becoming an anthem in churches as it has such a gathering-song type of appeal:
Lift up your voice and sing before the rocks cry
Lift up your hands to The One in worship
Shout at the top of your lungs, "Gloria!"
Lift up your hearts hearts as one, come on and praise Him
Lift up your eyes, behold the King
Everything that has breath sing, "Gloria!"
Moving throughout the album, the overflow of Stephen’s heart is apparent and readily received. Down tempo and soft, “Wide Eyed Wonder” (co-written by Stephen, Jacob Sooter, and Mia Fieldes) expresses a desire to be overwhelmed by the presence of God and proclaims “Your love never fails to bring me to my knees, Your love never fails to take my breath away.” Hard-charging “Light Rise Up” asks for the Lord’s Kingdom to come and to draw the lost and broken to Jesus. In so doing, the bridge lyric is where the title of the album comes from: “Let Your praises come ignite, send Your glory far and wide, like a wildfire a wildfire.” The start of “Hope Has A Name” has me thinking of Chris Tomlin’s "God’s Great Dance Floor" (take a listen, trust me). The chorus drops into a more driving, half-time feel and cranks it as Christian declares “Hope has a name, the name of Jesus.”
True to its name “Atmosphere” feels very ambient and spacey. Guest vocalist Sarah Reeves lends co-writing duties alongside Hillary McBride and Nicole Witt. Reeves matches up well alongside Christian’s soft tenor as the two trade off lead parts. Very simple at times with just loops and beats and synths driving it, Atmosphere has one of the coolest lyric lines of the whole album:
You breathe and Hell begins to shake
And You speak, chains begin to break
And You move, mountains fall down at Your feet
Oh Jesus, we believe
Your spirit is here
Invading the atmosphere
Closing out the last cuts on the bottom half the disc, previously mentioned themes are revisited and expressed in a fresh way. "Undone" speaks heavily of bringing the Kingdom of God into our present-day setting with an aligning of our will with God’s plan and purpose. "One More Moment" longs for closeness and intimacy with a Savior whose “cross has said it all”; that to be in His presence just awhile longer is the worshipper’s heart. "All I Need To Know" finishes out Wildfires with a reaffirmation that God is in control even when we are in times of doubt and uncertainty. Co-written by Greg Sykes, Benji Cowart, and Matt Armstrong (a trio of pure worship songwriting talent), the chorus is a great landing spot for a project that is Christ-centered throughout:
You are my only hope
I look to You alone
Even though I'm scared
You are always there
That's all I need to know
Until I read some bios and promotional materials for this record, I didn’t realize how much the transition from Anberlin into solo artist and worship leader affected Christian. He has been open and honest about that time and how much of an influence it had on his writing: “This album was written in the five months after the end of Anberlin, it was a time of great personal struggle and triumph,” shares Christian. “Some of the greatest songs in history have come from an artist’s darkest times in life. This feels like the first time I put out a record, and in a way it is.”
It’s so great to see God using Stephen Christian in a new way and that as a solo artist, he is willing to being a mouthpiece for God’s worship and adoration; pointing people to Christ. In truly modeling what submission and surrender looks like, Stephen is showing us God’s faithfulness and provision as he has made the leap from rock star to worship leader. All the best to Stephen, his family, and his church as God lights the way on this new path.